Roller Coasters Are Theme Park Rides, Not Relationships
"Instead it's one step forward and three steps back, and I'd leave you but the roller coaster is all I've ever had..."
I found myself jamming out to my newest vocal pop perfection on the way to work... enter, Olivia Rodrigo; an amazing songstress and even better lyricist - not to mention, a protégé of the Icon, Taylor Swift. I digress. A metaphor in one of her songs caught my attention -- you'll see it just above. It spoke to me and to US, as a collective, as we attempt to navigate human relationships. Many of us see relationships as roller coasters. Let's break it down (and I love ya, Olivia, but hop off the ride!).
A roller coaster is an adrenaline rush - lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. There's usually anticipation, fear, a rush of excitement and relief, when it's over. Even an adrenaline junky can agree, going on the same roller coaster, experiencing the same emotions over the course of hours, weeks, months or even years could lead to some pretty damaging side effects - fatigue, let down, exhaustion, and most importantly, an inaccurate portrayal of what roller coasters truly are. If you haven't caught on, were running with the metaphor that roller coasters should NOT be comparable to relationships.
Unfortunately we live in world dominated by social media, movies and TV Shows displaying a cat and mouse game of love - often times with high levels of drama, over the top declaration of adorning love for our partners and "game play." This last one hits hard -- the "should I or shouldn't I text him back? Maybe I'll leave him on read, or maybe add his ex girlfriend to snapchat."
If any of these questions hit home, PUT. YOUR. CELL PHONE. DOWN. NOW. PERIOD.
(Unless you're using it to read this post!). Life is not a game. Relationships are not games. Ask the damn questions you want to ask FROM THE START. Set the boundaries you want to set (say Yes, when you want to... and No, when you want to... and compromise, of course). But stop using these theatrical, and often times histrionic points of reference to define what healthy love looks like to you.
We're all doing it wrong.
And it doesn't stop there. As with many things in life, we must reflect back to our past to provide light on what the hell is going on in our present - why we act the way we do, why we choose the bad guy (sometimes over and over again) or why we devalue ourselves to people please, all come from the projections placed on us by others.
We can look no further than how love was displayed to us as children. Did our parents communicate disagreement in an appropriate way (maybe some raised voices, but never harm, name calling, abuse or giving the silent treatment)? How about how we saw other family's members who were "in love?" And if you've even comparing yourself to a TV character, just done. Ask yourself what your points of reference are. You will find many of us are living mirrored struggled of our parents - yes, I said it, "you're becoming your parents." First, cut yourself some slack. You are using your childhood, the societal norm of codependency and the inaccurate and fabricated highlight reel of Instagram stories to define your perspective.
Once you've explored the potential cyclical nature of your relationships, consider how you may change it. Will you give the shy but kind guy a chance? Can you sit with a relationship that appears boring, but feels safe? Can you maneuver a partnership where you don't have to prove your love or "keep it exciting?" The answer is yes, you can, but it will take work and will probably feel different. You might question this type of love, but rest assured there are huge benefits sans "excitement." And while we are at it, let's define excitement in a relationship.
Excitement is: spontaneous date nights, passionate sex and spur of the moment trips/gifts.
Excitement is not: having to win the guy from another girl, screaming and fighting at 1 AM or having to apologize for what you did or said when you were drunk the night before.
So, the question then become, "how can I change my relationship pattern?" or more appropriately "my partner picker." You start by exploring your past, looking at the relationships which were modeled before. Ask "why?" Question what you felt was normal and explore the other side. Redefine potentially exaggerated definitions of excitement and "true love." After that, explore a different types of connection, maybe one that isn't always your "go to," but worth a try.
And if you're lucky, or they're lucky (if you've already done the work!) you will land a healthy partner. Then the real work begins... navigating a healthy relationship. And if you're used to roller coasters, this is where you will most likely fall off the track, finding yourself creating drama, personalizing innocuous comments and creating enmeshed boundaries or issues of distrust.
You will now have to enter into the Jedi School of Mind Restructuring -- kidding, you'll have to start to challenge and re-frame your thoughts. Keep in mind, your emotional responses initially pull from past experiences and then you react. So if you're used to chaos you will most likely react in an unhealthy, but expected manor.
The key to forming new emotional responses is SPACE (or as I call it, equanimity).
Try your best NOT TO REACT to an emotional trigger in a relationship. Breathe. Think about what you want to say. Don't allow yourself to be pulled into old patterns and reactions. Feel the emotion, let it move through you. Once you've stood inside of it, decide what to do next. For me, closing my eyes and taking a breath works really well. For you, it may be space, meditation, mantra, etc.
After that, you have an opportunity to create new reactions and then it's practice practice practice. As we know, we are not perfect and will have conflict time and time again. But, it should be a ride that has some nice even space between it, not a roller coaster on repeat.
Eventually you will have discovered a whole new way of loving, which is safe, soft and supportive.