The Meaning In Meaningful Relationships

There’s a huge industry around the way people connect to each other. From dating sites and apps (ever heard about a thingie called “Tinder”?) up to less spectacular, but equally important, relationship coaching and counseling ecosystems. We’re wired to connect to each other, we’re social animals, and when this part of our lives doesn’t go well, we suffer.

Most of these “industries”, or verticals, will focus on how to find the “perfect” partner. They’re all about “finding the one”.

I’m not in that league. For starters, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “perfect partner”. And second, our relationship field is not limited only to our immediate partner. We form and maintain long time relationships with other people too, from relatives to colleagues, and from clients to friends. All these relationships need constant fuel to function properly and they provide us, in exchange, with constant energy.

Meaning In A Relationship Is Neutral

Even more, I don’t necessarily believe that each and every relationship should be “good”, but rather “meaningful”. There’s an important difference.

A “good” relationship will be like a never ending fountain of energy. It will never break, never go bad, never fail us. In reality, very few relationships are checking all these boxes, all the time. What happens, most of the time, is rather a roller coaster of events in which we try to navigate as safe and as proper as we can. So, knowing that we’re subjects to all these unpredictable ups and downs, I strive to form and maintain relationships from which I can derive some meaning in my life, rather than to form bonds who are unequivocally “good” for me.

And here’s a thing about meaning: it’s neutral. It’s just meaning. It’s not good or bad, it’s just meaning.

Which means that some of the relationships from which I’m deriving meaning are not checking any of the boxes of a “good” relationship. They are a lot of work, they seldom provide me with constant fuel, and, overall, they require focus and energy on a regular basis. And yet, they provide a lot of meaning.

For instance, a work relationship. I may not have it all laughs and fun at work, but it’s important that work is done. It’s important that relationships formed around work to continue to function at a more than average level, if I want to continue to experience all the rewards of the work I’m doing. So, most of the time, relationships formed around work are functioning predominantly with patience and discipline, and very little with enthusiasm and exhilaration.

And I can go like this with many other examples, including personal relationships. Sometimes I choose to remain in a specific personal relationship (a friendship, for instance), even if I’m spending more than the other part (in terms of emotional involvement, or even in financial terms). And I choose this because there is a specific meaning that should continue to be generated there. For instance, I may do this literally to “hone” my generosity “skills”. I know that “I’m taken for a ride” – and since I know that, I can also set up firm boundaries and allow the ride to go only as far as I want, this is important. But still, I engage in the relationship, because it will be good for me. If I can practice my generosity “skills” (replace “generosity” with “compassion”, if you want) then these skills will have a greater meaning in my life.

So, meaning is neutral.

And, as you advance in life, you realize that it’s not the relationship that is providing the meaning.

It’s you. It all starts, and ends, with you.

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