Relationship desires: security (and some other stuff)

Charlie Nox wrote in a recent email shot that:

There are many aspects to creating an amazing, vibrant, sexy, fulfilling dating life. At a very fundamental level however, it comes down to 2 basic issues.

  1. Most people don’t know what they want.
  2. Most people have no idea how to get what they want (whatever the hell that is anyway).

Obviously, my SCW programme is aimed at precisely these questions and figuring out the answers in my own probably half-assed and cackhanded way, the same way I’ve cobbled together most things in my life and psyche.

CN writes in the same email:

I spend a LOT of time with my clients helping them get clear about exactly what they want. We dig down deep and look for the true fundamental traits they want in another person and a relationship. They make lists, and collages, and ponder, and journal about it. This is about 50% of the work of creating what you want

As you may have noticed from my original SCW post, I like making lists and mind maps and ponderation on things. However, just making a list doesn’t really do anything more than bringing out some surface ideas, in that when people are asked what they want in life, lots of them will say, “money”. But really, money is just a means to an end – what they really want is what they plan to buy with the money. So saying I want a particular thing on my list doesn’t necessarily reveal what I really want. I have to go to the next level of the mind map and think about what those terms mean to me.

For example, when I asked myself the question (from that list in the earlier post), “What are my objectives? … about the type of relationship that develops” I came up with some words that had a common theme:

    • Trust
    • Reliable
    • Helps me be “anchored”

So these all have a theme of safety or security in them, although they relate to it differently. It’s worth my while, therefore, to go away and think more about what security looks like in terms of the relationship I want – what do “trust”, “reliability” and “helps me be anchored” mean, what sort of roles or activities would give me what I want? It’s also worth noting that the other two words were “conversation” and “independent”, so how do those words modify the answers I get when I think about security, and what deeper meanings do I attach to them?

Here’s a reconstruction of the mind map that I drew when I put “Security (relationships)” in the middle:

Relationship security mindmap

(Female pronouns used because that’s the most likely choice of a future partner, although neutral or masculine terms could also turn out to be preferred by the person I end up with)

Several of these points are things that advice-givers seem to think are important, and that when you find a partner who does them, you hang on (and if the partner doesn’t, “He’s Just Not That Into You”). Which hopefully suggests I’m on the right tracks with my thinking and the others are just specific pointers.

The first key element is that almost all of them are reciprocal. For example, “She trusts me” links back to “I can trust her” because “She trusts me” would have the same meaning in reverse; similarly, “I can be her anchor” should have a two-way arrow to another level that has all the connections that “Helps me be anchored” has. Phrases like “support each other”, “each provides foundation”, “know each others’ secrets”, also have this reciprocal nature. The aspect that doesn’t show this quality (or not as much) is “Reliable”.

“Reliable” is a delicately defined concept in terms of the place it has in my conception of relationships and “security”. The phrase, “inductive reasoning possible” which is linked from both “understanding why she does things” and “consistency” is important here, but it’s not a complete description. Very loosely defined, inductive reasoning is the belief that what happened in the past is a good indicator of what will happen in the future (it’s the foundation of all science) – the idea that a repeating pattern will continue to repeat unless something happens to change it. (Also put, in self-help terms, as “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”). Obviously people are never that precisely defined that they always behave in the same ways. There is also a key point about predictability, surprise, and consistency, and where they fit together in the terms used in my diagram.

The basic distinction is that “predictability” would be that, given a new situation, I can determine in advance how someone would respond; this is NOT what I am interested in – I want someone who is capable of surprising me in some ways (more on this later). On the other hand, “consistency” (as used in the diagram) is about responses, and in particular, about responses to something I did in the past being generally similar if I do the same thing again in similar circumstances. Alternatively, if the response is different, then the “I can understand why” part comes in: there’s some element of the situation that is different from before, and either I can figure out what that is and why it matters, or else my partner is able to explain it to me. While there will always be some variation, I want to be with someone for whom, by and large, there’s a knowable range of outcomes when I take a leading action. Boxes like “lets me know her intentions” and “keeps promises” are also about being able to see how the action I take is likely to affect my partner.

As far as “surprise” is concerned, there are two boxes dealing with that: the “responses” point already discussed and also, “Asks how I feel about a plan (not springing it on me)”. I said above that I do want to be able to be surprised. To me, at least, there are two ways of splitting up surprises: safe/unsafe and stable/unstable. Stable/unstable is about my own consistency (see, I implied there was an element of reciprocity to reliability): a stable surprise is one where my response is likely to be similar regardless of circumstance (e.g. “Surprise! I bought you your favourite chocolates!” is almost never going to cause a bad reaction – hopefully it’s obvious I wouldn’t choose to be with a person who wanted to give me a reliably bad reaction) whereas an unstable surprise is one that could cause a bad reaction or a good one, depending on the kind of day I’ve had, or the mood I’m in, how tired I am, or anything. The classic example from media representations would be a surprise birthday party, and to me that is so unsafe that if anyone organised one for me, they would no longer be viewed as my friend(s) – regardless of how good I felt about it in the moment, I would be really angry afterwards because to me, it’s a nasty experience to deal with that emotional turmoil (seriously, point 6 of this post is exactly right). Safe/unsafe is about the level (and type) of danger or risk that I feel has been introduced to the situation by the surprise, and therefore is a continuous scale rather than all-or-nothing. I like my surprises stable and safe.

An unstable safe surprise (I don’t feel like a surprise party is safe enough, incidentally, although safer than some surprises) is manageable, and obviously the main risk is whether I feel bad or good afterwards. The stable, unsafe surprise is awkward to imagine, when taking into account that a partner would want the reaction to be reliably positive rather than negative. Nevertheless, the sort of thing that might fit would be something that produces a reliable adrenaline rush in response to the risk (perhaps, “Honey, I booked you in the next performance slot” at an open mic event, especially if there’s some sort of booby prize, but social risk still bothers me even without that) while keeping the probability of failure relatively low. Unstable, unsafe risk is obviously the worst. A high chance of failure, or high stakes placed on failure, make the outcome uncertain and so increase both “unsafe” and “unstable”. Obviously, if my reaction is not reliable, then that increases the chances of a bad outcome (failure) so an unstable surprise is also more likely to be unsafe. Again, considering that a partner would not want to cause a bad reaction, I’m thinking in terms of things that seem risky to me based on my life experience, but aren’t necessarily risky for everyone (either I perceive them as more risky than others do, or else something I’ve done/not done means that they really could have worse effects than they do for other people), or things that have emotional or social risks attached. In the case of the surprise birthday party, the main risk is to my supply of spoons, which is more plentiful than in years past but still can be depleted quickly by social events, especially ones that I didn’t know were expected of me. There is also the risk of if I have made other plans, or other events have made my state of mind such that a party will be emotionally painful.

The way to deal with all of this is to put the surprise in a safer environment: instead of doing something surprising, say something surprising. For instance, if a partner doesn’t travel much but gets the idea it would be nice to see somewhere or go to a festival, instead of “I booked the tickets!”, it would be just as surprising to say, “I think we should try going to this for an experience!” I am also far more likely to say “yes” to the second option – the first one means you’ll have a spare ticket. So “asks me how I feel about a plan” is not, actually, about reducing surprises but is the best way to surprise me.

“I’ll catch you when you fall” is the keynote that underpins the whole thing. (When I wrote it, I immediately started singing the chorus to Tasmin Archer’s “Arienne”, but that’s not particularly relevant) If you get what this means then it shows you why surprise isn’t bad, it’s the manner; it shows you why “reliable” means what it does; why I put things like “provides foundation” and “support outside comfort zones”.

I have a very firm belief that people have to be allowed to make their own mistakes (they shouldn’t be allowed to make mistakes for other people freely – risk your own wellbeing, not others’). It’s why I oppose ideas like denying certain types of healthcare to smokers or heavy drinkers – and I firmly believe that everyone makes some kind of mistake or risky behaviour in their lives that could, by that logic, disbar them from something or other. Usually when I call this to mind in a dating context it’s about people asking “How do I stop my friend dating this boy/girl I know is really bad for them?” and once you’ve explained why the boy/girl is bad for your friend, my answer is: you can’t. Your job is just to make sure that when it goes bad (assuming it does) that you are there for your friend to help them pick up the pieces and move on with life.

So the security I seek in a relationship is that my partner should be that kind of friend to me, and I to them. My partner won’t try to stop me doing the risky, dangerous or scary things – indeed, they may even encourage or at times suggest them – but I will know with utter faith that if it should go wrong, if I should fall, then they will catch me. Or at least, put me back together again. This kind of security is the opposite of “I will not let you get hurt”, or “I will make sure you never have to be afraid”. It’s “If you get hurt, I will heal you” and “If you are afraid, I will give you confidence to face it”. When I wrote, “The relationship has a ‘safe point’ to return to” the whole idea is that for the rest of the time, we’re at risky points, able to do risky things, because if the risk becomes too great, then there is a point, a mode of being together, that can be restored and balance regained.

So a relationship, for me, has to have that kind of “I’ll catch you when you fall” ethos. That’s what I’m looking for.

Some people might think that this desire for security speaks of a lack of confidence, but really it’s the opposite (that said, I’ll ‘fess up to lacking confidence in some situations – the “support outside comfort zones” is about that; and also, surprises make me doubt confidence). It’s about both partners having three types of confidence: confidence to take risks (which is enhanced by “I’ll catch you when you fall”), confidence in their ability to do the catching if their partner falls, and of course, confidence in their partner’s confidence.

If you think such a confident, “I’ll catch you when you fall” relationship sounds hard to find, consider that I felt that it existed in at least two relationships, and some friendships as well, and I don’t meet a lot of people or form many connections. In my relationships that lasted a month or more (both of them!) everything on that mind map was a part of how I felt.

The other interesting piece of analysis is how this all ties in with BDSM. The definition of “security” I’ve given may well seem like the sort of thing a Submissive might look for in a Dominant, and it’s true that there have been times when my interest in submitting has very much keyed in on them. But I identify as Dominant. Nevertheless, I think that the things I seek are, if not uniquely, then in a distinctive way, present in BDSM. The structure that has to go with SSC or RACK relationship and play certainly provides a strong “I’ll catch you when you fall” role, but more particularly, it carries a promise of a “safe point” to return to, with the idea that a Dominant will “bring you back” from the risks inherent in play. The ideal of communication that resonates in BDSM builds trust and reliability, in the terms used above: for instance, informed consent means plans should be discussed and promises kept (although surprises are obviously a part of the Dom’s armoury). Since almost everything is reciprocal in my definition, then being a Dominant also means having this security – it is the highest role that, as a Dom, I can be her anchor.

Does this mean that my desire for BDSM is a result of these broader relationship needs, or do I value these things because of what is important in BDSM? Do they, perhaps, spring from some other common source, whether innate or learned, so that they go together as a natural pair? Or is it that they are entirely independent, and I just bring my relationship desires to shape my style of BDSM without either “causing” the other? That’s impossible to say, of course. The thing I take away from this is that this is my style of relationship, and it would be an unhappy relationship if I didn’t receive and offer these things.

The other essential criteria are things I’ve had for a long while on the list:

      • Non-smoker
      • Shared values (feminism/left-wing/sex-positive/etc)
      • Compatible kink or kink-curious vanilla

It would be nice if they were into music the way I am, or shared some of my geek/nerd/dork tendencies, but ultimately the mind map and the list above covers what I am looking for.

Still to come are what a “successful” interaction looks like (and how do I go about achieving that?), what things I have to work with (many of them tie in very neatly with “what I’m looking for”, it turns out), and sharing with you the answers I found for “where do I have difficulty?” and “what sort of venue do I think would be best for me?” Once I’ve got that material worked out, I can start sorting out how the “what I’ve got” translates into “getting what I want”.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
This entry was posted in Dating, SCW, Social so-called life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Relationship desires: security (and some other stuff)

  1. WhakaaroNoa says:

    Reblogged this on WhakaaroNoa.

  2. Pingback: Criteria for a successful interaction | Valery North - Writer

  3. Pingback: My tools: psychology’s view | Valery North - Writer

  4. Pingback: Where do I need help with dating? | Valery North - Writer

  5. Pingback: Dating while Cancerian | Valery North - Writer

  6. Pingback: For whom am I looking? | Valery North - Writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s