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Old 10-06-2013, 01:07 PM
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hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Feelings and Expectations

Vix is away in Europe, again. It's her last long trip for a while, and her last trip to Europe before Doc moves back to the States. She'll be away for another two weeks.

Meanwhile, I've had the opportunity to spend some time with Metis this weekend. Friday night we went on a there-and-back road trip to an event in another state.

(My elder daughter is now mature enough to stay at home by herself for an evening, and my younger daughter was invited to stay over at a friend's house.)

The best thing about a road trip is that a car provides absolute privacy for conversation. Metis and I talked about all sorts of things: our respective families, past relationships, recent developments at work, ideas about human life in the world, happiness, music, and whatever else came across our path.

It was the longest uninterrupted conversation we've ever had.

We talked about feelings and expectations. I had told her before about my new-found trick of holding powerful feelings at arm's length to examine them, treating them as contingent empirical facts about myself rather than as universal truths or as imperatives imposed on me or on others.

This trick has been most useful in dealing with negative feelings - sorrow, regret, anger, despair. Several times in the past few months I've worked my way out of what would have become a deep funk by detaching from feelings in this way, not letting them dominate me or become me or set all my expectations for myself and the world.

When I start to despair and to really get down on myself I can say, in effect, "well, there I go again!"

I've written about all this here and, as I say, I'd even told Metis about it before. We talked about it in the car the other day because Metis has been struggling to do the same thing, though she frames it in Buddhist terms as non-attachment.

She has also seen friends struggle with this or, rather, entirely fail to struggle with it, letting their first reactions to particular situations dominate them rather than examining those reactions with a critical eye. So, a friend of hers felt utterly worthless and rejected because some guy she met in a bar stopped writing to her, when she could have examined that reaction, traced it back to the expectations women in our culture have had imposed on them regarding the forms and trajectories of relationships, and perhaps revised those expectations.

Talking with Metis, though, something in my thinking about feelings and expectations seemed not quite right: it seems to imply detachment from feelings, as though holding feelings at arm's length means I don't actually feel them any more.

Now, where negative feelings are concerned - envy, jealousy, spite, contempt, despair - that may be just as well.

(As an aside, I distinguish envy from jealousy like this: envy is wanting something someone else has; jealousy is wanting to hold on to something you have . . . or think you have.)

But what about positive feelings?

Those feelings - affection, love, joy, contentment - also need to be examined; they ought not to be treated as imperatives or as universal absolutes. At the same time, though, they have to be lived in and savored in order to be worth having, and perhaps in order for life to be worth living.

Let me acknowledge, then, that my time with Metis on our road trip and during the event in question was, from first to last, a delight. Being with her simply made me happy, and I am awash in affection for her.

I don't think it would be altogether healthy for me to detach from that affection, though it would be less healthy - for me and perhaps for Metis - if I let it dictate my actions. I can imagine all sorts of ways our relationship could develop from the warm friendship we have now, but it just wouldn't do to expect or demand any one of them on the basis of nothing more than my imagination and the strength of my feelings for her.

If I were to go that way, to let feelings become demands, I could see myself becoming grasping, whiny, envious, jealous, and otherwise obnoxious, in which case I really wouldn't be worthy of anyone else's affection.

I think I need to refine the technique of non-attachment, then. The trick is to be able to do two things at once: to feel what I feel, to be immersed in it and to savor it in all its intense immediacy, but at the same time to keep my expectations in check, to not let my affection become a demand, to make sure my actions toward Metis - and toward Vix, and our daughters, and our mutual friends - are governed by a clear-eyed view of things and a sense of my various responsibilities toward each of them.

This is a delicate balance, I think; it requires a lot of attention to my own state of mind and a refined sort of responsiveness to others.

In fact, maybe all of this is just another way of saying that the critical thing in having unconventional relationships is to be intentional about them - literally, to "hold them in mind" (in-tend) - to be deliberate.

I have to say, though, that this way of approaching feelings and expectations is itself intense, immediate and almost unutterably sweet.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 10-06-2013 at 01:11 PM.
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