Monday, April 6, 2009

How Much Space Do You Need?

It is a disaster to have a man fall in love with me. They aren't content to take what I can give, they want everything from me.
Katherine Anne Porter (1960), American Journalist

Feeling lonely even when involved in a close, romantic relationship, is not all that uncommon. This odd sort of loneliness stems from unmet expectations. In order to relieve "in-relationship" loneliness one of two things needs to occur. Either the expectations of the lonely person need to be adjusted or even replaced by ones that work for the relationship or an emotional break from the other person must be made. The expectation that is most relevant to happiness in romantic relationships is related to freedom versus connectedness.

A friend, Paloma, recently moved to Manhattan to dance, write and try to make ends meet on student loans and side jobs. She rented a one-room "hole-in-the wall", registered for classes at NYU and chatted with anyone willing. Two weeks into her new life the loneliness set in and flooded any spare moment. Although she spoke to friends and family in Ohio by telephone and e-mail, she felt utterly socially disconnected in her new life. One day, her sister mentioned that Paloma's old boyfriend, George, had also moved to New York recently. "Why don't you look him up?" she said. Paloma did not really want to date George again, but she did need a friend.

George, moved to New York City, rented a flat, and started exploring his new neighborhood, Chinatown. The intoxicating smells of fresh meat and fried delicacies, mandarin folk opera music mingled with curt yelling and the shear mass of humanity kept this Midwesterner enthralled. On his walks to and from his new job he had time to think and marvel. He felt very happy.

Two weeks into his new life, he received a call from Paloma. She was in town, working as a waitress by day and taking evening classes to complete her MFA. "Let's get together!" she said. They met for lunch. They kept in touch and eventually resumed dating. Soon free evenings and weekends were spent in each others company. Paloma was happy. Everything in her life seemed in place now that she had George to share her life. But George began to feel an unease growing inside. Paloma needed more of George. More time. More affection, love and assurance. More impromptu talks, more hugs. George needed time alone. So their conflicts began. Neither of them were quite in love and so, the relationship ended. George went back to marveling at the wonders around him, alone. Paloma began looking for her soul mate.

University of Chicago professor, John T. Cacioppo, author of Loneliness, believes it's a subjective sense of loneliness--not lack of objective social support--that uniquely predicts whether a person's psychological state negatively affects her physiological health. People who feel they are lonely exhibit depressive symptoms, chronic health conditions , and elevated blood pressure.

Each person has a unique need for connectedness and each person's expectations fall in line with that level of need. The needed level of need can not be wrong. Each is just different and this difference can cause relationships with great potential to sour. To remain happy in a relationship with a person whose connectedness needs differ from yours, your expectations must be adjusted to better fit that relationship. Negotiations must begin and a place where each person feels loved and connected needs to be found. That is why Love Is Work.

Love has to be work, because each person's need for connection is unique. Soul mates exist, but someone exactly like you, does not and never, ever will.

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