intimacy and relationships

7 minute read

Relationships are critical

A TED talk done by Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, explored a 75 year old study on adult development, looking at factors that correlate with happiness and satisfaction in life.

The #1 factor was : Quality of Relationships

I want to explore how and why it is important to foster these and my current thinking on relationships.

My Experience

Friendships and relationships wax and wane. This is the nature of relationships. Circumstances change, close friends drift away, new friends take their place. At a certain age however, you meet people who will be there for the long term.

I think in your teenagers and 20’s, most relationships are based on proximity and based around activities.

As you grow older, these shift towards relationships based on support. As one settles down, harsh realities of life become more obvious. Death, Old-age, Sickness, Loneliness. The list goes on. The perennial truth : “Life is suffering”.

This is misinterpreted as a negative. But it is in fact just a reality. As some traditions have extolled, it is your reaction to these that determine your level of peace and contentment. It is possible to find joy. One way is through cultivation of close ties.

Why is it that relationships are so important?

Apart from offering support and help in times of inevitable crisis I think that relationships take you out of yourself.

The way I think about the arc of a life is that we are born selfish. As children and teenagers, we just take. As we grow older, we start to give back. To society, to parents, to loved ones. As you age, you keep giving away. To children, to your spouse. On your deathbed, you have literally given away everything. We go from selfish to selfless.

A lot of human misery, is based on self-rumination and thought. When one ceases to think about themselves, there is silence. There is a degree of peace. In unconditional love, one simply acts without any notion of self. This is a beautiful human experience.

How do you get to this place? How do we build close relationships?

Intimacy multiplied by Time

quality = intimacy * time

I think that the main factor in the strength of relationships is intimacy. The ability to be vulnerable and deeply honest about how one is feeling.

Like a maths nerd, I think about it via an equation.

The quality of relationships = intimacy compounded by time.

I find it hard to do this. Probably many people do. It is easy to build barriers, to distract oneself. It is much harder to look at how one is feeling and the most important relationship is ultimately with yourself.

I think the poet Rumi succinctly talks about how we can cultivate intimacy. It starts with examining yourself. To be deeply honest about the barriers one has constructed.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. Rumi

Regret

Palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, recounts the regrets of the dying in her book.

At the end of a life, no-one ever regrets the amount of work they did.

What people regret is that they did not spend more time with people they love and admire. That words were left unsaid.

I realised this when I was a teenager. (I think I went through an existential crisis at 18). I made sure to spend time with family whenever because I knew that they wouldn’t be around forever.

Around the same time, A blog post by Tim Urban (Wait but Why) called the Tail End also made me realise the limited nature of time. By the time you are 18, you have technically spent 93% of your lifetime hours with your parents. You only have 7% left. You are in the tail end.

When you go through life, making decisions about how you want to spend your time. Prioritise relationships. Live near family and friends.

Part of the epidemic of loneliness and depression in first world countries I think relates to a degree of individualism and isolation. In the West, it is expected that one goes alone, makes a life, becomes wealthy, famous etc. You can live anywhere. Parents often want children gone, children want to leave parents. People constantly shift location for work. No roots are placed.

In the East, in places like India and Japan, the family unit is emphasised more (at least traditionally). There is a degree of ‘collectivism’. Everyone lives nearby, you have some level of roots established. The extended family is there. Even marriage is seen as the merger of two families rather than just two individuals. As a result you much lower rates of loneliness, atleast for now. Western culture seems to be displacing much of the traditional values in the East.

Romantic Relationships

It wouldn’t be a proper exploration, if I didn’t talk about this.

I want to explore how to think about dating and relationships. Mostly to clarify my thinking on the topic.

I read Aziz Ansari’s hilarious book : Modern Romance

It talks about the difficulties of dating and relationships in the modern day of Tinder and short term relationships. One view I’ve come to is that most relationships initially are based on attachment. There is the passionate love that comes through physical attraction. But research shows that mostly fades after a year or so. The relationship inevitably fizzles out as It doesn’t meet the Hollywood expectations of ‘everlasting love’.

Passionate ‘love’ (attachment) vs Companionate love

However over the course of a life, you have the development of a deeper more fulfilling bond : that researchers call Companionate love.

I think a lot of modern day ‘romance’ is just attachment. There is a transactional nature to it. I do this, therefore you must do this for me. Hollywood and popular media often glamorise ‘passionate love’. ‘Love’ has become an overused trite expression, a commodity to be bought through diamond rings and grand gestures. And when the reality doesn’t align with expectations, the relationship breaks up.

Companionate love on the other hand involves different skillsets. To unconditionally love. To support with no ‘tit for tat’ or transactional nature. You simply give without any expectation of return. It’s what the Greeks called ‘agape’ or the Buddhists call ‘metta’.

How do you go about finding a partner?

This is my own thinking on the topic. It will definitely change as I grow older. But fundamentally I think that the core values of the people should align, then all the small trivial stuff doesn’t matter (stolen from @naval)

Examples of core values : if they want a family, similar shared activities, opinion on education and learning, rational communication, non-dogmatism, curiosity, what the purpose of life is. There are many that are baked into your personality. Important to analyse them and look for people where the core values line up.

At a deep level, I think you’ll know when you find someone with similar core values. You just click.

I think there is an amount of luck to the whole process too. But you can increase chances by meeting more people. Go on more first dates. It’s an asymmetric risk-reward strategy. (re-reading this: wow that’s such a logical way to think about this, you robot).

Metric : Can you spend time alone

A myth portrayed by the media is that ‘you need someone to complete yourself’. Your other half.

This leads to huge problems to do with expectation.

A more healthy way is to work on yourself. Be comfortable being in solitude, alone with yourself. This is different from loneliness.

Once you can do this, then you can bring in another person with the intention to share a life rather than complete it. It should be two individuals rather than each a half of a whole.

Don’t Rush

I think who you choose to spend a life with is the most important decision you’ll make. For your future happiness, peace and direction.

Don’t rush. There are already too many unhappily married couples.

Conclusion

I’m sure I have more to say on this, but I can’t think of anything at the moment.

In terms of decision making for myself, a few salient points

Spend more time cultivating relationships Make sure you live near family and friends Try meet lots of new people, go on many first dates, look for core values aligning.