Several years ago, I read a piece of relationship advice that always stuck with me. (I wish I could find it now; but I can’t, so I’m going to have to paraphrase.) It was by a lesbian relationship adviser, and she said that in the first six months of her relationship with her partner, they had a rule that, if one of them asked, “What are you thinking right now?” the other had to answer, completely honestly and spontaneously.
The advice writer said that, while this obviously was difficult and painful at times — both for the asker and the askee — it “worked.” At the end of the six months, she said, “we were joined at the brainstem.”
This was before I got together with Ingrid, back in my single days, and at the time, I remember thinking, “What a bad idea.” In fact, it struck me so strongly as a bad idea that I remembered it all these years.
But now that I’ve been in a serious relationship for close to ten years, my feelings have changed somewhat. Now I think about the idea of sharing every passing thought with your partner on demand, and I don’t think, “What a bad idea.”
I think, “What an appalling, unbelievably stupid, extraordinarily horrible idea.”
Why is that a good idea? Why is that something you’d want?
I like that Ingrid has her own brain. I like Ingrid’s brain. It’s a good brain. And it’s good in ways that are often very different from my own. The fact that Ingrid has her very own brain means that she can surprise me. She can make me think about things differently. She can make me question my ideas and assumptions. And possibly more important than any of this, she can make me laugh.
None of which she could do if we were “joined at the brainstem.”
After close to ten years together, of course we know each other very well indeed. Of course we sometimes finish each other’s sentences, sometimes know exactly what the other person is going to say. But not always. And while of course I treasure how well we know each other and how close we are, I also treasure the fact that, nearly ten years into our life together, we’re still learning about each other.
Second, and maybe more importantly:
Having your own thoughts and feelings — which you can share with others or not as you choose — that’s one of the central defining characteristics of being, you know, a person. An individual. A being with some sort of selfhood.
And the idea that you should give that up when you get in a relationship gives me chills.
Now obviously, when you get into a relationship, you give up a certain amount of privacy. The closer the relationship gets, the more privacy you give up. And of course, different people need different amounts of privacy. Some couples are fine having their partner in the bathroom with them while they pee; others need to live in separate apartments.
Why would you want to take that away? Either from your partner or yourself?
And I’m not even getting into the potential rudeness and hurtfulness of the exercise. I mean, it’s not as if every fleeting thought that passes through my head is one that I really stand by, or even think is true. If I have to hurt Ingrid by telling her something she doesn’t want to hear, I bloody well want it to be something that matters — not some petty, selfish, mean-spirited bitchiness that happened to be crossing my synapses at the exact moment she was asking, “Honey, what are you thinking?”
Maybe I’m being unfairly judgmental here. Maybe this “complete and unedited honesty on demand” thing is just a greater degree of intimacy and a lesser degree of privacy than I’m personally comfortable with. But it just seems like an unbelievably bad idea. Especially for lesbian couples. Lesbian couples already have enough of a tendency to merge, to lose their individual identities in each other and in the couple-identity. And the whole thing that’s cool about a relationship is that it’s a balance between intimacy and selfhood. You can’t have intimacy if you don’t have different people, with different identities, to come together and connect. The idea that more closeness is always better in a relationship is, IMO, a seriously dumb one.
So am I being too judgmental here? Have any of you ever done the “complete and unedited honesty on demand” thing in a relationship? If so, how did it work out? If not, is it an idea that appeals to you? I’m weirded out — but I’m also curious.