How Melanie got to where she is with the whole relating thing
Melanie Smith, being well versed in chaotic and disastrous relating, and the veteran of more than one failed relationship, was mystified and unsettled by these highly unsatisfactory outcomes. She determined that she would, someday, figure out how to be happy and content inside a relationship. This became her personal Holy Grail, to solve the mystery of human relating.
So, she conjured a plan to do so. She surmised that if she went to school long enough (197 years), studied with enough gurus and experts (37), traveled to enough mystical places (64), absorbed enough esoteric and conventional modes of thinking (19), and worked professionally with enough relationships (19,251), that she could finally solve The Mystery. Plan in hand, she embarked on her journey to discover the fundamental core—the atomic structure, if you will—of relating.
She truly (for a while) believed that with sufficient diligence, the mysteries of relationships would eventually all reveal themselves in an elegant, cosmic solution, something along the lines of, Always be kind; or, Yes, dear; or, maybe, 42.
Alas, after all of her heartfelt and strenuous effort, over many hundreds of years, Melanie finally, and reluctantly, had to admit that relating is a puzzle that cannot be fully solved (a fact her mother had plainly told her when she was 14). She had to discover for herself the need to surrender to the reality that an ultimate and elegant solution to relating Does Not Exist (in any way she could find).
She further had to concede that relating is always messy and complicated, and that’s that. No manual, no formula, no equation, no spreadsheet, and no pithy saying can solve relationships. Not even a mantra to chant, saint to revere, or god to worship can make sense of it all. Turns out, every relationship is as unique and beautiful and mysterious and messy as the individuals in it. Times 98.
She saw that relating is about the union, and collision, of infinitely complex people, in an insanely entangled society, on a profoundly interconnected planet, floating through an inconceivably miraculous universe. With all that in the mix, it’s simply not solvable.
But! On her journey (still in progress) Melanie did figure out a worthwhile thing or two about relating, and recognized that while there is no perfect relating, there are indeed skillful and unskillful ways to relate. You could say, expert and inexpert. As you can surely guess, skillful is better. So she decided to start her company, Expert Relationship, to support people, including herself, in the way they relate with each other. Because the more skillfully partners relate, the more satisfying and sustainable all of our relating becomes. And that’s worth something.
So rather than finding the Holy Grail answer for relating, Melanie settled for a whole lot of interconnected, fascinating, down-to-earth, and useful tools, skills, and awarenesses.
(And she, herself, is in a satisfying, healthy, kind of cosmic but definitely not perfect, relationship.)
A few thoughts about the relationship between transaction and trust
So I read this thing the other day by a very famous guy. He was talking about how the most important things in life are “nontransactional” and on that basis, manipulative. So therefore, if it’s transactional, it’s not to be trusted.
I just don’t agree.
Everything in life, and in human relating is, ultimately, transactional. And that's a good thing; it's not manipulative at all. Every action we take on earth creates an energetic exchange. All of it, thoughts, words, deeds. Nothing can be extracted from the exchange of energy.
We rely on grace and aspiration, love and kindness. Those are transactions that take place on a plane beyond human. Transactions go far beyond what can be weighed, measured, or bargained. We give and experience the joy of giving. That's a transaction. We try to do the right thing. That's a transaction, even if the people involved haven't negotiated it. These types of transactions unfold in multiple dimensions. And it’s the quality of the transaction, the balance of the energy exchanged that builds trust.
And trust cannot, and should not, continue if you continually get hurt or screwed over. That's not about having faith. That's refusing to learn. But trust is earned through successful transactions.
Is there a time to make leaps of faith? Absolutely. But over time, and life experience, it will be the nature, quality, and experience of the transaction that ensures the sustainability of trust.
What do you think about the relationship between transactions and trust?
Forget About Loving Yourself For a Minute
A couples coaching client recently said to me, with almost religious conviction, “I have to love myself before I can love someone else.” I had to stop a minute; I've heard this one before. At first glance, sure, that sounds like a worthy position, a nice symmetry. A woke, self-empowering, me-affirming statement.
But wait just a minute here. After all the years I’ve been doing this work, I still don’t fully get what self-love means, what the point is, or how to know I'm there. To me, it’s an impossible, even imponderable, prerequisite to set for loving. I mean, what is self love, really? I honestly don’t know. But for this conversation, let’s just say, it’s feeling awake to the moment, comfortable in our skins, integrated and at peace with our selves, our choices, and the course of our lives. For most of us, some days, sure! Other days, not so much.
Self love is not a status we achieve and get to keep, like a trophy. We gonna have our good days; we gonna have our bad ones. So we can’t key our ability to be in relationship off of the status of our daily self-love report card. A much more workable and fulfilling strategy lies in the exact opposite frame: that there is no self-love prerequisite to being in relationship, to loving a partner. Just bring your whole warts-and-all self to the relationship, and simply love your partner the best you can. Every single day. That creates the path. Some days it’s easier than others.
It is through the profound crucible of intimate relationship, the survival dance, the daily self-and-other confrontation, the endless excavation of all of our buried pain, selfish pettiness, and wounded ugliness that we begin to love our truly messy selves. Not the branded and shiny packaged version of ourselves we want people to believe. The path to self love opens when a flawed, hurting, occasionally self-loathing person shows up and imperfectly loves a flawed, hurting, occasionally self-loathing partner.
And then, when we can show up without all the bullshit “I’ve got it all together all the time” pretext, we ultimately discover our generosity, our kindness and humility, and the poetry in our souls. We find out just how courageous, fascinating, and lovable we are.
To be clear: Take care of you. Be kind and gentle to yourself, ditch the negative self talk. Eat vegetables and take care of your body. Attend to your inner wounds, traumas, and growth. Show up and contribute. Absolutely. And definitely get out of damaging, unhealthy relationships, of course.
But don’t create an unworkable precondition for loving a partner. Just love. When we show up and bring our whole selves, for the messy day-in-day-out experience of being in relationship, we find the path to loving ourselves. Do your work within the context of relating. Loving another creates the opportunity for self-love. Not the other way around.
In other words, forget about loving yourself. Love others instead.