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Rethinking the Couple Fail: stats, freedom and effective door stops

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Here at Dysatisfunctional.com, we’re nothing if not innovators/outright copycats. The time-honoured tradition of correspondence between great minds is mildly disturbed here. Bastardising this fine practice on blogs has been done before, but how many interlocutors used to kind-of sort-of date-slash-see each other, THEN get mildly angry at each other for a bit but stay friends AND THEN blog about dating itself? Not many, if any.  Annie is a freelance writer, lawyer, legendary putt-putt golfer and generally nimble thinker in all matters social, and my perfect counterpoint on this topic.

Luke: Annie welcome to Dysatisfunctional.com first of all. Currently and comically single, I haven’t wanted to abuse readers with one-sided rants tumbling through all six stages of singledom: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and back to denial. Two-sided rants are so much more interesting, and you being a) a lady and b) also in a relationship, all but guarantee a more balanced perspective.

I guess the name of the game at Dysatisfunctional.com has been investigating common problems to modern living, via the untapped potential of human frailty and failure. So without tipping over into pointless self-indulgence, I thought our personal history makes you the perfect person with whom to discuss dating matters. Let me ask you first of all: what is a failed couple?

Annie: The epitome, I think, is the couple you see coming into a restaurant, sitting down, ordering a meal, eating the meal, paying the bill and then exiting without speaking a word to each another. They’re out there. (Couples with hearing impairments excepted).

More generally, I’d say a failed couple is a couple where one or more people in the relationship is unhappy most of the time. As for what amounts to being ‘unhappy’, I tend to measure mine in terms of fractions: if the amount of happy times spent together as a couple is divided by the amount of time spent complaining to my friends about that same relationship on the phone is less than 1 = not happy.

Should that quotient be a little higher I wonder?

Luke: Beware mutual stalking, where you each agree to just run each other into the ground. There are too many of these kinds of couples. I’m sure I’ve been there briefly though, right in those days/weeks leading up to a crash&burn. Make sure it’s not months/years though…

I like how your formula works off of time spent. My approach is more qualitative and less interesting: I’m OK to have the cons outweigh the pros for a time, but if that proves entrenched, I hit the eject button. Does a couple have to last to be successful?

Annie: Sadly, I have no nerd-burger formula there but I did find an interview with Vanessa Paradis very enlightening on this point. When interviewed about the rumours she and Johnny Depp had split and whether they were really ‘soul mates’ after all, she said she found the whole concept of having one soul mate a little scary and that with love you’ve got to take things one day at a time.

Maybe love’s not so much a ‘be all and end all,’ but a state of being where, if it comes to an end, then you’ve got the possibility of future connections with others to look forward to. Saying that, I would scrag-fight Vanessa tooth and nail if she said something like that to me soon after a break up.

Luke: ‘Time and place, Vanessa…’ Sheesh. At the other extreme from soul mates then, if two people hook up, once, or for a while, but eventually things cool off, is that failure?

Annie: Not if the quotient in my happiness formula was greater than one, most of the time those two people were together.

Mathematics aside, that question also makes me think of the film Russian Dolls. At the end, the lead guy says each relationship is one doll inside another, in that they change you in ways that lead you into the next relationship, each more fulfilling than the last. Eventually, you get to the teeniest, tiniest Russian doll, which could, I guess, be your soul mate if you disagree with Ms Paradis about these things and believe they do exist.

Luke: So we’re really beating back ‘failure’ from all kinds of different relationships now hey. Dare I say, that’s where you and I sit, isn’t it, in that murky-somehow-pseudo-educational-twenties place? It wasn’t always super-comfortable. Sometimes I think I learned heaps about relationships in that time, Russian Doll style (whoah, that sounds a lot more sexist when I say it…), but the dysatisfunctional part of me wonders if that’s truly the case. Do we perhaps assume progress as part of a kind of post-Enlightenment Western hangover, and in fact follow instead a cycle of the same old stuff? I guess it might look that way to some of my settled friends.

If I had to defend myself (and I DO at times…), I’d say the same old issues that come up are at least a true expression of my personality. So, you know, I might not be happy but at least it’s the real me who can’t get no satisfaction. Our mutual friend Gary, if you remember, grew and cut off a massive millennial afro, citing that he couldn’t compete with his own hair. He said that without the ’fro, girls stopped calling him, but at least it was the real him they weren’t calling!

Annie: I do recall Gary shaving off his fro and I also recall his identical twin Claude deciding to grow a fro at about the same time which confused the hell out of me. Perhaps it was Claude who ended up getting ‘those’ calls?

Luke: Haha, maybe. Twin genius. We will have to get them to clarify on a future post. Dysatisfunctional.com is all about embracing failure, as a kind of inoculation against it. People talk about their ‘failed relationships’ all the time. Is 50 years of marriage, but divorcing in old age, still a failure?

Annie: I think anyone who can hold down a relationship for more than fifty years deserves some sort of personalised message from the Queen. Could be Queen Latifah – I’m not fussed.

For all the older couples I’ve observed, I’ve wondered why some relationships lasted and others didn’t. It’s strange but often the couples that seemed more ‘in love’ and romantic didn’t go the distance as much as couples who seemed more low key.

One set of parents who are still together were an arranged marriage: the wife flew over to Australia, having not much control over the situation and no idea what to expect. They actually have quite a loving, supportive, fun relationship and contrary to what you’d think this woman is really confident, forthright and independent. Not that I’m an advocate for arranged marriages and Luke, you must be breaking into hives over this…

Luke: I’m not as opposed to this idea as you might think. I call those quietly successful couples ‘third gear couples’, and they make me question the pursuit of romance, of finding the answer for everything I need in one person. Romantic monogamy does seem a tall order. I don’t want to tear down couples who appear to have it all, but I see all sorts of compromises being made to stay there. So why not compromise on the serendipity of how you meet your spouse? Arrange away, I say, because many of our perceived freedoms are illusory, including the very desire to be free. Most of us are looking for comfortable cages. I know I am.

Annie: The only cage I’d be happy with is like a go-go dancing cage where I get to wear high white PVC boots and shift dresses, dance the Watusi and can climb in and out whenever I like. I guess I could apply much the same principle to relationships.

Luke: That’s a powerful metaphor for your ideal relationship, Annie. Please let us know how you go. Do you see any problems with how we typically distinguish between picking up, hooking up, ‘seeing’ someone, dating, going out, ‘getting serious’, getting married?

Annie: I look back with longing to when you could explain your relationship with an a series of vague terms like ‘just seeing’ and ‘getting serious.’ Now, it’s all on Facebook and you have nine options that are very specific and your status update is published for all to see. And the option of ‘it’s complicated’? Sometimes it’s not ‘complicated’ at all. You just don’t want the world to know exactly what’s going on or you’d like to reserve the right to choose how you define your relationship or what you want the world to know about it.

Luke: But explaining why you don’t want everyone else to know what’s going on might be quite complicated. I tried to remove my ‘it’s complicated’ status in 2007, which fielded the status update: ‘Luke’s relationship status is no longer complicated,’ and I received several congratulatory messages which was the opposite of what I was going for.

Annie: Also, I take issue with the word ‘dating’. When you’ve been in a relationship for a while you don’t really go on dates anymore unless you could order take-away, sit in bed next to each other as you either admire or admonish your partner’s farts. And if you try and institute date night, you spend most of that time noticing how much more effort and cost is involved in going somewhere for dinner or paying for overpriced cinema tickets when you’d rather be cuddling in bed at home. Wait a minute…is that the preliminary stage before you become one of ‘those couples’ in Question 1?

Luke: Uh-oh. Nothing preliminary about it, my friend. I’m a big fan of dates in couples, but not date night exactly, and certainly not ‘instituting date night.’ *forest unicorn dies* I just mean special stuff, surprises.

What’s the difference between two couples living this suburban dream you so vividly scribe, in which one couple is happy and the other perpetually dissatisfied? Well, I always say love is like the ending of The Matrix: if Neo and Trinity both think Neo is The One, he is. If not, then he’s not. Your partner might sick their Rottweilers onto you for burning the fish fingers, but if you think it’s working, it is. Until you think it isn’t. They might sell their Rottweilers, give up the crackpipe and start a charity, and this might ruin your snug codependency. My point is that love is gloriously self-sustaining, completely self-fulfilling, and utter, raving madness.

Annie: Neo wasn’t The One?

Luke: Yes Neo is The One! But he could easily not have been – that’s our predicament. So finally, it’s not an elephant in the room but more like an armadillo bunking with the neighbours: according to everything discussed above, are we a failed couple?

Annie: Like Neo being The One, it’s all how you look at things. I tried to make a flowerpot in a pottery class that kind of collapsed in on itself but made for a serviceable door stop. Sure, it can’t hold pretty flowers but holding doors open is nothing to sniff at. Our failed dalliance opened the door to a beautiful friendship, Luke. Flowery enough of a metaphor for you? Or is it a simile?

Luke: Wow that is grand. I’m pretty happy to be the door guy. Well I guess we’re always part of each other’s equations. Not always comfortable, but I wouldn’t have it any different. Thanks Annie!

**Applause lights flash**

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About Luke

Luke Stickels writes fiction, theory, and essays in such a piecemeal fashion as to be moving nigh imperceptibly. But he is no author-ninja. He is dysatisfunctional. Luke has written for Meanjin, The Drum Online, New Matilda, IsNot! Magazine, Small Lust Magazine, and Link Magazine. He has written on sound and cinema in several refereed academic journals, taught almost every subject at university, and was quoted in a tumblr tag for "enlightened." As if THAT wasn't due to being completely dysatisfunctional.

One response »

  1. Get a room already…

    Reply

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