“I gave you the best of me! How can you just throw it all away?!” I had just gone through yet another breakup, and my thoughts were fighting between pride and misery. Even though I give my effort and my all into becoming the best possible person I can be, why doesn’t it seem to make creating, sustaining and improving a relationship any easier? The answer to that came, but not until after taking a new perspective.
Have you ever thought of what our current skills, talents and abilities would be worth if we lost our ability to connect? Imagine writing a masterpiece of a song that nobody else will ever hear. How about becoming the strongest person in the world but be unable to touch anything? What if you learn to speak fluently in every language, but not have anybody to talk to? All these things that we could be the best at won’t make sense if we aren’t connected to something. The things we develop the most are those that can affect the connections we make: whether it is love, hate, friendship, rivalry, addiction, faith, fear or any of connection’s other forms.
Relating it to my own life, this makes sense of the fact that even though I know that I am perfectly capable of being a healthy, thriving, successful person on my own, I still seek out connections. I knew I would be fine by myself and sure I had the skills to survive and be happy. And yet, I was there, miserable and crying, wondering why my BEST wasn’t enough.
Modern day culture strongly emphasizes a “best you” mentality. Education systems convince everyone that life should be spent on becoming “officially smarter”. Contests are heavily publicized and monetized. There are judges for anything. Even when we get to a point where we are satisfied with our level, the world tells us “You need to get EVEN BETTER!” So it is no surprise that most of the practices we do are skewed heavily towards our connection to our self. The only use of connection to others is as a benchmark.
This surprised me when I evaluated my own relationship. I was doing all these things using my relationship as a measuring stick. I worked, sacrificed and changed and waited to see what her reaction would be. I thought if she stays with me and loves me, it means I was becoming a better partner!
Most practices work at improving one’s self. And most of these practices are so effectively developed and taught that they work very well. Weightlifters get stronger, meditators get calmer and more focused, martial artists get fitter and more disciplined, while scholars get more intelligent. In today’s “best you” culture a lot of these practices are driven by the desire to become that best version of ourselves. That desire by itself is not a bad thing, but the concern is on what gets neglected by overemphasis on the connection to self: the development of connection to others. Interpersonal connection is just as important as connection to self. Unless you are a hermit, connecting to others is every bit as important to connecting with ourselves.
Sometimes the things we do for relationships- offerings, sacrifices, changes- only develop our own “best” image. “I changed my work hours so I can be with you more but you’re never there! I work more and don’t spend on myself so I can get you nicer things!” Often we change ourselves to become our own idea of a perfect partner, assuming that becoming our best self would make us loved and worthy of commitment. We work on ourselves so much that we neglect the very connection we are trying to keep.
Back to the first question: Think of everything we’ve worked hard to attain: skills, certifications, abilities. How useful would they be if we couldn’t connect to anyone else? Knowing that connecting to others is so important, have we used any of these abilities to improve this? Or has the development of these skills and practices actually gotten in the way?
Working so hard to become the “best self” often leads to lack of work on becoming the “best us”. People become great individually, and thrive when surrounded by people and objects they can control. But there is a lot less success in trying to keep good connections with people who are also at their best with their own minds and their own “best” ways. This is why relationships become victims of career choices; why friends or even couples “grow apart”; or why the separate amazingness of two individuals don’t guarantee a good committed relationship. It is mainly because we work so hard to become masters of ourselves, but stay quite inept when it comes to connection with others.
With this perspective, new questions arise. How can we modify our existing practices so they give as much attention to interpersonal connection as they do to connection to self? What other way can we utilize our connection to another person besides as a competitor, measuring stick, or stepping stone? How can “I” be better at “We”? Is there a practice that can work on interpersonal connection skills and abilities?
Eventually I found out what me trying to be the best me felt like for my partner. She didn’t want “nicer stuff”. She didn’t want me to be there 24/7, as long as we spend time. That’s when I realized that developing for relationships means making choices for and within the connection. The best me is not necessarily the best for we.
In a relationship, working on being the best collectively rather than singularly leads to a stronger and deeper connection. Consciously aligning intentions and actions so they support both individuals and the relationship makes the connection cooperative and truly united. Changing should not be done for each other, but with each other. It may sound like mere semantics, but the effects will be evident and strong. Build trust by depending on each other’s natural strengths instead of assuming what the other should provide. But most importantly, know who you are both as individuals and as a couple. Become the best you, and also the best we. It does not make being in a relationship any less work, but knowing the difference makes a world of difference.