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Relationships • Compatibility

How to Sustain Love: A Tool

A paradox hovers in the background of most relationships: we are in a couple in order to feel close, closer than we are to any human, to escape loneliness and to be able to be properly – at last – more of ourselves. But at the same time, if we want to keep our relationship a going concern, we’re hugely aware of what seems to be an unavoidable detail: we need to hide a lot of what we actually feel from our partner.

The specifics are going to differ from person to person but this is – let’s imagine – a representative sample of what we have to keep out of sight on a near daily basis:

– We had a moment of attraction to the cashier at the supermarket. And they weren’t even of the gender our partner thinks we like.

– We think that our partner is a lot less attractive these days, but they’re also acutely sensitive to their looks.

– We’ve had fantasies about an ex and searched for photos of them online.

– We really enjoyed a conversation with a colleague that bordered on the flirtatious.

– In some moods, and it really is just a mood, but it’s a mood nevertheless, we wonder for a time if we shouldn’t have stayed in our last relationship.

In normal circumstances, to divulge any of this would at the very least risk a bad argument or a long sulk. The partner would accuse us of being mean or disloyal. And there would be recriminations. Because we had done and felt these things, there would be less affection and less leeway. Fewer of our quirks would be tolerated. There would be no slack when we next needed a favour. None of which we remotely want – of course. So, naturally, we say nothing, and our relationship looks like it avoids a hit. But does it really? Because somewhere in us, the sincerity of our affection is nevertheless affected. We are with our partner to be understood – not to honour some arbitrary decree or to please the neighbours – and in an area that matters, something at the core of us has not been seen.

Though this is a private matter, we cannot solve the problem on our own. We need outside societal assistance to help us unclog the channels of authenticity. We must tell our partner that we need to play a game that has been suggested to us by a highly Prestigious Organisation entirely disconnected from ourselves. We must explain that, on the basis of careful research into what keeps relationships solid, the Prestigious Organisation has mandated that every week, in a quiet moment, on a walk or during a meal, couples have to play a ‘game’. No one wants to do this, it’s a silly game really but the Prestigious Organisation has developed it and spoken about it – and who are we to cast doubt on it?

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1908, via Wikimedia Commons

What the Prestigious Organisation forces us to do (and how reluctant we are) is for both of us to answer the following question in turn: 

What awkward feelings have I been experiencing in this relationship of late?

It’s key to stress to the partner that the Prestigious Organisation has gone out of its way to underline that we must not be sentimental, coy or shallow in our responses. We can’t get away with evasive replies or small jokes. We need, if love is going to survive, to get to the marrow of certain matters. We aren’t doing this to annoy or upset the partner, we’re doing this because we want love to continue – and because we have been forced to speak by an outside imperative.

For the exercise to work, we must also – ahead of asking the question – explain that the Prestigious Organisation has undertaken a lengthy study of human beings, including a sample of the most mature, kind, intelligent, esteemed and accomplished souls on earth, and on this basis, it has delivered a verdict about human nature which the couple need to read out to one another before raising the question above.

The verdict goes like this: No human who has ever lived has been devoid of desires and traits that run objectively counter to the demands and expectations of a good monogamous couple. Every hugely decent man and woman has, in their hearts, been visited – normally a few times a day – by peculiar lusts, daunting bursts of anger, vindictive wishes, disloyal daydreams and moments of what could quite plainly be called insanity. None of this is unusual; in fact what we think of as anomalous is in reality the norm. If we can put it in its most definitive terms, no one is normal. Therefore the proof of our honesty and decency is that our answers have to sound a little weird and a little shocking. The more they do so, the more we are being honest and decent and therefore the more we are showing ourselves to be love- and trust-worthy. The evidence of the sincerity of our affection lies in the danger and strangeness of our answers.

Every time we are understood for a part of us that we feared was unacceptable, our loyalty to our partner will grow. Even if – ironically (or not) – the thing we confess is an ostensibly disloyal thought. We grow stronger, not weaker, as a couple if we’re able to tell one another at points that we wish we were with someone else, that we are disappointed, or full of hatred or of lust. Considered from a suitable vantage point, these are in truth the bonding elements of love and properly romantic statements, insofar as we understand the romantic as that which nourishes and sustains a union.

Our situation is highly poignant. We try so hard to be good partners, yet experience so much that we believe will tear us apart – and then suppress the truth to a point where we lose the ability to feel. And then – to add to the irony – we both do this while convinced we are the only ones to do so. The good news is that we can break the deadlock right now; we were just waiting for better tools with which to disclose more of ourselves safely. 

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