People Are Microcultures: The Ideal Relationship Is Relative

an illustration of a large squid-like sea monster attacking a masted ship on the sea. At the bottom of the illustration is written the following: "Fig. 12 -- Facsimile of De Montfort's 'Poulpe colossal.'"
Image by Wicker Paradise / CC BY

I’ve been waiting for months, waiting for years, waiting for you to change.
Aw, but there ain’t much that’s dumber, there ain’t much that’s dumber
than pinning your hopes on a change in another.
And I, yeah I still need you, but what good’s that gonna do?
Needing is one thing, and getting, getting’s another.

-“Needing/Getting,” OK GO (lyrics)

The Ideal Relationship Is Relative

My first marriage had a lot of high points. We were together 10 years, after all, and that’s a lot of time to make happy memories. But I can also remember enduring agony.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, I found my ex-husband quite attractive. I craved his attention, his love. But what I did inevitably seemed to annoy him. And I never felt like I could get as close to him as I wanted to. He was rather self-contained, enjoyed his space, and me? Well, I could be a little clingy.

I left nearly every interaction we had together feeling like I was “too much.” That I talked too much, wanted too much sex, that I was an exhausting person who was a burden to know.

It was agony to love someone so much and feel like I was forever in his way. But it was a quiet agony. A private one. One that led me to perpetually look within for answers. What was I doing wrong? How could I be a better partner? Why couldn’t I make him happy?

And until we opened up our marriage after 8 years of monogamy, I thought I was terrible at relationships. I had no idea that things could be any different.

But shockingly, they were. I connected easily with new people. And a lot of the qualities my ex-husband had found irritating about me were considered strengths by new partners.

People Are Microcultures

I’ve come to realize that people are microcultures.

What’s true for one person isn’t necessarily so for the next. One person’s clingy is another’s attentive.  One person’s boring could be another’s reliable.

And aspects that are scarce in one relationship will be abundant in another. Like commodities in one of those trading games. Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, Rainbow Silkroad, Chocolatier.

Or the first one I ever played: Pirates of the Barbary Coast! Sail into Tripoli. Sell cocoa, buy silk.

And sure, attentiveness isn’t cocoa. Reliability isn’t silk.

And it’s noble to commit to a relationship. Do work, even when it’s hard and thankless.

But in some cases? You just might find when you leave port that you’re valued more in some microcultures than others.

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See Also:

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Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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