As I drove along Pennsylvania’s Route 276 this evening, I glanced over, on several occasions, to see Billboards advertising easy divorce and easy injury claims, along with potential lottery winnings. Remembering that there are no ‘hit or miss’ marketing investments by the corporate world, I wondered why anyone would want to promote divorce, injury claims and the lottery on a highway where the average speed was 70 mph. The answer didn’t take long to come to me.
Moving at 70mph along a vast expanse can seem like going nowhere. Driving, in an automatic car, is done on auto-pilot. Anything, aside of black asphalt, marked with white lines and speckled with reflective ‘eyes’, catches the eye. It dawned on me how industry plants, alongside roads and highways, don’t use much lighting. They only use required ‘low-level flight’ lighting and their company name in big neon lights. Usually a name that has nothing to do with polluting industry but that’s another topic.
These billboards want to be seen and, knowing that there is zero accidental marketing in such a forum, I came to quick conclusion that there must be a valid marketing audience. The audience that flies by day after day after day after day. I reminded myself of my days studying Communication and Media Studies. Billboards that were on the drivers side were generally plain, easy to read, logically laid out. The billboards on the passenger’s side were more colourful and required a little working out. Even the divorce billboards, on the passenger’s side, were more colourful and eye-catching than the billboards on the driver’s side. Why is that?
The answer is pretty simple. The area of Pennsylvania, where these billboards occur, is very Puritan. Amish. ‘Old Skool’ Bible. However, if you’re on Rt. 276, you’re generally not going to be from that area. You’ll be passing through and, more than likely, be from a more ‘liberal’ origin and probably headed to a destination of the same category. The driver of a vehicle is more than likely going to be male, if partners are travelling, and he would be more focused on the road. Your average driver is going to be looking for instruction. Passengers, on the other hand, are more likely to be bored. In need of entertainment. Bright colours, as they stare, aimlessly, out of the window are attractive and seemingly scattered billboards bring a change to the monotony. Messages that bring definitive end help, as you hurtle across a state, at speed but with your destination still so far away (You’ll notice billboards are mostly on long straightaways and not near destination points.). The ending doesn’t matter, just as long as you get it. Whether your definitive end is to make money from the lottery or to quickly, and easily, divorce your partner. First world culture. The definitive example of ‘clasped’ relationships.
Growing up, my mum couldn’t keep me in the house. At the age of 2, I’d be outside the front door with my oldest friend, Martin, making noise, exposed to the playful ways of the older kids. From toddler, to infant, child and teen, I learned a lot of life from the older guys and girls. I learned the basics of climbing trees, hierarchy in friendship groups, where I stood as a mixed race child, how to play all the games we played, in the absence of games consoles and other visual entertainment. Tag, Bulldog, Tim Tam Tommy. A favourite was Knock Down Ginger, where we’d run along a landing, knocking every door and then hide, laughing as curious adult faces and figures emerged, lost, wondering who’d roused them from adult slumber! Some of us, more brazen than others, would walk back along the landing, under the suspecting glare of said adults. Youthful, high-pitched voices could be heard, “Nah, mate. Dunno what you’re talking about…” I learned, quickly, from example, with a still-existent obsessive compulsive personality.
With mum unable to afford a TV, I grew to love reading and, by the time I left Primary School, aged 10, I could pretty much read any book put in front of me, with the ability to express an opinion regarding its content. I developed humour from The Beano and Dandy comics and delved into dark worlds, reading graphic novels and comic strips like Nemesis, Rogue Trooper, Judge Dredd. For another blog, I was introduced to pornographic magazines at a young age. Stealing it from a nearby printers, for the older guys, who’d give me money to buy candy. I’d get lost in Disney movies. To the point I couldn’t hear my own name being called. From the earliest of ages, I learned introvert escapism. Something I still turn to today. Isn’t it amazing how old habits die hard? Especially old habits we didn’t even know we had… The power of example.
Practicing what you learn is to create and develop your character. It’s important here to remember that you can only learn what you are taught. Not just through teaching in a classroom but more so at that really basic institution we don’t really consider at times. Our senses. Sight, taste, touch, hearing and smelling. Five things we probably take for granted the most are the foundation of the very person we are. These senses are honed through our experiences. This is why we have ‘acquired’ taste and ‘selective’ hearing. Our experiences dictate how we see things and how we respond to the sensation of touch.
Coming from a broken home, dealing with it and fighting to escape it has played a bigger part in who I am than I can possibly imagine. Relationships are the basis of human existence and the very first step in our learning lives. Whether we like it or not, the lack of relationship example is also the very first step. I want to point out here that I’m currently talking of relationships in the generic sense. The interrelation of two individuals. Not necessarily the intimate relationship of two people.
I love my mum and dad like you might never believe it. Sadly, because of how I’ve become through my life, based on example, my ability to show them how much is limited. In comparison to how much I love them and appreciate them, my ability is non-existent. I do know that, one day, as I learn relationships and continue to grow in Love, I’ll be able to demonstrate.
It’s with all due respect to my parents and love for them that I want to share the fact that I come from a broken home. At a pretty young age, I began life with my mum and my sister. It was this single-parent institution that formed my very earliest examples of how to enter in to relationships with females. It was this single-parent institution that found me repeatedly hurting others and hating myself for it, unable to stop a vicious cycle that charged through my life like a runaway train. I’m glad that I have changed. I’m glad that I was able to spot the problem and bring about a change in myself but the honesty is, Reader, I’ve forgiven myself but not forgotten. I still see the tears of those that I’ve hurt. I hear the questioning of ‘why?’ Why it is I was being how I was being. Understanding how hearts become fragmented when there is longing for someone, or a physical tying to someone else, I’m still humbled, to tears at times, when I think of the hearts that I have broken. Example, clarified by first-world culture, taught me that one should never embrace a relationship and so I never did, until now.
So, what is it to clasp a relationship? To demonstrate my point, clasp your hands, as though you had just caught a butterfly and hold the imaginary butterfly to your chest. If you are with your partner or close friend, have them do the same and then stand as close as you can, clasped hands touching. This is the first world relationship. It’s safe, it’s controlled. It’s even possible for the hands to remain in contact when the arms are extended but the bodies separated, at arms length. With the hands in contact, there is still almost-full functionality of the body. The head can swivel, the spine can still mobilize, the hips can move, as can the legs. “I’m in a relationship but I’m independent. If it all goes wrong, I’ll be alright.”
First world culture has told us that we are solely for the system. We work through Communism, promised the idea of Democracy, and so we’re always focused on what is to come next. We lose sight of now. We lose sight of those close to us. And it doesn’t matter, as we can always call an attorney real quick. He’ll take our money and see to it that we are in a different relationship as soon as possible. No hard work necessary. All you’ll need to do is let go of the hand of the one you say you love. I’m reminded of the periodic movies that come on TV, where dancing partners are shared. Never an embrace. At most, a holding of the hand, hiding faces behind masquerade masks and moving to the next partner, simply as a matter of process or at swift command.
There is so much wrong with the clasped relationship. In fact, if you imagine holding a butterfly, the idea of a clasped relationship takes on full reality.
The butterfly in your clasped hand cannot be seen in its full glory. It can only be peeked at through gaps in the fingers. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out, unless we say. When we do this with our relationships, the relationships quickly become stagnant. There is no growth. There is frustration. Think of the joy experienced when a butterfly lands in the palm and stays there. Colours on display but most importantly, it’s the fact that it CHOOSES to stay where it is which fuels the joy we feel. THIS is what real Love is. It’s choice. The satisfaction in a relationship, when partners choose each other, is beyond measure and this goes back to creation. God created us with choice because a real Love is demonstrated this way. THAT is why there were two trees for Adam and Eve to choose from. It wasn’t simply about testing or temptation. It was God allowing Adam to choose Him for himself. It has been so hard for me to come to this point of understanding and acceptance. When experience says relationships can’t last and that I won’t be chosen over circumstance or other persons and when society says I don’t have to be thoroughly tied to someone else, operating in real Love, allowing myself to be chosen has been the hardest step of faith I’ve taken to date. I’m still learning.
With clasped hands, there is still a ‘safe zone’ between us. That safe zone that we believe will help us when it all falls apart. Where we feel we can turn our backs and move on to the next one with little issue. The truth is, though, it leaves us with an unsatisfied want, and need, for Love. There is always a feeling that something is missing. This prevents a moving towards 100% trust and, in return, we filter our feelings that flow from us. Because there is a lack of embrace, the disconnect allows others to get in. Distractions, temptations. The ‘get out of jail’ cards that never really die away because the clasped relationship we are in may require a back-up plan. With clasped hands, we can tell each other “I love you” while looking the other way, at arms length. The movement allowed means we are free to look wherever we want. Whether it be looking at another person, possible escape routes from the relationship or to something totally abstract that fills the void left by the lack of complete interconnect. The clasped relationship always presents the glass as being half empty. There is always something wrong. For me, I simply refused to trust and, as soon as I saw something amiss or something that reminded me of failures past, I strayed and bolted. My walls would shoot up like sheets of ice and I’d hate myself for it. But it was all I knew. I’d switch off and become emotionless. I didn’t want to be that way but I didn’t know how to stop it. When you’re exposed to hurt as a norm regularly, and from a young age, habits are formed and coping mechanisms put into place. For me, my introvert escapism was my way out. I could be in the middle of the most passionate crowd, having the best time, and yet seem distant and totally disconnected. Not necessarily unhappy but sometimes, even now, I disappear into my own thoughts and emotions and try to find solace there.
Clasped relationships are simply emotional motels. They’re cheap and never last long. If they’re entertained for a length of time, it is a lengthy period of frustration and unhappiness. Usually tolerated for a particular reason. Often because nobody knows any better.
I’m learning to embrace relationships. I’m not even going to make it sound like I’ve now reached this great point of deep zen and peace. Life experiences, especially since immigrating into the States, have made me a control freak of my own life and environment. The idea of letting go, letting God and allowing someone to choose to be with me strikes fear into the heart. Actually going through the process reminds me somewhat of learning to roller skate. In order to learn, motion must happen. When it does, I’ve seen that I’ve been presented with the choice of going with it, totally, learning to guide the motion or, quite simply, going nowhere. Leaving myself in a position where growth and development in a relationship are mere ideas and dreams, never goals.
I feared embraced relationships because it meant that I might get hurt. I feared embraced relationships because the flaws I have, that I try to keep to myself, become exposed. The safe environment I have created for myself is now compromised. It isn’t totally in my own hands. This is learning to Love. Not that love, where there is a constant glossing over of what’s real, to create warm, fuzzy feelings. I’m on about Love where one is left to feel vulnerable. Where you are held to a standard and an expectation that isn’t your own. It’s a space where you learn to trust someone with your deepest emotion, as you enter a space where you tentatively feel around, knowing there is a risk of failing and a risk of being disappointed, even hurt. It isn’t always pleasant. Yet, in some strange way, it is both exhilarating and fulfilling. Just like training for the 400m hurdles.
You never know how you are going to perform on race day so I spend countless hours, on the track, in the gym, reading books, researching online, in faith that, cometh the hour, cometh the man. I know that the best thing I can do, before stepping on the start line, is do my part and do my part to the best of my ability. The standard is the clock. The reality is my competitors. The reward is satisfaction, sense of achievement. Day, night, rain, shine, I embrace what I love. Which really raises the question. If real love is to embrace, can we honestly say that we love our partners? I know I do. It’s new and the learning curve is exponential but I’m still training to perform.
To operate in an embraced relationship is to be vulnerable. It is to take the deepest parts of yourself and put them in the hands of another. It is the ultimate expression of ‘actions speak louder than words’. It is to honestly put yourself in an ‘all or nothing’ environment. To choose to love is to experience life for what it really is. To choose to love is to find out who you really are. To choose to love is to discover where you really stand in the eyes of someone who tells you that they love you. Outside of an intimate relationship, to choose to love will, without fail, show you your purpose in life and where you stand in the lives of those around you.
When you embrace, you are as safe as the protection given by the one you hold. In this, though, there is a completion. A feeling of total safety, as you watch each other’s backs. You only need to see the confidence of someone in a happy, embraced relationship to understand this. Understanding Abraham Maslow’s philosophy of Self-Actualization, we see how an embraced relationship fulfills all basic human needs, beyond the physiological. The safety, the intimacy, the friendship, the feeling of accomplishment and the need to achieve full potential. Clasped relationships just don’t provide this. Indeed, shying away from embracing life will always leave us wanting more. Ever living the life of an unsatisfied appetite for completion.
They say that the hearts of lovers, in embrace, beat in sync. Desires, ideas, love become common and shared from their root. Fragmentation and brokenness begin to wain and disappear. The environment is created to share love from 100% of one heart to 100% of the other. In my clasped relationships, I’ve only ever shared from 100% of my safe zone. It’s a weird phenomenon but the average human knows, sub-consciously, when they are not receiving all of someone. My past relationships have been fraught with mistrust because of this. Yes, everyone has a choice in how they react to a lack of complete love but I, without doubt, raise my hand to plead guilty of not conveying unreserved love. I’m not proud of how I’ve been in my previous relationships and I have reasons for putting myself on blast but, as tough as changing has been, I’m glad I’ve chosen to change and stay changed. In a somewhat masochistic way, just as with my track training, I look forward to my lessons in real Love.
There is strength in unity and this goes really goes without saying. With hearts beating in sync, as we both head in the same direction, life takes on a different perspective. Yes, it takes time to develop cohesion, just as a pair would work, and practice, to learn to tango together. But once that movement has been learned, goals can become bigger, potential can increase and the dynamics of the relationship carry that much more power than any clasped relationship, where the contained energy and love flow cannot truly become. There is a difference between contained energy and harnessed energy. We also have the problem, in today’s society, where we feel the honeymoon should last forever. We feel that Love is what we deem it to be, just as I did. I believed that Love is what I made it but now I realize that the opposite is actually truth. Love should make us.
It’s hard succumbing to Love, real Love. Letting go. Allowing myself to be chosen instead of choosing, controlling and dictating. Putting myself in that vulnerable space where there is risk of hurt. It’s the knowledge of the greater good, though, that gets me through.
You see, in letting go, I decrease the workload, the worry and the stress. In allowing myself to be chosen, I can focus on being the best me that I can be and don’t need to see myself through someone else’s eyes. Love does that for me. In putting myself in that vulnerable space, I can learn, very quickly, who stays and who needs to go. When you operate in genuine Love, it takes a deliberate act of spite to hurt you so who goes and stays becomes a very quick and easy decision. Embraced relationships are cut and dry, with very few areas of grey. My workload has decreased, even though in this early phase I learn to deal with change. But I’m learning that, with change comes growth and growth, in Love, leads to my own self-actualization, which can only serve to keep my partner on a pedestal, as men should do. An actualization I continue to work towards as I grow in Love and learn to embrace, not clasp, relationships.