A couple weeks ago, just before my anniversary, a younger co-worker asked a few relationship related questions. In effect, she was asking for relationship advice, in a broad, non-specific context. The incident got me thinking about relationships and relationship advice in general. Thus, this post.
I don’t like giving relationship advice. I’m not comfortable being asked for relationship advice. And I’m not going to give any here.
I’ll explain why.
Ultimately, almost all relationship advice—particularly that found in magazines, advice columns, and relationship sites—is generally useless.
I say this with some caveats, notably the “If you see these signs, then you’re probably in an abusive relationship and should run very fast” advice.
But, I think most relationship advice is useless because all romantic relationships are different. Regardless of the issue, we like to believe there is one “fix-it” solution, whether we’re talking about romantic relationships, writing papers, or economics. But, there is no single, perfect solution to any issue, just like there is no one perfect formula for writing an A paper in university. Every romantic relationship is different, what works for me and my spouse probably won’t work for another couple, or the third couple across the way. There are so many variables in play in any couple—from personal history to philosophies, education levels to family relations—that affect a romantic relationship that it’s impossible to generalize with any given couple.
In the end, though, I think romantic relationships are built on three things: friendship, attraction, and shared interests. And the first two of those are great examples of the differences that mark romantic relationships.
Most of us have a variety of friends. And we don’t interact the same way with all of them. For instance, I have a couple friends with whom I went to primary school (and later secondary school), who know me in different ways than the friends I first met in secondary school or university (ex. they’ve known me since I was 6 or 7 years old). I also have friends whom I first met in graduate school (at 24 years old), and we have a different relationship than I do with my friends from secondary school. Then there are the friends I’ve made in the last ten years, mostly through aikido training. Because we know each other from a martial arts practice, and generally see each other a couple times a week, often less depending on schedules, we have a rather different relationship. There are things that we talk about that we wouldn’t, necessarily, with friends we’ve known through other venues, or people who are mutual friends with our spouses.
In the case of attraction, we all find ourselves attracted to a variety of individuals. And the reasons for attraction are often not the same. For instance, a person may find Chris Evans, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman attractive, or Julia Roberts, Alyssa Milano, and Jennifer Lawrence. Different things draw the person to each of those individuals (and, yes, I know I’ve “dated” myself a bit with my choices there, I’m cool with that). What attracts the individual is not the same in each case, just like no two romantic relationships are the same.
For me, this sense of differences, uniqueness even, is why being asked for relationship advice is a tricky situation. I find myself thinking: what kind of personality types are involved, what shared interests are there, what attracts these two to each other . . . there are too many factors that differentiate the questioner’s experience and relationship from my own.
In a way, I suppose this is something for writers and readers to consider as well, for character development, as every character is going to be, or has been, involved in family, friendship, professional, and romantic relationships.