Thursday, 3 November 2011

Fighting the Last War

Ever notice how a lot of times you end up having arguments with people that make no sense? You brace yourself for the reaction to some minor thing and then launch into a counter-offensive that makes no sense (and probably seems as if it is coming out of NOWHERE - good gosh, no wonder X thinks I'm crazy!). Maybe it's about time. Or about appreciation. Or about a mutual friend. Or about expectations. How many times have I argued with someone I love about expectations? I lost count a decade ago.

When a military (or government) does not adapt to a new conflict situation, it is often accused of fighting the last war. It is characterized by a blindness to new circumstances, new technology, new tactics, and new theories of warfare. It knows how the last war was fought (maybe it wasn't even won) and it uses that strategy as its template. (See: Vietman, the second Gulf War, et c.) Generally, not such a hot plan. Lots of wasted time, wasted ammunition, and unnecessary casualties until everyone smartens up and realizes that time is a continuum and that they have to look at what they're actually up against and adapt to conquer it.

About a week ago, I was having a conversation that showed dangerous signs of spiraling into an argument when the response I got to something I said snapped me off of autopilot. This was not the same old conversation leading to the same old argument. This was new, and maybe it was a new war, but maybe it wasn't a war at all. It was a jolt, one that made me realize I'd been imposing expectations of behaviour on someone I love that weren't based on precedent. Not precedent if his behaviour alone was the basis of my expectations. I had inadvertently assumed I was fighting the last war on a personal front. I'd assumed he would react as other have in the past. I was wrong. That jolt got me thinking about how often I must have done this, and whether or not it was warranted.

Yes, it's true that we learn how to deal with situations based on precedent of what we've experienced before in similar situations. It makes sense that we learn to recognize patterns, but is it really fair? Just because one person treats you unfairly, doesn't mean everyone will. Just because one friend ditches you, doesn't mean everyone will. And just because one guy (okay, multiple guys) can't commit to anything more serious than calling you his girlfriend, doesn't mean every guy is afraid of commitment.

How often do we end up in disagreements because we assume we know what answer we're going to get from the get-go? How often do we, when we have the chance to cool down and talk rationally, realize that neither party wanted to argue, or that there wasn't really anything worth arguing over in the first place, that -shocker of shockers- you wanted the same thing all along? How often are relationships ruined because we don't stop to listen to what someone else is REALLY saying?

I've had to stop and catch myself a lot lately because the relationship I'm in is different than I'm used to. I've always had issues speaking up because often people have misunderstood my priorities or thought I was kidding when I said I need to be alone a LOT. I know myself well. I have for a long time, and while I've had a few crises du coeur in my time, most of the time I'm pretty (brutally) honest about my needs and my feelings. It's a bit disorienting being confronted with someone who doesn't question that. I say, "X", and he nods and goes, "Okay, X. Got it." I'm not used to that. And I'm not to having such similar priorities with someone. Education comes first. Money is only as good as what you do with it. Life is best lived in the moment.

I have high standards. They apply to me and my life and the way I want to be. Do not interpret this to mean that I want a 8M$ house with a view and a Lambo and season tickets to the NHL franchise in town (not gonna lie, I'd take the season tickets if I was anywhere but Vancouver); I want to live at a high standard for myself. I want to write WELL. I want to cook good food. I want to have a garden and compost and be able to breathe deeply when I watch the sunset. I want to stay up all night editing and I want to be with someone who understands why I consider it a labour of love. Thing is, I have never been interested in molding someone into the perfect partner (I'm WAY too lazy and way too busy doing more interesting things with my life to be bothered with that), and I waited it out until I met someone who actually holds the same inherent values and the same type of standards. I don't judge people who don't want the things I want, but I also can't lie and say I'd be happy spending my life with someone who didn't understand why one word can change everything.

I am in uncharted territory for the first time in a very long time, and it's a nice change. The most important change is that everything from here on out is a known unknown: I know now that I know nothing. It feels surprisingly fresh. And free. I'm not fighting this.