Say you’re in a new relationship, and things are going well. There are dinners, there is coffee in bed when you want it, there is sparkling conversation and wit and banter, there are all-consuming exchanges of emotion that leave you revitalized and ready to seize the rest of your lives together. You’ve reached a state of happiness that leaves other relationships in the dark. Finally! A thing that works for me, the way I want it, the way I need it. What have I done to deserve this giant treasure from the universe?
Then, the change comes, like it does in all new relationships. Sun-soaked afternoons in bed are slowly replaced by tense mornings in which every conversation is a power struggle. What was once light and sunshine and butterfly kisses is now a relationship fraught with calculated moves to gain the upper hand. What happened here? How did something that seemed so easy become so complicated?
The answer, plain and simple, is control — the lack thereof, the desire for more, the constant grappling to get on top of what’s happening in front of you and to understand what the future might hold. The need to maintain control in a relationship feels right, but it’s all wrong if you want the relationship to be successful. Relationships are scary, they are hard, they are fulfilling and they are necessary exercises we must partake in to learn more about ourselves. Under the hood of every failed relationship lies a muddled mess, with the need to control the outcome of an inherently unpredictable undertaking rising to the top.
I am a person who operates best with lists, with tasks, with tiny boxes drawn painstakingly in a fresh notebook that I can check off. These are my infinitesimally tiny ways of containing the writhing bag of uncertainty that is the human existence. Writing things down and checking them off give me a small sense of accomplishment and makes the yawning unpredictability of the next day manageable. This is a fantastic way to approach things like a job search, Christmas shopping or deep-cleaning your kitchen, but relationships? Not so much. I’ve never tried to overtly control someone I’ve been dating, but I am the kind of person who prefers the ball to always be in my court, be it through always planning the dates, or being the one to end it on my terms. Maintaining the upper hand is just one form of control, and it’s been my instinct in relationships to do what I can to be the one calling the shots.
Here’s what happens when you try to cling to control in a relationship: everything becomes a fight. Texts are underscored with a tension that you see, but can’t seem to do anything about. Simple conversations about dinner or movies or walking down one street as opposed to the other become screeching affairs full of fingers pointing and voices raising. Taking your real feelings of fear, uncertainty and wobbly self-esteem and shoving them under the bed and trying to ignore it becomes de rigeueur.
Whenever you enter any sort of relationship be it professional or personal or simply some dude you begrudgingly bring home because it seemed like a good idea at the time, there is always someone in control. In a perfect world, it is you, because human beings have an inexplicable need to be the masters of their own fate and will do most things to keep the scales tipped neatly their way. We like control because we have an innate fear of the unpredictable, the unknown. Maybe not everyone thinks that they’re afraid of the unknown, but the fact of the matter is, not knowing what could happen when you take the next step in a relationship is a frightening prospect. Constantly working to maintain the upper hand is just a hamfisted attempt at imposing order on unpredictable.
The problem with this method? Relationships thrive on unpredictability. They soak it up like bread does gravy, they need it to survive, because without the sharp edge of the unknown, your exciting and fun relationship turns into a never-ending trudge of who’s turn it is to buy the toilet paper and how often is too often to order takeout and watch DVR’ed episodes of “Love It Or List It.” Let me be clear — those moments of domesticity are tiny gems to be treasured, but when they become the norm, it kinda saps the fun out of the whole shebang. While those scenarios are ultimately the endgame, this isn’t what we’re looking for at the start. We enter relationships because we thrive off the thrill of not knowing. We enter relationships because we want to share ourselves with someone else. We enter relationships knowing that in order for them to succeed, we need to give up control.
It sounds easy, but it’s harder than you might think. If you want to keep things on the up and up, you have to stop trying to control the future. Embrace the fact that you will never have control over what happens in life. Embrace the fact that what happens in your relationship, good or bad, is largely out of your hands. Embrace the fact that the fun of a relationship is being with a willing and capable partner who knows just as much as you do about what’s going to happen next week, next month, next year. You’re in the unknown together.