Our relationships go through three distinct phases. You will know exactly which phase you are at once you read this!
The first phase is like receiving a new toy, all gift wrapped and shiny. As you peel away the wrapping, everything is new and surprising. You want to savour it. You look at the pictures on all sides and read the little notes. You believe that your new toy will do everything that it says it will do on the box. All the pieces are neatly labeled, properly sorted, and in their place.
You and your friend talk about many things, you explore each other’s ideas and interests. You believe you both are ready to compromise and make things work. You see the other person ‘complimenting’ you in so many ways. The relationship is filled with wonder. You feel that having this kind of energy in your life is worth the sacrifices you might have to make.
Then comes the time when you actually start assembling the various parts of the toy. You read the instruction manual. After the first three or four steps you are stuck. The instructions are not clear enough. Frustration! Finally with a little help you get through. Then one of the parts snaps. It seems now that it is all over. Without that part you can’t move forward. The worst is when you discover that a certain necessary part is totally missing from the set!
Yup, every relationship that moves past the shiny ‘gift wrapping’ phase, reaches this ‘assembly’ phase. Unfortunately, unlike toys, human relationships don’t come with an instruction manual. The closer you get to the person, you begin to see their flaws in a ‘higher resolution’. Things become sensitive. Why do you not call? Who did you meet? I don't want do that. Why can’t you be the one to do it first?
The classic way to handle difficulties that arise is to make a ‘compromise’. Or worse still, when the topic at hand is sensitive and emotional, we change the topic, or we give a gift, or go for a holiday. Rather that deal with the issue, we cover up the stink with a pile of roses, thinking it will go away. But it always returns. The relationship start to feel like walking in a rose garden, that is actually minefield. The walk is lovely, but you never know when a bomb will explode right in your face.
Beyond this chasm of fear and insecurity lies the third phase. You have to see my children playing with their old toys. There is complete disregard for the instruction manual. The toy designers would balk to see how their toy is actually being used. What was meant to be a puzzle, is being used as a magic oracle in the castle of doom. The missing parts have been replaced by pieces of chalk joined together by chewing gum. The lego set has been mixed together with the hot cars and even the chinese made wooden blocks. They have created their own fantasy land!
I call this third phase ‘play-create’. You now know what is and what is not. You have accepted that your friend truly cares for you but is still going to forget your birthday. You remind them yourself. You find joy in the small things. Once again, you discover and explore. You are ready for surprises, but now you trust. You trust not just the other person, but you trust your own responses, your own ability to deal with surprises, and you trust existence. You know that even if their are missing parts, this is yours and you will find a way to enjoy it.
The move from the first to the second phase is natural. It happens whether you like it or not!
But the move from the second to the third is where the trick lies. It required work to be done. A lot of work. It requires honest, frequent, and sometimes difficult conversations. Communication is the brick out of which the bridge across the chasm of insecurity and incompleteness is built. It needs regular, cool headed, ego-less and honest communication. This is where we stumble.
But when we make it happen, we discover the truly joyous third phase of playing and creating ourselves and each other. That is really the true purpose of our lives - to know ourselves.
This is when I can say - Come, lets play. You help me know myself better!