Relationships are not for sissies. Understanding the nature and the dynamics of relationships, and learning how to negotiate them requires a proficiency that is not easily acquired. I must be introspective and self-aware, and also receptive to and perceptive of the other. When problems arise either outside of a relationship or in the context of a relationship (and they always do), we tend to develop habitual patterns of responding to the uncomfortable feelings. One of these patterns is called pursuing and distancing. When the anxiety or stress level goes up, some people feel better with more companionship, more closeness, and a solution-based approach to the issue. They figure, if there’s a problem, let’s talk so we can resolve it. For other people, when the stress level goes up, more intimacy is the last thing they want. They are more comfortable with more distance, not more closeness. At this point, they want their space, and would prefer time with a hobby, TV, or the like. What results is an unholy yin/yang of approach and withdrawal, to where the doomed efforts to solve the problem become the problem. Whether or not we are a pursuer or a distancer is influenced by factors such as ethnicity, family history, gender, and past relationships. Neither one is evidence of an emotional deficit. Within all of us resides a pursuer and a distancer, because all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, fear abandonment and fear intimacy – it’s part of being human. The trick is to notice the patterns and, with wonderful irony, for us to learn to imitate our partners. When pursuers practice distance and when distancers practice pursuit, communication can improve dramatically.
This week I found out that Reality TV doesn’t have to be mind-numbing. This was thanks to the first episode of a new series called Push Girls. It’s standard Reality fare – about breakups, hookups, stalled careers, friends and frenemies, babies yes or babies no – all served up with an occasional meltdown. But on most reality shows I have trouble keeping the female characters straight – they all look alike to me. The Push Girls are stunningly beautiful, but without the cookie-cutter sameness of most reality stars. I wasn’t even thrown off by the fact that all four women are wheelchair users. A savvy producer has introduced the chairs as a subplot, as something secondary to dating, work, budgets, and all the other things that absorb the lives of young women. Difference is not presented as defective. Even in a world where no two snowflakes are alike, that can still be a difficult concept to embrace. Generally life is easier if one can walk, and see, and hear, and think. But the assumption that the absence of these automatically entails a lesser life stems from fear or misinformation, not reality. And it seems this particular reality show aims, along the way, to demonstrate just that. Here’s hoping the Push Girls start a wave. So that at some point the lowest common denominator is no longer the only reality on Reality TV.
I saw the movie Bully. Leaving the theater, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. The youngest child to commit suicide as a result of being bullied was 11 years old. Eleven. It is also my experience that the incidence of bullying is increasing, involving both a greater number of children and much younger children. It is estimated that 13 million children each year are victims of bullying. The movie also highlights just how vicious it’s gotten. Children are humiliated, shunned, kicked, punched and choked. Their possessions are stolen or damaged. Bullying is no longer confined to hallways, playgrounds, and school busses, as now online bullying follows children everywhere. Facebook, text messages, and Twitter hugely expand the audience for a child’s humiliation. I would think that a climate that supports bullying starts in the public square, a place where our governor calls a Navy Seal who disagrees with him an “idiot”, or Rush calls a law student who disagrees with him a “slut”. Characters on “Real World” are rejected and demeaned for sport; the “Housewives” scream, hit, throw things. Rather than heeding the universal maxim to love your neighbor, religious groups act like the popular group at school, deciding who is in and who is out. When bullying is minimized as kids will be kids, it reminds me that adults are not always adults. Nearly 300 years ago Edmund Burke wrote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to keep silent”.