The Three Sides Of A Relationship

Some men feel excluded from their girlfriend’s conversation about the health of their relationship. In the words of one of them he is just a “passive witness to the process”. “At its arbitrary conclusion,” he says, “I will be dictated a narrative about that ‘relationship’ into which I have had no input.” Insofar as this sense of exclusion is sometimes inchoate, this comes from the male failure to analyse exactly what it is that the women are doing.

As I have written elsewhere, the trouble comes from a category mistake. Women can learn, from one another direct or from magazine advice and so forth, to see their relationships as something other than what it says on the tin, namely the interaction between two players, a two-hander, a relation between themselves and their man. Were it really such, then it would have no existence beyond the relation (there is no good synonym here) between John and Mary.

But this is not in fact how many women think of their relationships. To them, it is not a relation at all, but rather, by process of hypostatisation, an entity that subsists independently, quite apart from the players. As an independent entity, the Relationship can have its own interests, which do not need to be the same as the interests of the two persons supposedly involved in the relation. (“It would be so much better for our Relationship,” says a character in what is often considered a feminist cartoon, “if you were a Scorpio”; this suggests that the Relationship has a higher ontological status than the other party, who should conform to it as best he can.)

In practice, of course, the interests of Mary and the interests of her relationship with John are one and the same, but John is now outvoted. John has one vote, Mary has one vote, and the Relationship has a third vote, which it always casts together with Mary’s.

John may not understand how a relationship supposedly with him can demand something he does not want or cannot provide, but this is an artefact of the trilateral concept; if there were only two entities and John was unhappy, the relationship would then be over, perhaps to be replaced by a new one. Given three parties to the transaction, however, it makes perfect sense, within this conceptual world, to say that the Relationship is unhealthy and will cease to suffer the moment Mary gets her own way. If John is considering the relationship from the point of view of his individual giving and getting contra her individual giving and getting, this is a grievous error; for she won’t be.

The result is, therefore, a bad deal for John, to which he cannot object because he is nothing but a bit player strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. The leading players are Mary and the Relationship. His unhappiness with the bad deal may be regarded only from within this closed world, this conceptual bubble, where it will be painted as a childlike “inability to sustain a relationship”. Such a model is not used in other partnerships; if the Chinese factory does not want to produce your widget at a price you want to pay, you do not accuse it of violating the interests of the Deal or being unable to do business in general, you walk away.

It may seem elementary, but men should likewise walk away from incipient relationships if they have no chance whatever of getting what they want, and if this lack of prospects is due to the woman’s refusal to accept that he is half the relationship and not a poor-relation third party – if it is due to her insistence that the Relationship is a formally independent arbitrator that will nevertheless always find in her favour. Once this conceptual world is entered, male frustration is not contingent but guaranteed. But men really want relationships with women, you say. Very well, but this sort of thing isn’t a relationship with a woman, but sitting in the audience for a narcissistic monologue onstage. If that is what you want, so be it; but if not, leave the theatre and go climb a mountain instead.

Posted on September 20, 2016 at 10:20 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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