Hold on tight, this is gonna be a long one.
I've been writing more and more about relationships lately. When I first started out the blog, it was focused on habits, goals, hustling, mental health, sometimes family too.
Slowly it shifted towards relationships, both friends and romantic ones. What started as a trickle has since turned into a torrent of thoughts and emotions, which are now making their way here onto the blog.
The biggest emotion as I write this in end-March 2023 is Regret: regret for how I treated people in the past, and regret for the things I didn't do too.
This entry, as the title states, will serve as a guiding document, a manifesto, a declaration, a gold standard, for me to show up in future relationships.
Why? Why do I need something like this?
I've been watching Itaewon Class, and when I see the main character go about his life, his business, his relationships, the key thing that stands out is his character. Incredibly upright morals, resolute willpower and strength to stick to his beliefs. his code of ethics.
I watch the show and think to myself: “man I want to be like him.” I want to be someone that people can lean on, and I want to be able to lean on them too. I want to have that strong sense of justice, that depth of compassion and kindness. That ability to see the good in people, to take good care of them, even when things get tough or they do things that conflict with your own goals for life.
But as the other characters in the show admit: not everyone is born this way (or made, if you consider what he went through). Most of us fall short of this goal, if left to our own devices.
“To err is human” after all.
Yet, I want to forge a different kind of life. Go against the grain. Challenge myself to be better. Better not in terms of being superior to my fellow man, but in being superior to myself.
Having the courage to start. The courage to get hurt, to pay the price for loving and trusting and falling, when I once was too afraid to pay it.
Intimacy > Independence
Last year, I published a blog entry talking about the 5 qualities I'm looking for in a partner. Ranked second on that list of qualities was Independence.
While the intention behind independence was good, what I’ve realized when digging deeper is that I've come to confuse independence with unavailability. People who wouldn’t show up for me, who weren’t emotionally present with me - I would convince myself that they are independent. Perhaps the mystery and scarcity added to the attraction too.
And the flipside was true too - because i prioritized independence as a quality, I chose to be emotionally unavailable, to keep my distance, from people who did indeed love me. I would accuse them of compromising my independence whenever they tried to come closer, or ask for more of my time.
At the start of a relationship, in the early days of courtship, talking, dating, going out, we want to win over the other person, to show them our best selves, and accommodate to their needs.
But later on, it becomes competitive, comparative - it becomes about trying to make them lose in argument.
It could even become about trying to interfere with their life, to control and change them.
As I dug deeper, I realized that I had this deep-seated view that the people who are drawn to me, who demonstrate their love for me, I am somehow not convinced of their love: ‘oh its because they only love this one side of me - once they see how flawed I am, they will leave.’ or ‘they only love me because they want something out of me.’
In this case, the independence I pride myself on becomes a sort of shield, protecting me from the inevitable fall-out of the relationship once they see my ‘true self’.
Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. - Alfred Tennyson
Rather than withhold love, withhold life, just so I can reduce the potential pain, why not just go through life with an open heart? Take the gamble of intimacy, accept the tradeoffs, because the benefits would jolly well be worth it.
So the first line of this manifesto is to stop mistaking absence or emotional unavailability as ‘independence’.
Learning to distinguish between independence and absence - someone can be independent, but still assure you of their presence or desire to be present in your life.
This is not just for my perception of others, but also for myself to work on: am I being absent for people who need me? who want me? And am I convincing myself that this is me being ‘independent’? Have I done enough to assure those I love of my presence/desire to be present in their lives? Can I find ways to collaborate again, to be compassionate? to care, even 6months, 2 years into the relationship? Thinking in terms of Us and We rather than You and Me?
Its also about learning to receive love - first loving myself for my flaws, which sets the foundation for others to do the same; then also, being unapologetically me and showing as authentic a side of me to people I meet so there’s no ‘surprise’ later on. Even if there is, and they leave because of it, that is okay too. Either it means we are not compatible, or I learn that I have something else to improve on. But what I want to change is the self-sabotaging behaviour of cutting them off so early because I think that they will leave later on.
Secure > Avoidant
This point in the manifesto has much to do with the lessons from Attached, a book on relationships, focusing on the theory and research behind attachment styles.
Attached is THE OG book on this topic. I first heard of the concept through a Youtube video talking about Tony Stark, Will from Good Will Hunting, and Captain America and their respective attachment styles. And part of my hesitation to pick up this book was the thought that I already knew its contents.
I was so wrong.
The other videos, podcasts, articles, tiktoks, etc. all fail to grasp just how good this book is. Like, yes sure, it is about Secure, Anxious and Avoidant styles, but because this is the original book, you see so clearly why these styles were even labelled as such, and the depth of research that was done on it.
This book helped me to ‘see myself’ - I saw myself in so many of the examples and descriptions of behaviours in the book.
If you were to put me in a box, for academic reasons, then yes, I would be classified as ‘Avoidant’ because i exhibit those behaviours most often. When I got close to people, I would fear the loss of the relationship, fear abandonment, and so my brain starts firing up de-activating strategies to make me less attached to the person (finding faults with them, spending less time under the guise of ‘independence’, etc.). Even if they tried harder to connect with me, I would just disconnect more. Its abit like having hyperactive white blood cells or something - seeing threats even when there is none.
But one crazy thing for me was seeing how there were times when I exhibited Anxious behaviours too! I can’t tell you just how illuminating that was - I’d always thought of myself as a lone wolf, independent, self-reliant, low on trust, hesitant to commit. I thought that being Anxious meant being clingy and needy, and the thought irked me. But to see it in myself? Wow. I was shooketh.
And I realized that while ‘branding’ myself as avoidant ‘made sense’ in an academic way, what I was in fact doing was slapping a label on my identity, giving me a free pass to behave in those insecure ways - ‘I am avoidant, after all’. I surrendered my own power to choose, to change.
What became clear from the book was that we label the behaviours, not the person. Going back to Solve For Happy, the lesson is to detach your identity from these labels.
Because if it is a behaviour, we can change it. Identity shifts are much harder.
But since its me, why not go all in and do both?
Change my behaviours AND change my identity.
The book gives plenty of examples for secure behaviours, plenty of tools for moving from insecure mental models to secure ones, and plenty of case studies!
This is one part of how the book is written that I loved - normally when you hear ‘this book is backed by data and academic research’ the alarms go off. I equate that to ‘this book is going to be dry and boring af.’
But this book wove in the academic parts so well - using the case study stories of couples and letting the reader figure out which attachment style behaviours were being exhibited. Not gonna lie, some of them were really tough to point out!
It starts with a choice: choosing to see myself as secure - all of us are, its just to what extent. And perhaps right now I only exhibit secure behaviours ~20% of the time (ballpark figure, I honestly have no idea what the actual is)
The point here is to focus on being more secure, rather than less avoidant. Its a glass half-full vs half-empty sorta thing. The goal is to increase the percentage of being secure, by taking one secure step at a time. Looking at the times that I did exhibit secure behaviours, and leaning into that.
But how do I know what being secure looks like?
The authors know how difficult it is to have this identity shift, but they know that humans are creatures of mimicry. Mirror neurons and that kinda thing.
So their solution?
Find a secure role model.
Someone in my life I look up to as a secure person. Wanna guess who it is? Do you think it is you, dear reader?
So when faced with a choice to respond - I’d think: ‘What would that person do? How would secure Genie respond here?’
Because ultimately, becoming a secure person comes from lots of smaller secure behaviours and choices.
“Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to become.” - James Clear, Atomic Habits
Satisficer > Maximizer
In the book, How To Not Die Alone, Logan Ury takes an honest look at relationships - and a pretty facts-based, scientific approach to it which I found refreshing and helpful.
By the framework in her book, I would be classified as a Maximizer - Ditcher.
The maximizer - you love doing research, exploring all of your options, turning over every stone until you’re confident you’ve found the right one. you make decisions carefully. and you want to be 100 percent certain about something before you make your choice. Your motto: why settle?
On top of that, I'm also a ditcher.
All this time, I’ve been seeing relationships as a kind of prison. Thinking back to my parents’ relationship, or at least how I perceived their relationship: seeing my dad get shouted at by my mum, and him just taking it, silently, docile-ly. I made a subconscious promise to never experience that. It made relationships feel terrible.
So I love the chase; I think over many iterations, experiences and rejections, I've come to be pretty decent at this part. the charm, the butterflies, etc.
But once things get serious, suddenly all attraction fades. its like, okay, playtime’s over, time to bounce.
The solution she recommends is to adopt a satisficer attitude - you can set a target, a list of qualities, even, but once someone meets most or all of them, you stick with that choice and are happy with it, not wishing for more, not chasing perfection.
What separates maximizers and satisficers is not the quality of their decisions, it’s how these decisions make them feel: ‘maximizers make good decisions and end up feeling bad about them. Satisficers make good decisions and end up feeling good.’ In fact, the quality of the end result is barely any difference between maximizers and satisficers anyways, so why make yourself miserable?
And so, the third point in my manifesto is to be a satisficer rather than a maximizer. Have more realistic expectations of my partner - that’s not to say I'm lowering my standards by the way - its just that in the past, I would inflate all the good points of people who weren’t close to me, and inflate all the bad points in the people who were close, thereby pushing them away.
So lets change that.
Learning = Loving
This final part of the manifesto is from Jay Shetty - a thought leader that I follow and have been learning so much from over the past couple of years. His podcast, On Purpose, is my much needed medicine. Therapy, even.
He brought up this idea that if you love someone, you would want to learn more about them - about their past, their future plans, their present thoughts and feelings, their habits, likes, dislikes, etc.
And this equation goes both ways! The more you learn about someone, the more you will come to love them.
If you truly understand something, you will never hate it. I can’t recall the quote on this, but basically yeah.
Related to this is also the relationship-killer: Contempt.
A study done on what destroys relationships found 4 traits/behaviours that corresponded with a relationship deteriorating - the most potent of them bring Contempt.
And it is a trait that I am very much guilty of embodying, of expressing.
Rather than trying to be a partner, I would try to ‘parent’ the other party - nitpicking on their bad habits, interfering with their life, judging them and viewing myself as superior to them.
Even the word ‘parent’ makes me uncomfortable - would I want to treat my future kids like this? what kind of parent would I want to be?
A topic for a future blog entry, perhaps.
From How to Not Die Alone also comes this perspective: consumer goods vs experience goods.
Many consumer items are ‘searchable goods’: things like cameras, laundry detergent, that can be measured based on their objective attributes. these differ from ‘experience goods,’ which they define as being ‘judged by the feelings they evoke, rather than the functions they perform. examples include movies, perfume, puppies - goods defined by attributes that are subjective, aesthetic, holistic, emotive, and tied to the production of sensation. most importantly, people must be present to evaluate them; they cannot be judged secondhand.
People are experience goods. we are not like cameras. we are much more like wine. we cannot be understood by comparing and contrasting our parts. yet dating apps have turned living, breathing, three-dimensional people into two-dimensional, searchable goods. they’ve given us the false belief that we can break people down into their parts and compare them to find the best one.
Apps primarily give us a list of resume traits and nothing more. only by spending time with someone can you appreciate that person for the ‘experiential good’ they are.
Fourth item on the manifesto - learn to love, and love to learn. Experience the relationship instead of consuming it.
Be genuinely curious about the other person, seek to understand them.
And ask yourself:
What do I love about this person?
What do I want to learn about them?
What am I taking for granted?
Am I being a partner or a parent?
I’m probably going to sound like a broken record, but even this conclusion was inspired by a book: The Courage to be Disliked.
Seriously, all the books I've mentioned (plus Jay Shetty’s stuff) are golden. Check them out if you have the time. It might just change your life.
It seems ballsy, arrogant, even, to publish an entry like this and state that this is how i intend to approach relationships moving forward.
Why would anyone openly set themselves to a standard? Won’t they just be setting themselves up for failure?
But what is the alternative? Don’t do it, so that in the event I fall short of this standard, this manifesto, I won’t embarrass myself?
What kind of life is that?
I want to live a life that's full. That’s open and bold and risky.
I want to have the courage to put something like this out there, for the world to see, even my partner. I want to be held to this standard. I want to live it.
And if I fall short, so be it. Call me out. Help me to get closer to this level.
Because, I will be a better person, and the world will be a better place, for it.