Don’t Assume the Price of Admission (And Importance) of Your Relationships

I’ve talked quite a bit about the relationship escalator before – whether it be the way we stumble away from the preset “defaults”, how we label and define “anchor” and “primary” partners, how you measure the “importance” of a relationship, or how we should question the false certainty that we have about our relationships. And particularly how knowledge is power about where your relationship(s) are.

And yet, I screw up.

We rarely “learn” about relationships in some kind of formal way. We pick it up by watching the adults around us as children. By watching movies and television. By reading novels.

As we learn about relationships this way, we make assumptions. Assumptions we are rarely aware of.

Think of it this way. I’ve seen more than a few software audio equalizers that act a lot like this one:

An equalizer that drags the settings beside it as one value is changed.

As that center value is changed, it “drags” the settings on either side along with it a little bit.

That is where we trip up. That is where I trip up.

Go back to how we measure how capital “R” of a relationship a relationship is. Back then I argued that adding a romantic or intimate component to a relationship did not automatically make it more “important” than, say, a friendship. That’s still true. The problem is that we are conditioned to think of these “important” features in clusters, and that is not necessarily so.

Two (fictional) examples to illustrate:

Bob is friends with Joe and Mark. Has been for years; they hang out all the time. When asked, Bob says that they’re both his “best” friends, and that’s completely true. However, Bob only really talks about his financial woes with Mark, and only really confides his fears and anxieties to Joe. It’s just because of who they are and who he feels comfortable talking about different topics with.

Bob and Sally have been dating for two years. They’re very close and intend to maintain their relationship indefinitely, but have decided to not be on the relationship escalator, and have no plans to cohabitate or marry. Despite their close relationship, Bob makes decisions about whether or not he’s going to take a new job in town without asking Sally.

The second example seems a lot meaner than the first. The “default” is that after that long dating, Bob and Sally would consult each other about their employment and finances. [1] It (still, to me) feels like Bob is doing a grave disservice to Sally. But would we claim that Bob is also doing a disservice to Joe by not talking about this financial decision?

That’s both the beauty and challenge of actively creating your own relationship(s). The “default” assumptions are no longer “default”. And if you don’t actually look at all your expectations and “prices of admission” – especially the ones you aren’t actively thinking about – you’re going to get yourself hurt.

See, when the people in a relationship have different ideas about where it’s going, they have different expectations about how that relationship should function. Those things can be small, large, and every size inbetween. But even if they’re tiny expectations, they can still feel like massive betrayals when the expectations are violated.

It is a lot of work to have to figure out and negotiate what your relationship(s) – romantic or not – cover. It can require some awkwardly direct conversations and some uncomfortable self-examination of your own desires and limitations.

Taking the time to examine yourself, your needs and desires, and being clear about where things are in your relationship(s) helps avoid needless hurt and gives everyone in the relationship(s) the agency to decide whether they are okay with that “price of admission”.

Because, as a local tire company’s adverts point out, hidden and unexpected prices and fees are the worst.

Featured Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

[1] For the sake of clarity, the job’s in the same town and won’t effect the other aspects of their relationship. Obviously, real life is a bit more complicated, but this gets the point across.