By Joanne Rock
For the sake of my writing, I read a lot about personality types, compatibility and the psychology of relationships—romantic and otherwise. I’m perpetually interested in what draws people together, whether it’s a friendship or a marriage. How and why do people connect? What makes some relationships feel comfortable and easy, and others feel challenging? What makes us remain in relationships that aren’t always comfortable?
These questions fascinate me, and there are as many answers to them as there are relationships. I think that’s why I never get tired of telling a girl-meets-boy story. Each one is unique. My thinking on this is also why I have made it a practice never to offer relationship advice. I learned early on that what applies to my relationship doesn’t work at all for yours. And one woman’s high drama relationship is another woman’s true love, so there’s no sense in imposing my own relationship lens on someone else’s HEA.
Yet a recurring theme I see in modern advice articles regarding romantic relationships is to “be yourself.” It’s an idea that I initially found a bit worrisome. Was I “myself” around my husband? Did he make me the “best version of myself” the way self-help articles insist a good partner would?
I wasn’t so certain. First of all, who’s to say what the best version of myself is? Joanne at ten years old? Joanne at 25? Joanne at 50? A Joanne I have yet to meet? I didn’t like the idea that I might not be on the right path to my best self. Furthermore, I wondered if I was really ever being myself around a man who is so vastly different from me. Ask anyone who knows us and we don’t seem like the most likely couple to end up together. I spent a lot of time early in my relationship just enjoying my husband’s larger than life personality. But self-help articles made me wonder… did that big personality overshadow the real me?
Friends who knew me in the years when I first met my husband would say I changed. That’s another sign of trouble, according to the pop culture relationship gurus. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson declared “o be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Was I a failure in that I lost some of my identity—for years at a time?
But then, I re-read a favorite work on the psychotherapist C.G. Jung, and this much-loved passage jumped out at me anew: “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” I’d read it before and thought of it in terms of a friendship. But in the era of “Be yourself!” romantic cautions, I was suddenly struck by how well this supported my own romantic relationship.
I couldn’t simply be myself once I met my husband, because there was no more singular sense of Joanne. I was in the process of being transformed. My relationship continues to fascinate me and transform me, twenty-some years after I met my highly interesting husband. It frustrates me some days. It’s exhausting on others because we are so very different and it’s a struggle to get on the same page. Beneath that, however, is a dynamic I wouldn’t trade for comfort, ease, or the knowledge that I could have the glorious freedom to simply be myself all the time.
Being challenged has not hurt me. It has made me grow and given me a broader perspective on relationships and the emotional spectrum. Not just my own, but his. I see things through different eyes. I have a new emotional wisdom. A better sense of humor. More patience and understanding for people who don’t think like me or who don’t express themselves in the same way I do. Part of that is maturity—yes. But another part of it is my unique relationship that has transformed me.
I think that’s okay. I’m not the same woman I might have been without my significant other. But I’m still a version of me, a version I chose to explore and embrace. Maybe being myself means that I get to choose who I allow into my world. Whose ideas and ideals I want to influence me. Through my relationship, my emotional understanding has sharpened. My empathy is deeper for other people’s complicated relationships.
Or perhaps, all analytical psychology aside, maybe I just fell victim to the Jessica Rabbit brand of relationship wisdom. When asked why she loves Roger, she narrows it down to just this… he makes me laugh.
What life lesson has romance taught you? Sense of humor? A new appreciation of a sport or band you weren’t familiar with? More sensitivity? Share with me this week on the blog and I’ll give one random commenter a copy of my upcoming Harlequin Superromance, Whispers Under a Southern Sky!
Her past…or her future?
It’s taken Amy Finley ten years, but she’s finally ready to return to her hometown of Heartache, Tennessee, and face the past. She just never expected that would include reuniting with her high school sweetheart and now town sheriff, Sam Reyes. Or that Sam’s latest case would lead right back to the darkest chapter in her life.
The attraction between Amy and Sam is definitely still there, not to mention that she’s sure she could quickly grow to love his cute baby son. But can he forgive her for keeping her secrets? Can she forgive herself?