I am writing this because I feel like it needs to be said, to be shared...and because I should put some things about me out there, put them in the light that I might own them and keep working to become a better version of me.
This is my theory on relationships, on how humans who spend more time than a passing second together manage to do so. I want other people to understand it, to use it if they might to make their own lives better, but it has also saved me in a sense, and I want to document how it has, how the people around me have saved me, lest no one know the truth. It would be very easy for the truth to remain hidden, because I am terrible at talking to people; though I manage to make enough mouth noises that I annoy even the most stalwart of companions, I have an incredibly hard time putting the truth of my soul into them in any meaningful way, so I going to try and do so right now. Be forewarned, this will probably be quite long and may meander quite a bit, so it's going to be an interesting journey.
In order to give you a foundation for this theory, so that everyone might start from the same jumping off point that I do, I will relate to you the thought processes, the questions I was attempting to answer, when this theory came to me. It will also serve to allow me to tell you, if I am brave enough at the end of it, how the creation of this theory saved me, and what it means in my own life. I have been struck, quite often these days, by a strange mismatch in how people talk about relationships. If we are talking about heterosexual relationships, most notably between a guy and a girl, it seems that we define these relationships as being either a friendship, or a sexual relationship. Much of the talk about "friendzoning" whether condemning the notion, or attacking the idea that it exists, seems to assume that when a person wants more than friendship from someone else, they must clearly be talking about Sex. a Sexual relationship is the only other option above friendship, therefore that must be what they mean. It even drifts into discussions of homosexual relationships, for just about anytime two men or two women talk about how they are much closer than friends, there is an assumption of a sexual chemistry that they 'simply aren't admitting to yet'. Its the basis of much shipping in all our favorite series and universes. "Oh <name> and <other name> give each other so much shit, they must be doing it in secret (insert a winky face and several suggestive emoji here)".
But when we start to go further afield in terms of the sexual spectrum, we suddenly flip flop and start talking about a completely different set of 'sides'. When we talk about asexuals, we want to make sure everyone known they can have romantic relationships that don't have to be focused on sex. Similarly, pansexuals and people who explore polyamory want everyone to know that they can have sexual relationships that aren't necessarily romantic. But this seems to be in direct conflict with the way we addressed relationship in the other groups. For them, the two sides of the coin were 'Friendship' and 'Sex', but here the two sides of the coin are 'Romance' and 'Sex'. The solution is obvious, many of you are already probably screaming it in your heads, yes we clearly need to have 3 sides to this thing; its not a coin, but some strange 3-sided object. (Fun fact, a 3-sided, three dimensional object is actually impossible, so good luck picturing that.) The thing is, we have to apply all three sides to all these relationships, whomever or whatever we are talking about. Heterosexual, pansexual, demisexual, friends, lovers, blood brothers, mistresses, slaves, it doesn't matter, all of them need to be analyzed using all three: Friendship, Romantic Love, and Sexual Chemistry.
But there is another problem, the idea that all relationships must fall into one of these areas, to the exclusion of the others. I think a big part of the problem we have with relationships, from feeling 'stuck in the friendzone', to worrying about losing friends if the relationship changes, to the problems of loveless marriages and other relationships people feel trapped in, is that we think it has to be one or the other (or the other). Instead, I submit to you that every relationship you have is all three, at once. This is the core of my theory, so let's break it down.
In Homestuck, for those that remember it, there was a diagram of how the alien relationships of Trolls worked, using 4 quadrants. So I'd like you to visual a diagram for this new vision of relationships I am presenting. (If you'd like to couch it in your Homestuck fanfic or alt-universe, you can call this the Dragon Relationship Diagram, seeing as I am a dragon). What we need are three areas, each with a value in them. Technically there will be two values in each area, but
we'll get to that. The three areas are going to be the three different types of love we are talking about. because that's what these are, they are three different types of attraction/interaction that we have, which can range from 0 to some higher number, the bigger the number goes, the stronger that form of interaction, until we reach some arbitrary value that we can say makes it 'love'. So there's Friendship (Friend Love), Romance (traditional or Romantic Love), and Sexual Chemistry (Lust, or Sexual Love if you want to have a theme). So our diagram will have three areas, each with two bars in them, going up to represent how strong those feelings/part of the interaction are; we need two because we're going to have to have constructive and destructive values for each one, as you'll see in a minute.
So let's define these areas. Sexual Chemistry is easy, if I need to explain this one, you should go have a long talk with whomever was supposed to give you "The Talk" when you hit puberty and ask them why they failed you so. Friendship is pretty easy too, do you like spending time with this person? Do you play games together, or listen to the same music, or both geek out over the same shows and movies? Boom, you're friends. But now that we're divesting Romance from the other two, it becomes tricky to define on its own. If you've spent some time trying to figure out how asexuals do their thing, you might have some idea, but its still kinda weird. The main idea I see presented by most, especially young people (teens, early 20s...like nearly 100% of people in this age group) is that its this dramatic thing. The inability to think about anything else, losing yourself when their around, calling/texting endlessly, being unable to sleep because of how they affect you, that is teens' and twentysomethings' typically define love, and that's certainly a...thing. But most older people, certainly anyone whose been through enough toxic relationships, will tell you its also the worst kind of romantic relationship you can have. What we're actually talking about here is Obsession, Jealousy, Drama and those are not good things. So now you know why we need to have two values for each field, because for each type of relationship energy, each type of Love, there is a positive or constructive expression of it, and a negative or destructive expression of it.
Now that we know we need to have two types for each, its not too hard to see the others. We've all had Bad Friendships, people we loved being around, but who seem to bring out our worst qualities, not our best. Anyone whose gotten over drugs or some other terrible vice is intimately familiar with Destructive Friendship, with the people who seem to pull you back to that thing you escaped, even knowing that it might kill you. Destructive/Negative Sexual Relationships aren't too hard to picture either, in fact if we wanted to go back to the Homestuck thing, this is basically what 'spades' was in the Troll diagram. But we're left in a quandary again, what does constructive Romantic Love actually look like, since it can't be the Obsessive Drama thing. The old adage, from the inadequate way we were defining relationships before was 'best friend', "you should marry your best friend", and I think that gets us close to what we need to define this. For my own personal take on positive Romance, I think its actually something that people with a mental illness actually have a much easier time defining. If you have depression, or anxiety, or something else, then you probably also have at least one person in your life who makes that go away, just by being there. All they need to do is show up, be in the room with you, maybe hold your hand or put their arms around you and the dark cloud isn't as dark. The world isn't as scary or nerve-wracking. Sure, a good friend can distract you from your depression or anxiety by taking you a movie and playing a game with you, but what we're talking about is a person who doesn't need to do anything other than just be there and it makes it better. For me myself, my brain is a constant den of noise, of constant random thoughts on everything all of the time. Trying to hold onto a continuous thought is like trying to carry on a conversation in the middle of the New York Stock Exchange. I have to talk to myself out-loud just to make one thing 'louder' than all the others. But
there have been, in my life, a handful of people who make the world quieter... and that is how I define Love. Romantic Love, the good kind. If you are perhaps more normal, lacking in severe mental trauma to use as your definition, then I submit to you that what you are looking for is someone you want to come home to everyday. Imagine the most stressful day of work you can, 8 hours of grueling labor, or a photoshoot where nothing went right, or getting yelled at by an irate customer even when it wasn't your fault. Now, you come home, you open the door, and this person is there. Is it better now? Does all of that bullshit matter less because you see them? If they hug you, do you reflexively smile, even if you were in an absolutely bitchy mood? That means you and this person have a higher value for Romantic Love; they make you feel safe. All of it comes down to that, Romantic Love is when you make each other feel safer, no matter the real or imagined problems.
So now we have a model, a diagram that we can picture for each relationship we see. But it also means we now have some theoretical (or not so theoretical) relationships, that might look pretty odd. So the next thing I need you to do, if you will join me in this theory, is to accept that any relationship defined by this diagram is valid. That doesn't mean they are all good, we have those destructive values to pay attention to, but even the destructive relationships are valid relationships. And if they aren't destructive, if they are constructive, but just weirdly shaped... then they are good relationships. A relationship with super high Romance and Sexuality, but no friendship? I have seen couples married for 50 years who had literally nothing in common. None of the same hobbies, never really doing anything together, but fiercely in love with each other and happy to be together anyway. I certainly didn't see their bedroom chemistry, but it had to be pretty good if they were always flirting even at 70 years old. High Friendship and Sexuality but no romance? Friends with benefits can be a thing, if that's what both people want. Again nothing wrong with hooking up and not needing to be romantically involved if its not what those people want, and no one else should judge. Literally just one of them? well we all high plenty of friends who are just that, friends, so that's not surprising. Just high sexuality with nothing else? I can imagine two people who just really know how to make each other scream (in the good way) and don't need anything else. I have never had it in my life, I don't know that I could actually get there, but I believe it can exist for others and respect it when it does. All these forms, all these relationships are good. And they're all valid.
But they can also change, and will. I don't think any of these values remain static, and I think we can adjust them as we want to, at least a little. Have a good relationship, but the destructive parts are too high, maybe you can work on it and change some of that energy to the constructive side. Has it been a long time since you've gotten intimate with that person? Maybe its time to figure out a new approach to your Sexual Relationship, or maybe time to accept that that part of it went away but the rest is still there and still valid. That's the thing, this is human emotion, human relationships, it's going to be messy, and weird, and inexact. I'm not trying to make a pigeonhole that your relationships have to smashed into, I'm trying to create a new way to think about them, to visual them...again, there's going to be a metric fuckton of different combinations, and all of them are valid, and most may be good. I mean there's some questions I can't answer. Can a relationship with super high destructive values be good if the constructive values are also high? How high do they have to be then? What if its super destructive in one field, but super constructive in another? I don't know the answers to these questions....and I suspect it might be different for every person, maybe for every relationship. But that just reinforces that all of them are valid. And that they are all worth holding onto.
It also means that we should be open to exploring other quadrants of our relationships, because they might be higher than we thought. That doesn't mean you need to start banging every friend you have or that you should try to pursue a romantic relationship with every hookup you've made in the bar, the first part of exploring it probably starts in your own headspace. Does it seem like you and your friend have a certain sexual chemistry? Are you always seeming to be flirting without even realizing it? Maybe try it out, actually give into those urges and see what happens. Figure out just how high that value can go too. Does your latest hookup turn out to like the same video games you do, are you having fun just talking to them, maybe there's a friendship there too. I think we should try to maximize our relationships because I think the mythical idea of a soul mate is just someone who you have high constructive values with in all of the fields. Are they your best friend, someone who makes you feel calm just by cuddling you, and also know how to make you melt with just the right touch to the right area? What the fuck else do you need? But if we're going to start experimenting with these things, we need make sure that its okay to fail.
At these very beginning I said how terrible it is that we think our relationships must end if we redefine them and it doesn't work out, and that's a big part of this theory, of visualizing this diagram. Realizing that when you try to see what the value is on one quadrant, or if one quadrant changes, it doesn't need to change the other ones. It is okay to fail. One more time, in bold letters, IT IS OKAY TO FAIL. Tried adding a Sexual Relationship to your friendship but just not feeling it? That's fine, go back to being just friends. Your romantic relationship falling apart and you both realize it's over. If you were also great friends than you still can be...you should be. Romantic relationship over but you still find yourselves wanting to rip each other's clothes off? Hey, no one can judge you but each other and if you both want to, just keep the sexual relationship going. Again, all types of relationships are valid, and its okay to fail. Its okay for one part to fail and another still be strong. Its okay to seek something more from one of the quadrants you don't have and be 'shot down', the one you have is still good. It. Is. Okay. To. Fail. Its even okay to fail completely. If a relationship turns out to be toxic, the destructive energy of it far too much, if you just need to cut this person out of your life completely, then that was still a valid relationship. It is okay to fail, even to fail hard. This may be one of the biggest parts of this theory, even though its one of the simplest to outline. But the one thing I want all of you to remember, when your relationship is changing, or if a friendship is ending, or if you're scared about asking a friend if they want to be more than a friend.... please remember it is okay to fail, it's not going to destroying what you still have.
This is where it gets personal, because when I first came up with this theory, I was trying to figure out a why to explain to someone how it was fine to turn down a friend who had sought something more. Once I knew to tell them it was okay to fail, I had a revelation wash over me. I would be a massive hypocrite unless I accepted that it was okay for me to fail as well. I had to accept, and move on, from my own failures. My last relationship....was extremely abusive. I was being lied to, and about, constantly. I don't know if it counts as Gaslighting if the victim is aware they're being Gaslighted, that's a question for philosophers, but that was what happening. I'm not proud of it, I'm not proud that I let someone lie to me and told myself that it was better to have someone pretend to love me than to be alone, but it happened. I can't change that. It happened because I genuinely believed that no one would ever actually love me. I am a walking mass of complexes... I have OCD, I'm way too observant, I'm the poster child for that meme going around about how "you were praised for being reserved and quiet as a child and you didn't even know you'd failed to develop a single social skill until it might be too late". I'm basically super annoying and unlike Sheldon or Sherlock or other hip, cool, edgy psychotic assholes in pop culture, I don't look like Benedict Cumberbatch or Jim Parsons; I'm somewhere between average and ugly, so who would ever want to be with me when they could find someone better? That's literally how almost all my relationships have ended...with me being dumped for, or cheated on with, someone who was just like me, only better-looking and/or less annoying. And I was told this, directly. So I told myself that someone pretending to love me, someone going through the motions while they continuously lied to me and did things behind my back was fine...I told myself it was the best I was going to get. I kept telling myself that right up until she gave me back my ring, until she left and said she "needed to be single until figure herself out"... and moved in with the guy that she'd been dating for months already. One of several she'd been sleeping with, even though we hadn't touched in over a year. Just like always, someone with whom she shared most of the same things as me, but who was just wasn't me. I....did not handle this well. I did a thing, The Thing, the worst thing you can do. But for some reason I woke up the next day anyway.
For a long time after that, I continued to exist mainly because I didn't get why I woke up...because there was no medical reason I should have woken up, but apparently the universe was treating it like a game of chicken and I was not allowed to fucking stop yet. But with that thought ('it's okay to fail') being pounded against from all sides, with the Stock Exchange in my head all seemingly united in this moment as I realized it had to be okay to fail for relationships to even work in the first place... I had to accept that it was okay for *me* to fail too. Even though I'd been hurt more often than I could count, even though I couldn't see a single redeeming quality to myself, it had to be okay for me to fail, or I couldn't say it to anyone else. And I had to try again, when the time presented itself, because even if I was shot down again, or hurt again, it has to be okay to fail... and you can't stop looking for love, all the kinds of love, where you can find them.
I also realized that I have good relationships...relationships that are worth saving, they just aren't "normal", they're a funny shape on the diagram, but they are absolutely valid, and wonderful, and Love I should have recognized before I found myself in such a dark place. I have a relationship that just keeps finding a new top value for the Friendship quadrant. This person has been my brother, and then my sister, for almost my entire life. We've done almost everything together and had each other's backs no matter what... from going on family trips with each other's family as kids to always moving to same city, and whenever possible even the same city block. It doesn't matter that there's little Romance, or Sexual Chemistry, if we were somehow thrown into some internment camp situation I would volunteer to die in their place, without even hesitating. I love them and its a relationship worth saving. I have a relationship that has high Friendship and High Sexual Chemistry. There was a time where I really wanted there to be Romance portion too, but I've realized there doesn't need to be. They're crazy, and sexy, and awesome and I love helping them on all the wild adventures they come up with. They need to remember just how amazing they are much more often. I will miss them terribly once they've moved and while sexy times haven't happened in years, I don't regret anything we did, even when I was the most awkward person in the room. I love them, and it's a relationship worth saving. I have a relationship that's ridiculously high in both the Friendship, and Romance quadrants, but with literally zero in the Sexual one. They're a lesbian, and don't like to be touched anyway, and I respect and understand that, maybe more than even some of the girls she's dated. But that thing about healthy Romance, about the person making you feel safe... I've never met anyone who can make my world quiet down as much as she can, even without hugging/cuddling/whatever. She's been one of my best friends for decades, and every time I see her, I have to smile. And it goes both ways, she once drove halfway across the state on a whim even though she hated her car, and driving, and being spontaneous... just so we could spend a weekend together since we hadn't seen each other in months. It constantly seems like we're the two main characters in a Rom-Com, except without the kiss at the end. But who cares, I will Love her until the day I die and its a relationship worth saving. And I have so many more as well, Friendships and Family and awesome people I've only just met. Relationships I want to explore, and look forward to doing so, they are all worth saving.
See, I have to save them by continuing to be a part of them... I can't be selfish again. It seems like it was Fate that woke back up, because if I hadn't...I wouldn't have been there to help when someone else found themselves in that same darkness. I wouldn't have been there to help start a photography business or write an epic Sci-Fi series. I would have missed awesome Tabletop RP Sessions and scary video games. I wouldn't have met the people at my job, or helped some of the most qualified techs that work there get a job as well. I am healing...albeit very slowly, because its okay that I failed, and I still have great relationships, and I know now how to recognize unhealthy ones. So I invite you to use this Theory for yourself so you too can find the relationships that you deserve. Thank you for reading all of this, and may you always be surrounded by all kinds of Love.