Managing Modern-Day Relationships: Can We Box in Our Feelings According to Rules?

All right, today is the LAST day I will mention Jonas Singer--but holy baby Moses, I ran into him last night! Totally randomly! I went out to a hilarious play and who was standing outside with a group of friends after the performance let out but Jonas Singer himself?! (It's like: What is my life? A sitcom?)

He'd been out in the sun all weekend, and had gone the dark, gorgeous indigo color he gets; and he'd gotten his hair cut so, lucky me, he looked better than ever. We chatted for a minute or two--though how I managed to move my gaping jaw into a speaking motion, I'll never know. And then, remembering myself, I introduced him to the friend I was with, Daisy Milliner (who was almost shocked as I was). Then Jonas and I hugged good-bye, and Daisy and I walked off to Angel Share for a drink. I felt a little shaky for a few minutes, but then I realized ... it was okay. I really was over him ...

* * *

And yet, I DO just want to say one more thing. It came as SUCH a shock to me when, the other night, Jonas said he didn't respect me. Because we were friends! I thought; friends ... with benefits. We had each other's backs. There were no malicious feelings--in fact, there was a lot of demonstrated tenderness and affection and concern. And we weren't going to hurt each other! We'd had very frank discussions about what we're doing. I hadn't acted in any way that was out of keeping of what we'd vaguely agreed to.

And it occurred to me, almost immediately after I got off the phone with him--once I stopped crying and could think clearly--that what he'd pulled a so-called "reaction formation." In other words, the person he really didn't respect was himself.

Let me explain.

Many times in the past, he'd said that he worried I didn't respect him enoug and that wanted me to. I suppose it's true that, though I cared about him, I didn't necessarily have a ton of respect for him. Which is not to say I disrespected him; he was very loyal and supportive to his friends, for instance; he worked hard; he ate healthily, worked out and didn't booze much. But I thought he should focus more on a single creative goal, as I'd told him a few times, rather than spreading himself thin--trying to write a book, produce a play, and do his day-job. Pick one thing, I said, and really go for it! He didn't like that advice--and maybe I'd unintentionally hurt his feelings by giving it to him.

And when Jonas said he didn't respect me, what he essentially said--more or less verbatim--was that he didn't respect me for spending time with him. Which more or less boils down to him not respecting himself.

So later on, when we're emailing, I wrote to him: "As for respecting people ... I thought we had a certain agreement about our relationship and the bounds of it. I didn't want something more serious. And I never thought you were a fool for spending time with me, or that I was a fool for hanging out with you--even if you thought I was a fool for spending time with you. In other words, I didn't act in any way that I myself could not respect."

Hell. Is that me having a reaction formation?

I think the bottom line here is that feelings and emotions are messy, and they often grow bigger than the modern-day-relationship boxes we try to put them in. It's one thing to say "Yes, we will only see each other occassionally and have nice sex and be kind to each other and not get too serious." It's another to manage to resist growing feelings of attachment, disappointment, concern, affection, frustration, anxiety, discomfort--whether or not you're a man or a woman.

Do you agree? Disagree?


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