In these modern times, we sometimes enter into relationships and just don’t know what is going on. From experience — mine and others — and observation, I have gelled some thoughts that may help to create a safe emotional climate in which to navigate modern love.
The most important characteristic of modern love is that the individuals involved don’t enter into a relationship based on “how it should be”. In modern love, partners develop their own rules of relationships. This is especially relevant when there are distinct differences in the mindsets of the partners arising from a difference in race, religion or social upbringing.
These differences are not new and have been sufficiently discussed and information on how to deal with them is available all around us. However, there is one distinct difference which is less obvious, and hence rarely recognised. If unrecognised, it can’t be dealt with. It is that difference that I would like to address here because it is one of the most common pitfalls in modern relationships but rarely acknowledged because it is not duly recognised.
I am referring to relationships between liberals and traditionalists/conservatives. If your partner is a traditionalist or someone trained to conform to conservative notions of love and relationships, you would have a problem because the expectation — knowingly or unknowingly — is that you conform to his or her notions of love and relationship. The liberal-minded partner, however, may see no reason to conform as he or she may see conformity as stifling personal growth or justifying emotional unavailability, both of which have no value to him or her. If love is not strong enough to rise above this difference, the relationship will be doomed from the start. In such a case, the best thing to do is to withdraw from the relationship or just don’t start it at all.
However, if the two genuinely love each other, in a modern relationship, they will negotiate for a compromise they can live with. In a modern relationship, working things out to each’s satisfaction is much more important than making things look like how they ought to be. The partners must be prepared to amend or modify their notions of how things should be to working things out together. If they can’t do this, again, it is best that they don’t enter into a relationship with someone not of like mind.
Secondly, in a modern relationship, it doesn’t matter who takes the initiative to start the relationship. It can be the man or the woman. The problem here is that if you lack confidence, you will never chat up anyone. In a more open community, everyone is free to strike up a conversation with anyone, and, naturally, things begin to happen. But, if for whatever reason, an individual can’t summon the courage to stand next to a person, eyeball him or her and just chat, it is a clear sign that this is not the right choice of a partner.
Some people may think that you need to keep on trying. That is a colossal mistake because you end up trying and trying — not to start the relationship but to find the confidence to do so! It becomes an exercise in futility and is unfair on the other person who is expected to wait. That is both an unfair and unkind expectation to force on someone. A sensible person will move on and not wait. A person who can relate with you would just start it and follow through without any excuse. No point skirting and skipping around the person; one either levels up to the partner as an equal or does the mature thing and walks away.
Once you start chatting up, it may lead to flirting. That is fine if both sides know that is exactly what they are doing. But — and this is a big “BUT” — if at any one point one party expresses displeasure at a way the partner has acted, the latter must stop that action immediately. The individual who respects his or her partner will back off and stop the behaviour or action that is offending the other. If he or she continues behaving in the same way despite being told that the partner doesn’t like it, that would be harassment. And, drastic action needs to be taken to stop that partner. A self-respecting person who respects you, however, always backs off and won’t need to be told twice.
If after some flirting, one partner discovers he or she is serious about the other person, that too must be expressed. The other partner, of course, must stop flirting and decide whether to reciprocate. If in all honesty he or she can’t, then, breaking up is the best thing to do and that, too, must be accepted. There is no point in going after that person to change his or her mind, because, that amounts to harassment! If the partner discovers later that he or she really likes this person, then the former will come around. No need to badger and harass!
Thirdly, you will notice that in modern love two personal qualities are of paramount importance — emotional honesty and honest communication. The former requires the individual to know his or her feelings and the latter requires the individual to articulate them sincerely. In other words, it challenges the partners to give emotionally.
Modern relationships don’t conform to an ideal. They begin from where the partners are at and grow as they evolve to where they want the relationship to be. So, in modern relationships, interest may prompt someone to start a relationship but it does not mean it will end up in marriage!
Every step of the way in a modern relationship, the partners are communicating and testing to see which way to go. Such emotional honesty allows the partners to speak the truth about where they are at and what they want and gives the other the chance to reciprocate in love or opt out of the relationship.
In modern relationships breaking up is an exit strategy. It means one partner or both can’t give what the other wants and they respect each other’s decision and walk away. Because they speak honestly, there will be no chance for manipulation. Because they respect each other, they are prepared to break up and spare each other the pain of a relationship that is not working out.
Conservative men and women may keep at it but that only creates stress and conflicts and an unhealthy emotional environment where everyone is trying to conform at great personal sacrifice. Liberal-minded people will reject that as it makes the individual emotionally stunted.
These are broad guidelines but they reveal the context of modern relationships. So, if you are not ready to give emotionally and are not honest about your feelings, can’t accept rejection or a “No”, and can’t respect your partner’s decisions and can’t talk with the object of your desire, modern relationships are not for you. Better to walk away with dignity and look for partners with similar views.
NEXT WEEK: For those who love and believe in marriage