Relationship Status Codes, Part 6: the M-Level Relationship

Barbara Kruger, Pride of appearance from an unexpected angle: "Cindy C., 78," one of Erwin Olaf's mature pin-ups. Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company; Also, I totally want to be that hot when I'm her age. <3

The final chapter in our Relationship Status Codes series brings us to the pinnacle of what, in some way, we’re all expecting in the end (whether we like it or not):

The M-Level Relationship

That can either stand for Mature or for Marriage, depending on your ideal outcome – and for still others, it can mean Monogamy.  Sometimes it’s as simple as premeditated cohabitation, sometimes it’s more formal than that, but the real marker of an M-Level relationship is not so much what you’ve agreed to as it is how you deal with each other.  You count on each other for support – emotional first, maybe financial – and you know you can count on your partner to take out the trash, switch out the laundry, make coffee if they’re the first one up, and be there at the end of the day.  You might fight, but you know not to try to hurt each other with angry words, and you know all of the little triggers that can make each other’s toes curl.  You discuss plans before making them, you inform them immediately when something goes wrong, and you call them first with the best news ever.

An M-Level relationship is a 24-7 commitment, often (but not always) involves breeding, and maybe even includes filing taxes together.  You share everything – good and bad – and you’re in it for the long haul.

Now, here’s the kicker:  Not all marriages (or long-term cohabitations) are M-Level.  Some are Secondaries or even Cs or Hs in disguise.

What really makes an M-Level relationship qualify is maturity.  It’s honesty and clarity, and it’s a strong passionate affinity for each other.  It’s knowing what to compromise on and what to stand firm on, and it’s knowing when you say you’re sorry and when to forgive.

When you’re really in a Secondary despite cohabitation (as an example), you’ll find yourself constantly having to badger your partner for her half of the rent or for actual face-time with him instead of trying to talk around a video game.  Problems that crop up in the household are likely to spark vicious fights, and one or both partners comes out swinging and looking for blood.  There’s an underlying insecurity, a sense of “mistake” or “fear” or “unsure” that undermines what could potentially be an otherwise happy situation.

The hardest kinds of “fake M” to spot, though, are the relationships that “just made sense at the time”.    These are the ones where a couple of kids dated through high school and college, and everyone just expected them to get married.  They’re the ones that resulted from having no better prospects after several casual-ish years together.  They’re the ones where both partners have a laundry list of things that make them a “smart match” but don’t have a whole lot of drive or passion.  If you have a friend who is married – has been married for some years, even – and you’ve never met the spouse despite having been in a variety of social situations together, this might be a “fake M”.  They make disparate plans, they don’t really try to do things together outside of strict obligation, and when you really look at it, their commonalities are scant at best.

There is no right answer for these scenarios.  Sometimes there’s a chance that true love can be kindled in the house they have built together, sometimes not.  Other times, it’s a slow death for both partners who are financially bound to one another and scared of getting screwed over in the divorce.  I’ve even seen situations where they just look at each other from across the breakfast table one morning and agree to part without any sort of hard feelings at all.

The M-Level relationship is something of a Holy Grail for most people because it is the situation that carries you into your autumn and winter years.  It’s the two old folks kissing in the grocery store and buying each other Valentine’s Day candies to share.  It’s a long peaceful night followed by a wistful goodbye as your best friend breathes their last, and enjoying the memories of all of those incredible years spent together, through good times and bad.  Even the times when harsh words were spoken and immediately regretted have a precious sweetness to them.

You can’t have that relationship, no matter how long you’re together, if you can’t start with the basics.  Make sure you’ve chosen to enter into this arrangement with Love in the forefront instead of Fear, and it’ll guide you to the Happily Ever After just fine.

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That might’ve been a little more sentimental than I was expecting, but it was honest, so there you go.  If you need a point of perspective, check out the H-Level relationship, the C-Level relationship, the C4 relationship, the Friend Zone, and the Secondary relationship.

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