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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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On swapping Kony 2012 tickets for Radiohead tickets

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Friends, the Dysatisfunctional.com project is designed to bring the hard stuff into the airy light. Expose the dark places, put on some Nancy Sinatra, open a sticky window, even if it means breaking it with your elbow. After several days of the Kony 2012 meme, I am more dysatisfunctional than usual, and any laughs have wild horse eyes behind them. Please allow me to explore my social surrounds before moving onto the most embarrassing meme we ever fell for.

I had pretty much accepted that many of my friends and family, while highly intelligent, simply couldn’t find it in them to care much for what goes on and wrong in the world. Maybe because their lives are already too hard, or perhaps too easy. Whatsoever, I love them how they are, and grudgingly I’ll admit, I love the world how it is too. Each causes the other, and I love that. So perfect. So broken. So ugly, but always on the threshold of redemption. And why should everyone automatically care about what I care about? The correct answer is, they should not. What qualifies me as any sort of arbiter for this intellectual and ethical quality assurance scheme? Nothing. So it goes, a wary truce:

1) Last Easter, I gave visiting friends a hard time for not thinking clearly through some party trick that involves four people lifting up a sitting fifth person using only their two index fingers. So quick they were to believe in some mystical mastery of will, and so quick to deride my skepticism and attempts to break the problem down into its components. I was open to eventually concluding that modern physics could not explain it, and maybe there was some Tetsuo bullshit at play after all. But rather uncomfortably, I turned to the issue of how groups handle dissent and difference, ‘playing the man’ rather than the idea, and resorting to a kind of stacks-on bullying that, as I dug in more, gradually lost its sense of cheerful ribbing. Fairly petty stuff, maybe. Trust an arts graduate to turn a conversation about hard sciences into a critique of social power.

2) I was recently derided as pretentious for having the gall to wonder about how we need a word like misogyny but more positive, in which fear results from recognising awesome lady powers. A sympathetic friend offered that “Thambogyny” could mean awe of women, and I like this word. It used not to exist, and now it does, and I’m going to use it. “I am a thambogynist.” There. I might use it the next time my uncle starts a conversation on Gillard’s carbon tax, but winds up talking about how he wouldn’t fuck her.

3) Another friend explained, on a car trip back from a birthday weekend, how he had decided years ago never to consider politics and social justice, because it was all too hard, too stressful, and his life would not improve by dwelling on such things. I appreciated his honesty! No excuses there, no dull compensations, and that is worth something. When we shot past a speed camera and each wondered aloud whether we’d slowed in time, I quipped that all we had to do was refuse to acknowledge the ticket if it came, and it need trouble us no more. The angry flash in the rearview carried more than words could say.

You see, every now and again, I make things uncomfortable for my friends and family. Deliberately. It’s my most dysatisfunctional quality, and my rationale outweighs my regret: if I have to live with their rushed judgements, having to roll over constantly because everyone agrees there’s no time to investigate, no time to think things through, then every now and again I will let them know how immense can be the bridge I cross to hang with, well, people. If they weren’t stuffed to the brim with other wonderful traits, I obviously wouldn’t bother, and the same could be said in return, for every time I take the air from the room.

In the wake of Kony 2012, my Hindu cow acceptance of these social surrounds has shattered into so many billion pinheads. I am bereft and angry. Just as I had carefully arranged the furniture around many of my loved ones’ collective inability to look past their laptops, or to think methodically really about anything beyond “rent or buy?” (which admittedly is a legitimately complicated problem), up they rose to meet the clarion call of human progress, like animated Safari herds.

What finally roused the middle-class beast from its slumber? Was it Labor’s Stronger Futures program, aiming to extend the Northern Territory intervention and retard Indigenous self-determination for another ten years? No. Was it the Eurozone’s latest Greek bailout plans, designed purely to keep repayments flowing from Greece to its creditor nations at the expense of Greek citizens’ quality of life? No. Was it that we don’t know where our investments are going or what they are propping up, that our iPads are ruining Chinese factory workers’ lives, that chickens are engineered so breasty that their legs can’t support them, that cow udders get so lacerated from hormone-augmentation they bleed pus into our milk, or that UNESCO is currently investigating sea floor dredging around the Great Barrier Reef that threatens its world heritage status?

No. It was fucking Kony 2012. Sounds like a cheap blu-ray player rip-off imported from Seychelles, but is actually the polished product of dubious white people who spend way too much of your donation money on slick online content. This content may be emotionally compelling, yet it is wildly inaccurate and out of date. Kony 2012 is a long advertisement geared towards keeping shady fauxtavist group Invisible Children in business. Read how the group has refused to have their financial records externally audited and verified by NGO watchdogs such as the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator.  Invisible Children funds the Ugandan Army, whose own human rights record is somewhere between dubious and appalling, depending on what you think of rape, looting and mass displacement, answering to a leader who hasn’t budged in 25 years. Invisible Children’s half hour hit meme has very little relevance to a cluster of national crises in Uganda including unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, child prostitution and HIV/AIDS epidemics, none of which are improved by hunting Kony. Saving children is less heroic once they’ve grown into teenagers and adults with crippling mental health problems and a mystery disease. How awkward! We knew about the rapes, abductions and child soldiering back before Kanye was rapping about Blood Diamonds, so why get this excited after the fact? It’s like cheering a goal after everyone left the stadium. The cleaner is giving you that wtf? look, not least because we’ve been economically thriving off of regulated exploitation of failed third states for a couple hundred years.

I take it personally that Kony 2012 has scored such a hit with so many of my friends. Folks regularly share a gaggle of petitions, random ideas, online lectures and other media on their twitter accounts and Facebook newsfeed. Some of it gains traction, some floats by, and that’s appropriate when you consider most folks are grabbing glimpses of it between work and errands and general dicking around. Why Kony 2012, out of all newsfeed causes? It’s not current, it’s not accurate, and it’s conspicuously more popular than the next-best online click-cause. Facebook activism is fairly limited at the best of times, but it still accords with grassroots consciousness-raising principles, and I wouldn’t misunderestimate the amount we learn from each other in online social media. Speaking for myself, I’m only a little embarrassed to admit the dreaded FB is a huge information gateway throughout the day.

And what I’ve learned in the last three days is that falling for the glitzy white man’s burden of Kony 2012 makes you a little bit retarded. Not a metaphor for the intellectually disabled, but actually retarded, as in slowed or stunted—that part of you that should be more developed than it is. Maybe it’s your politics, that you don’t see how the slick production values, the “sad” white kid’s overripe screen time, or reductive straw-Kony rationale—all of which hooked you in the first place—are in themselves what is wrong with the movie. So many people are bored with politics: discussions of democracy, liberalism and militarism, how economics and politics necessarily differ and overlap at once. But many don’t connect this boredom to a lack of understanding when an issue gets too complicated to think through clearly. (Btw, if you think all humans should live together peacefully and learn to get along, you’re not being political.) Or maybe your politics are ok, but your brain is unfit and honestly can’t follow a string of ideas through before you get hungry. I feel that; it’s inherently dysatisfunctional. Do you expect to do a hundred push-ups off the bat, or would you have to work up to it you reckon? Denzel Washington’s Creasy says we are only trained or untrained, and I consider myself somewhat mentally penguin-shaped.

Dysatisfunctional: it’s an incredibly witty bastardisation of dissatisfied and dysfunctional. How clever of me. It thrills, it tantalises. People who never heard it before, who don’t immediately understand it, are pretty sure it includes them. After I invented it, I learned that it had already been invented:

While this site aims for content-in-levity, the good councillor is clearly pissed. And he’s not alone. I am deeply dissatisfied with the dysfunction of this hacktivist meme, with all my friends and family telling me thirty minutes of Slick Rick will change how I see the world. And I’m only blogging, after a string of online article shares, so I’m dissatisfied with my own dysfunction, my own lack of effectiveness, my unintended self-parody and how I cannot escape being implicated in this farce.

A key idea of the Dysatisfunctional.com project is that our dissatisfaction is the engine for changing our behaviours, so what are my options? I will mail a prize to the best answer in the comments below. Hell I’ll publish your trolling if it’s funny enough.

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With thanks to Tom S, Greg Y, Louise A, Sam D and Robin C for commentary since Wednesday night, and to Emah F for coining thambogyny! Genius.