Relationship Limbo (click) is a blog post by G. Khamba, and this post is in response to what he writes and asks there (and it can be taken as actually addressing him).
I was unaware of the term ‘relationship limbo’, but I was certainly aware of the phenomenon, the way it is felt in one’s mind. Certain points in the technical sounding definition need elucidation, or if I were to assume a less authoritative tone, need to be interpreted by me for the purpose of this blog post. First is the term ‘underlying power structures’. The knowledge that the other person is more emotionally dependent on you than you are on them automatically puts you in a more powerful ‘superior’ position. While, some might consciously or otherwise go on to exploit that situation, some others might get excessively sympathetic. This realization itself would make the interactions more influenced by the constant awareness of power-disparity (e.g., some kind of smugness by the one in more powerful position as against some feeling of servility by the one more attracted/emotionally dependent) or the preservation of its status quo might be the guiding factor for the one in a more powerful position. I am not saying that the one in more powerful position would always do so deliberately, but apart from the subconscious liking for such power, one would be aware that giving up on it would also entail apart from losing it, a risk of getting more emotionally dependent on the other and thus in contrast, enter a less powerful position, a prospect that would inspire fear. The second usage that particularly impressed me was “attempting to expand to a higher emotional terrain inorganically”. I guess, it means at least from perspective of one less emotionally dependent, that any kind of reciprocal commitment, approval or acknowledgement shown by them for the other persona’s expression of emotional dependence would be an outcome of not their innermost impulses, but a certain kind of deliberate calculation, which would take away the element of spontaneity from what they say or how they behave. And hence, the qualifier ‘inorganic’. The tragedy of this situation is that the originally less dependent person might have actually ended up feeling the same things in same intensity as their partner, but in their mind, their reciprocating is likely to be remembered as a ‘decision’ rather than a ‘feeling’.
I can’t be sure what exactly you meant by being an “asshole”, but I presume you meant it as “impulsive”. I think this distinction is important to keep in mind, because being an “asshole” would entail essentially hurting others, whereas not all instances of acting on impulses need hurt others. You are very right in pointing out that one would fear being impulsive because of the feared unsavory consequences. But here it needs to be understood why giving into impulses is an important issue. Because each instance of not giving into an impulse is associated with build up of anxiety. I am no expert in psychology, but this is akin to the manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), wherein one gets an intrusive unpleasant thought (‘obsession’) that causes anxiety (e.g., ‘dirt’ on one’s hand) and the need to relieve it is felt as a ‘compulsion’. The only way the said anxiety can be relieved is by giving into one’s impulses. So, my suggestion would be to give into impulses. Yes, there could be untoward consequences of that, which I will deal with a bit later (in particular, why not to regret them). Of course, before I ‘advocate’ giving into impulses, I need to compare it with the ‘other’ option available as well, and that is, of doing everything with great deliberation. Now everyone’s views might be different on this, but one thing I have learned about life is that it is not really amenable to long-term planning. Meaning, we try to plan things, and in particular in case of relationships, try to ‘pace’ things the way we think they would be appropriate in the *hope* that things will eventually turn out right. But what we tend to disregard in this entire consideration is that each time we are planning and not allowing ourselves to give into our impulses, we are losing an opportunity to be ‘alive’, we are in effect postponing life for living later. Of course, this you have explained very well:
Time also kills spontaneity in conjunction with the fearball because you’re too busy trying to place relationship limbo in context with your existence instead of living in that moment and enjoying what it has brought to you.
And the reason doing so is wrong because our presumption that if we do certain ‘right’ things that will in turn result in certain ‘right’ things is unfounded! I hope with that I have made a good case for why being impulsive might not be that bad an idea.
Of course, till this point I have hardly said anything original.
Let me first try to allay any element of regret that might exist because of having made known your feelings and thus in effect, introduced a ‘singularity’ in the trajectory of entire relationship. The reasons why being honest is the best thing to do are:
1. It relieves one of the concern whether one is being honest enough in a relationship by hiding something significant they feel for the other person. E.g., simplest of things I would do, which would make my love interest happy/cheerful/more drawn to me (irrespective of the same being the intent or not) would be riddled with a guilt-admixed doubt that I would be deceiving her by not letting her known that her being drawn to me is an ‘outcome’ I would be interested in. In other words, till one admits one’s feelings for the other person, every single thing that brings the two people closer is adulterated by the guilt of the intent being an ‘ulterior’ one. Of course, I cannot say that the same need happen with everyone. But I believe, I could relate with you very well, and somewhere in your predicament, element of this kind of doubt must have played a role.
2. The asymmetry between emotional dependence of the two persons that is such an important part of the entire definition of ‘relationship limbo’ would actually have be a retrospective realization. When two people are emotionally close to each other, it is never really easy to tell, who, of the two is more dependent on the other. The one feeling restless by one’s feelings or feeling guilty (guilt of the kind I mentioned in point one), is apt to automatically assume that the other person is “less” dependent. But again, to assume the same would be wrong. There are many reasons this emotional dependence might not manifest as intensely as it would be felt [here I need not emphasize upon distinction between manifestation of/admitting to emotional dependence and its actual feeling] by the one expressing it. It is quite possible that once one makes one’s feelings known, the other person would go on to express an even greater degree of dependence, though generally our insecurity would not allow us to take this possibility into consideration. So, if one were to believe that the relationship felt between the two persons is likely to reach a meaningful conclusion, obviously, one of the two will have to take an initiative and blurt out things felt in their ‘heart’. Because otherwise things between the two would just stagnate.
So with that I hope that at least I have convincingly proved that admitting to one’s feelings and thus making relationship reach such a limbo in the first place is not that bad a thing to do after all, maybe because, what you call a “limbo” was just a check point (albeit, unpleasant one) in the entire journey!
Now coming to the actual dealing of relationship limbo part.
1. Understand your own worth.
While, the one in the more emotionally dependent state would easily believe that their love interest is the best thing to happen to them and losing them would be a calamity (which they would be right in feeling given their state of mind), it is equally important to understand that by virtue of the fact that your (erstwhile) friend (and now sort of partner) wants to take chances and is willing to bide their time, you also mean something very important to them. You have to understand that if the something were to go ‘wrong’, it would be ‘bad’ for both of you, and not just you alone. Though it sounds silly and selfish, if you know how good you are, the knowledge that both had something at stake, which they would have lost, would sort of console you if at all the relationship eventually fails.
2. Explain the ambivalence and the emotional unrest to your partner.
I am presuming that though there might be an asymmetry in how intensely the two people feel about each other, they can at least on an intellectual and emotional plane relate with each other to have reached a relationship limbo in the first place. So, explaining how one feels and how one finds it hard to juggle between the impulses one feels (like wanting to make that phone call when one would know one ‘should’ not make it) and doing the sensible thing to do should help. Because if you go to the point one above, you know that the onus of making the relationship work is not merely on you. If your partner knows that you’re feeling these distressing things, then, it is possible they would be more accommodating and might also set a much higher threshold of tolerance. And believe me, when people know that they are being loved by the person they themselves love, they would usually be willing to go that extra mile. 🙂
So, to sort of summarize the two major things I wanted to convey:
1. Remove any elements of planning or possible regret from your thought process. Because, both planning and regret are two sides of the same coin, in that both need us to presume ‘how things would be/would have been’. In case of planning we feel, “If I do ‘x’ then ‘y’ will happen (and that ‘y’ will be ‘good’)”. And in case of regret it is like, “had I done ‘x’ then ‘y’ would have happened (and that ‘y’ would have been good)”. And needless to point out, to view our life from perspective of such two-tiered presumptions is quite wrong. Yes, whether this knowledge would make you a less emotional and more robotic being is something for you to decide. 🙂 [But no, it does not make one robotic]. An important side-note here, which relates to my philosophy for life as a whole and not just relationship limbo is the pact I believe one should make with the self, and that is: to never regret what choices one makes. Because in light of the above erroneously assumed “x-y” causal relationship, regret should have no place in our thought processes. So, if one were to know that one is *never* going to regret whatever happens in life, perhaps, it would be easier to ‘live in the present’ and give into one’s impulses.
2. Do not take upon yourself the entire responsibility of making the relationship grow and sustain. Because despite some disparity in how intensely the two partners feel for each other or to what extent they might be emotionally committed to each other, both have something at stake. By ‘not taking all responsibility’ I do not mean not taking the initiative to strike up a conversation or talking of what’s on your mind, but that you must stop feeling that the fate of the relationship is going to be decided only by *your* choices or that it (relationship’s fate) will affect *only you*. Let your partner also feel equally/comparably responsible for whatever happens with the relationship. In fact, I believe such things need to be explained in almost the same plain words I have used here. If your partner understands you well, she will not take it as a threat, but a serious point to consider. Believe me, if your partner sees you trust her with emotions and thoughts such integral to you, her barrier and hesitation would also dissolve. 🙂 Because these kind of emotions tend to work in a positive feedback (in my observation): you tell her how you feel (with honesty) –> she feels more of how she feels –> she tells you about what she feels (with honesty) –> you feel more confident –> you tell her how you feel (with honesty), etc. So, usually the problem does not lie at the level of lack of intensity of how one feels but other apprehensions that prevent them from acting on how they feel [this applies more to the emotionally less dependent partner]. So hopefully, your initiatives with regard to being honest would set in such a positive feedback loop and the barriers she/you feel would be subsequently dissolved.
It is possible I have not been very coherent. Obviously, I have written this post as quite an ‘impulsive’ response. 🙂
[To answer the questions you had asked at the end of your post, yes, I would like to believe I have very recently gotten out of a similar limbo, and my ‘tips’ sort of encapsulate what I myself had done. But then I also need to give some credit to the wonderful person who made our coming out of such limbo possible because of her maturity, honesty and farsightedness. 🙂 And no, this post is not an excuse to compliment her, but the ‘compliments’ are merely matter of fact-expression of how I look at things, and incidental! 😉 Also, I have reasons to believe had the relationship limbo in my life not ended, I would have still come up with the same points I mentioned above, but perhaps, with somewhat lesser confidence].