(Before I begin, understand that these posts are NOT inspired by Valentine’s but rather by a totally unrelated conversation that predates the dreaded Singles Awareness Day by quite some time. The timing is purely coincidental.)
It’s not the most public knowledge (but it’s also not a secret) that I am “romantically unusual”. I am naturally polyamorous, but I am not a swinger, and I don’t carry on more relationships than I have time to nurture properly. Sometimes, that means no relationships at all (or perhaps one that does not require a lot of time), which is pretty normal (I think) for a single mom for four kids, three of whom are on the autistic spectrum, the last of which also has epilepsy. (I’m also “gender-oriented flexible”, but that’s another story.)
Still, I’ve had my fair share of relationships (and will continue to enjoy them into the future), and I think I’ve learned a thing or twelve about how they work.
Perhaps part of this articulation comes from that whole new phase of having to explain to my children how relationships work now that they’re in social circles with members of the opposite gender, or maybe it’s because of the many discussions had of late with a close friend about the purpose of relationships at all. One of the major points that I found myself having to explain is that not all relationships are meant to end in marriage, and having a relationship end does not mean it was a failure. Chances are, it served to teach a lesson (even if that lesson sometimes sucked).
So, over the next few days, I’d like to share with you my personal hierarchy. This is purely my observation, and your mileage may vary:
The H-Level Relationship
“H” stands for “high school”. This is the type of relationship marked with intense infatuation, and every single moment of every single day spent together colors the entire relationship. This is ideally a learning time when we figure out what our tolerances and boundaries are, but the bad news is that these boundaries are usually discovered by people overstepping them. Heart-sick love poems, make-outs in the backs of cars, and being the center of countless rounds of gossip (both good and bad) abound.
Unfortunately, H-levels are also marked by irrational jealousy and possessiveness, unclear concepts of cheating, nosy “best friends” who love to champion whatever the dominant emotion of the day is, and promises of a future that only have about a .002% chance of actually happening. This leads to an unrealistic expectation of relationships being sucky and destined to failure, at least until you graduate from high school and realize that your romance is determined by the average of the maturity of the people involved – and high school relationships rarely (if ever) involve people of maturity.
These are the relationships that we often use as a gauge to assess our feelings for people in the present (or future). Does this new girl curl your toes like your high school girlfriend did? Does he make you feel safe and excited like that guy you dated in junior year? This is both a beautiful thing and a travesty. The beauty comes from having experienced that sweet, amazing intensity of the teen years in a brilliant way, and the downfall is that “you can never go back”. If you spend your whole adult life looking for that same puppy-dog-eye, breathless reaction that you had when you were sixteen, you’re going to miss the richness and fullness of a different kind of breathless, the kind where you gaze into someone’s eyes and you don’t just see your unborn children there but you also see them sharing diaper-changing duty.
These teen romances are so important, though. These are the times when we cut our teeth on passion and relationship style, where we learn the ins and outs of social pressures around partners and dating. We get our hearts trampled on, almost to a one, and we eventually recover from it.
That’s probably the best part of the H-Level Relationship: It’s not just when we learn that we can fly. It’s also where we learn that a broken heart is not the end of the world. (Not that we’d believe that at the time, but it’s a crucial lesson.)
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2.