What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other travel. – Pierre Elliott Trudeau
If we’re going to travel lighter toward each other in love, it’s time to change a heavy-duty word. If ever there was a tired, stodgy, lifeless word, it’s “relationship.” Who decided it was a ship in the first place? A ship is a huge, weighty vessel with lots of cargo and a big responsibility to its passengers; not easy to turn around.
Let’s talk about a nimble, maneuverable canoe instead. It’s lighter, more manageable, goes with the flow and takes cooperation between stern and bow to navigate, especially through rapids. It can be portaged and converted to a cozy canoe shelter when it’s time to snuggle down in the woods.
So as we continue to sort out our love lives, let’s imagine ourselves in a canoe instead of a ship. Then how will we navigate the crosscurrents inevitably encountered on the journey of the heart?
It helps to have a vision of where a relationcanoe can take us. Are we seeking happiness or transformation? Is it about being “alone together” or expecting the other to fill an aching gap within ourselves? Are we asking of the other what we ought to be doing for ourselves?
We need to keep these questions in mind before embarking on a romantic canoe trip. What do we want in a traveling companion and what makes for a sturdy, steady relationcanoe, even when one or both of us are making waves? Ask yourself the following to know whether you’re paddling hard down a river of no return or on an adventure in the shared emotional wilderness:
- What brought the two of you together in the first place?
- What characteristics do you find most appealing in your partner?
- In the beginning, what did you tend to talk about and do together?
- Currently, what kind of conversation connects you emotionally?
- What do you value about each other and the life you share together?
- In what ways do you sense your partner understands and values you?
- How do you know when you’re loved — what tells or shows you that it’s real?
- What would it take to trust your partner with the deepest part of your heart?
From a developmental perspective as applied to relationcanoes, the me/thee/we/three model progressively enlarges the scope of intimacy from self-centered (me – personal); to other-centered attentiveness (thee – interpersonal); to a sense of being a unit of two (we – transpersonal); to a triangle with the apex being self-transcending values and purposes to which both are dedicated (the three synthesis of expanding personhood). Each stage progressively involves more responsibility for becoming the “one” we’ve been seeking.
In our culture, coupledom is a setup. We expect someone else to make us whole and start out seeing them as our “better half.” However, two half-people tend to compete for the whole. When the romance runs out of smoke and mirrors steam, it’s a broken mirror. Attention shifts to everything missing in that half-person. They become our worse half with a vengeance.
This backlash involves excruciating emotional pain and is the subject of countless pop songs about love betrayed. The next step is to make the other responsible for that pain instead of “owning” it, as each partner is encouraged to do in couples counseling.
To respond to the following refrain from singer Holly Cole — no! It’s definitely not what love is supposed to do:
Make it go away, or make it better.
Isn’t that what love is supposed to do?
Make it go away, or make it better,
Because I would do either one for you.
Due to false expectations of what love is supposed to do, we tend to work on the other’s barriers to intimacy. Yet with any partner who is more than a placeholder for social status, domestic comfort and need gratification, we need to work on ourselves in the presence of the other instead.
If we choose someone who challenges our safeguarded ego strategies just by being who they are, then we are already in a form of therapy whether we like it or not. Instead of resisting that therapy, we can use these keys to emotional freedom and lightness of being:
- How would I respond to the other if being fully loved and respected is already a given for both of us?
- What would the other’s perceptions look, feel, or sound like if they had nothing negative to say about me?
- What kind of reassurance or validation do I need from the other that I can either give to myself or ask for directly?