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By Nicolle

Know thyself, said the great philosopher Socrates. While that evocation seems trite and menial, to actually pursue such an idea is a great undertaking. As you begin to peel back the layers of yourself, you may find hidden motivations, dirty secrets and shameful mistakes.

I’ve recently realized that my psyche wages an internal war anytime I’m in a relationship. It won’t last, I whisper unconsciously to myself. You can’t keep him. You’re not quite good enough. Remember what happened last time? You’ve seen who he dated before. You know you’ll never measure up.

And so it goes. That voice forces me to analyze every inflection, every tone, every short remark, every glance, every move until I’ve literally given myself a stomachache.

Now, some of that, as I’ve mentioned before, is just a personality trait, one that I’m learning to accept. But the vengeful attack that coerces my thoughts into repetitive formations is more than a natural tendency to think things through. It’s a deliberate attempt at self-sabotage.

I begin to believe those lies whispered to me and I feel strangled. I outwardly act as if nothing is wrong but inside, I’m slowly killing myself.

A good friend of mine recently gave me sound advice. “You’re never going to have it all figured out,” she said. “No matter how many books you read, no matter how many times you try. So, know yourself and stop trying to figure it all out.”

The trick is to balance understanding the baggage and wounds and scars and hurts I bring to a relationship while still living presently.

If I spend all my time trying to be self-actualized, I’ll miss out on what’s actually going on in my relationship. But if I ignore my past experiences and how they impact my actions, I’ll never move past those self-imposed attacks.

An open, willing spirit, I’m learning, is much more valuable than any attempt at self-protection. Once I’m aware that I’m unconsciously feeding myself lies about my worth based on who I am (or am not) dating, what he thinks of me or what’s happened in my past relationships, I can begin to enter my internal battle. I can actively combat whatever line my psyche uses on me next – and I can win.

Note: This is the last Unhooked and Unsettled post that will appear on Reactionary Century, but check out UnhookedandUnsettled.Wordpress.Com to keep following along every Tuesday.


By Nicolle

Last Friday night, my best friend and I received a phone call from one of our college roommates. “I’m engaged!” she screamed into the phone. “It’s going to be an October 2011 wedding!”

That phone call came on the heels of a discussion with another friend about the state of her relationship, and how engagement might be in her future as well. Their different relationship stories got me thinking: As much as we’d like to put our relationships in neat little boxes, complete with an instruction manual and timeline, things are rarely that black and white.

Another friend of mine is dating a guy who I’m sure she’ll end up with. They’ve been dating for almost four years – but there’s no engagement in sight.

Another friend is dating a guy she’s been with since last winter. I’m pretty certain they’ll be engaged within a few months.

Yet another friend dated a guy for two years, broke up with him for two years and is now engaged to him.

And those are just my friends.

Clearly there is no formula, which just about anyone will tell you if prompted. The difference is whether or not we actually believe our relationships don’t have to fit into someone else’s idea of perfect timing.

I can’t see myself ever being ready to make a declaration of lifelong commitment after dating someone for less than a year, so my confusion and (sometimes) jealousy of friends who have it figured out sooner often overrides my inward excitement about others’ relationships. Why is it that some people “just know” right away, while others take years to decide – and sometimes they still don’t know?

My conclusion is simple. There is no conclusion. There is no one reason why it seems easier for some people to figure their relationships out than others. Sometimes I’d like to sit in my ivory tower and declare that I’m much smarter, more mature and more realistic than those who, in my eyes, dive into a proposal and wedding planning before they’re actually ready. But the truth is that I can’t see into anyone’s relationship but my own – and most of the time, I don’t even have that figured out.

While I think there are definite red flags that everyone should look for in their relationships and in their friends’ relationships (i.e. a really short dating time, the inability to answer legitimate questions about the relationship without getting defensive, etc.), the most important thing to remember is that we can’t know what’s going on in others’ heads or hearts. At the end of the day, whether I agree with my friends’ relationships or engagements or not, the decision isn’t up to me. And I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences, good or bad.

By Nicolle

Britney Spears got married there. Katy Perry wrote a song about it. Friends’ Ross and Rachel woke up hitched there. The guys from The Hangover lost their friend on a rooftop there.

What is “there”? Vegas, course. Sin City, with its infamous motto of “What happens here, stays here,” is the place where crazy things happen – but you don’t have to tell anyone about them.

That is unless you get married, win a huge sum of money and try to get divorced and split the $3 million winnings, but a judge won’t let you because he’s sick of seeing Gen Y disregard the sanctity of marriage.

Unrealistic? Probably. But it’s the basis of the Cameron DiazAshton Kutcher rom com What Happens in Vegas. And while such a scenario is more than unlikely to happen in real life, what the characters inevitably learn along the ride is a lesson we could all stand to ingest.

After a wild night in Vegas where they end up hitched and win $3 million, main characters Joy (Diaz) and Jack (Kutcher) are forced to remain married for six months or receive none of their winnings.

(SPOILER) After six months of honesty, self-revelation and letting down their traditional relational defense mechanisms, Jack and Joy realize that they’ve fallen in love. Now, while I’d normally eschew such a predictable conclusion, this time I think the writers got it right. This lighthearted comedy unknowingly goes against the grain of usual rom coms and illustrates a different idea of the word “soulmate.”

The traditional definition of soulmate promotes an idea that there is one person on the planet for you. Once you find that one person (who you should fall madly, head-over-heels in love with instantly), you’ll experience no relationship difficulties, no hardships, no problems. Your feelings of passionate love will never dim, you’ll never want to look at another person of the opposite sex and life will be easy now that you’ve found your partner for life. “Soulmate” implies that if you miss that one person, you’re doomed to live a life alone, while all your soulmate-finding friends skip into the sunset of happily ever after.

That may be a little over the top, but you get the picture. The traditional definition of soulmate seems to necessitate a “right place, right time” idea of destiny, and places an extreme amount of pressure on any romantic relationship you have. Then, when that soulmate relationship falters due to normal relationship stresses, instead of sticking around to fight for what could be the best relationship for us, we feel we have the right to bow out because a relationship we have to work for isn’t what we signed up for.

Instead of searching for the person we think will make our romantic lives seamless, we should be paying attention to the people who challenge us to be better. The truth is, there are likely a lot of people with whom we are romantically compatible and with whom we could sustain a marriage. Because of that, the question we should be asking ourselves should morph from “Who’s perfect for me?” to “Who’s the best for me?”

If I think back to the guys I’ve dated and imagine myself married to any of them, I can come up with a ranked list of which fantastical marriages would be easiest. One of my high school boyfriends would be easier to be married to than the other because we share more of the same values. A marriage to one of my college boyfriends would be most difficult because the way his extroverted personality interacts with my introverted one is exhausting.

I’m not implying that we should date or marry someone for whom we have no romantic feelings, or that we should stay in a relationship just because we want to be married. What I do mean to say is that we shouldn’t necessarily be searching for someone who completes us perfectly, because our search will then be never-ending. Instead, we should be looking for someone who makes us better, who challenges us to be better versions of ourselves in constructive ways.

What we’ll find then is that while we’re focused on the betterment of ourselves and our significant others, we’ll become each others’ soulmates. In the process of putting our energy into our relationship instead of concentrating on whether we’ve finally met the perfect person, we’ll begin to grow into a version of a soulmate that redefines our traditional meaning.

A soulmate shouldn’t be something we search for. It should be something we strive to be as we interact, relate, learn, grow, understand, love and change with another person. It shouldn’t be accidental; it should be intentional.

While the fictional relationship saga of Jack and Joy wasn’t intentional, it does demonstrate that in our single-minded search for our soulmates, we run the risk of overlooking possible partners who have the potential to grow into the best relational match for us. And that’s the kind of revelation I hope doesn’t stay in Vegas.

By Nicolle

With the intention of making my unloading job easier, I once grabbed four dinner plates from inside the dishwasher. As I began to lift them, the wet, slippery underside of the bottom plate got the best of me. I dropped all four dishes on our ceramic kitchen floor.

That incident (along with a few others) convinced my family that I can’t be trusted with dishware (even though I’m still the chief dishwasher-emptier). I’m forced to absorb jokes and jabs about my butterfingers, and the mismatched dishes in the cupboard don’t do anything for my dish-breaker reputation.

My family thinks I’m just careless, that I don’t pay attention to how easy it is to break the dishes (I disagree and argue that if we just used plastic dishes or had rubber floors, the problem would be solved). Their arguments remind me that even things that are really quite delicate can sometimes appear unbreakable. Friendships are one of those things.

One of my closest friends is dating a guy I think is wonderful for her. I don’t believe in soulmates but if I did, I’d claim he was hers. That said, her relationship with him means she spends less time with me. And I get jealous.

Now, she’s also pursuing a degree, living 45 minutes away from me and in the middle of an internship, so I can’t entirely blame her boyfriend for the fact that I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. But occasionally, I feel like she’s choosing him over me when her schedule opens up and she has a night free.

And, honestly, sometimes she does choose him over me. One of the reasons, we’ve recently discovered when we confronted this very issue, is that our friendship feels more dependable, more stable and more reliable. If we neglect our friendship for a few weeks (or months), we’re both confident that we’ll easily be able to pick right back up where we left off, no worse for the wear.

But, to neglect a romantic relationship for that same period of time is relational suicide. It clearly states to your partner that s/he isn’t as important as your job, your friends, your softball team or your book club.

In general, we demonstrate that we value our significant others more than our friends even though our friends are sometimes the people we turn to in our most difficult times. We devote more time and energy to our romantic relationships because they feel more fragile, and seem to need more attention, while our friendships seem stable, consistent and dependable.

There’s a lot of truth in that evaluation, especially to the unmarried. Right now, I’ve been “with” my best friends for more than six years. I’ve never had a boyfriend that long, so in my perspective, my friends are more dependable than a guy. I value my friendships more than any relationship I’ve had because my friends held my hand after my awful break-up, jumped up and down with me when I got my new job, visited me after I had my wisdom teeth pulled out and missed me when I lived in Australia. That kind of community is invaluable.

At some point, I realize, that could change. As my friends get married, their values have to shift in order to insure a successful marriage. I can no longer expect to share the same space as her husband on my best friend’s list of priorities.

While that shift is expected, anticipated and even welcomed (I honestly want the best for my friends), it’s not easy or fun. And until that shift is necessary due to formal nuptials, I don’t want it to come early. I want to remain a priority in my friends’ lives until they tie the knot.

We forget that our friendships need as much time, intentionality and deliberateness as our romantic relationships. Friendships take planning, phone calls, dinner dates, sleepovers and movie marathons to keep them thriving.

In other words, they take sacrifice. The fragility of our friendships is often hidden behind strong bonds, but to guarantee their success, we have to be as diligent about them as our romantic endeavors. We have to be willing to give up a little of our free time, a little of our sleep time and a little of other-relationship time to keep our friendships strong.

Without sacrifice, friendships, like my dishes, can easily be shelved, dropped or even broken. And while I can take the teasing about being a butterfingers when it comes to dishware, friendships are a much more serious and worthwhile matter.

By Nicolle

A friend of mine once told me how disgusted he was with the type of language we use when we refer to our relationships. We “invest” in our friends. We “balance” our relationships. We “budget” our time with our boy/girlfriends.

Referring to our relationships the way we refer to our bank accounts might seem a little cold. But maybe if we started viewing love and marriage as romantic business deals, we’d be able to maintain them more long-term.

The reality is that many parts of marriage revolve around the mundane – Who’ll do the dishes? Who’s going to clean the toilet? Who should cook dinner? Who’s in charge of the bills? How do we decide about finances? Who buys the toothpaste?

Often, we forget that these day-to-day activities make up a large portion of marriage. The mushy-gushy romantics get pushed to the wayside when it come to who’ll keep track of the finances or who’s going to the grocery store this week.

Even people we love the most can be awful roommates, budgeters or cleaners. Just because you’re romantically gooey with your partner doesn’t mean all those boring, everyday things magically work themselves out. They require tedious discussions that make long-term commitment seem like not exactly what we signed up for.

Look at it like this: In choosing a partner to go into business with, would you pick someone who lacks a work ethic, who disagrees with you about how to make financial decisions or who has a knack for spending more than s/he makes? Probably not (and if you did, your friends and family would caution you against it). So why, when so many of the same characteristics are part of what makes a marriage work, would you choose someone you a) hadn’t discussed those things with or b) knew you’d completely disagree with them on?

You shouldn’t. And you shouldn’t let an in-the-moment romantic feeling cause you to make a long-term commitment you wouldn’t make in another area of your life.

When you’re dating, everything is geared toward getting to know each other, spending time together and having fun. When you’re married and living together, things start to shift and become geared toward doing regular life together. Sure, there are special times you plan like when you were dating, but those times aren’t necessarily as frequent because your downtime, your relaxation time, your just “being” time is spent together. None of that is bad; it just represents a shift in the relationship that many people don’t factor in when deciding when or who they’re going to marry.

I’m not proposing that we should rid marriage of romance or completely disregard our feelings. What I do advocate is letting our logic inform our feelings (and if you’re lacking in logic, find someone who can give you that kind of advice, be it a good friend, family member or mentor). We have to strike a balance of head and heart when making decisions that impact our romantic AND everyday lives.

Cold? Callous? Unfeeling? Perhaps. But taking some of the romanticized ideas out of marriage could make us more successful in our relationship attempts.

While our relationships might not be as financially lucrative as a business deal, we will yield a high result if we can recognize that the sense we use when it comes to financial decisions can come in handy if applied to marriage. And a high marriage stock is worth more than any financial stock (especially in this economy).