Finding mutual satisfaction in relationships (be they romantic, familial, professional, etc.) is often a tough and awkward dance. We take lumbering steps trying to satisfy both our own needs, as well as those of the other person. To make things easier, some of us take the lead in this dance, thereby saying, “No” to the other person – which is only satisfying until we become bored, lonely, or resentful in this role, (or until the other party revolts). Some of us assume a passive, accommodating role and say, “No” to ourselves –until we start to feel suffocated or invisible (perhaps causing us to revolt). What we all generally share is a faulty belief; that in order for a relationship to work smoothly, someone must completely surrender his or her autonomy.
The “On Demand” culture we live in certainly doesn’t help us to resolve this dilemma. We regularly try to take the lead in our relationship to entertainment, as we flip through channels, DVR, Pay-per-View, don’t Pay-Per-View (a la Netflix On Demand)….until we realize that we are actually disappointingly passive in this relationship and stop the program, defiantly start another, say “No”, “No”, “Next”, “Next” (they should really call it “Next-Flix”), all in search of the perfect, most pleasurable entertainment. We are a culture of consumers, constantly battling for autonomy (I could write another piece entirely on the topic of our dependence on bad entertainment, and the importance of creating more of our own art, but for now we’re talking about relationships).
We look at our relationships this way as well, as consumers as opposed to creators. For example, we say things like, “I want a girl who listens to me”, “I want a guy who’s tough”, “She’s too assertive”, “He lacks drive”. We say a lot of “No” on our quest for the perfect “dance partner”, trying to take charge of this audition process and continuing to feel passive discontent. We rarely consider that rather than waiting around for the perfect match, we have the power to actively engage in this process of getting along – for some this means offering more of our opinions and feelings, for others this means being open to listening and discovering alternative perspectives to our own. We often fail to see that being autonomous in a relationship doesn’t have to be about consumption, it can be about creating new possibilities, for you and the other party involved.
The first rule of acting in improvisation is to never say “No” while performing a scene. You can say ‘Yes, and…….” or “Yes, but…..”, but it is never an option to say “No”. We can consider using this rule in our relationships. If something doesn’t feel quite right when we’re engaging with another person, before we say “No” and change the channel, consider that we often have more power than we think to create a more agreeable reality for both parties. We don’t have to shut ourselves down in order to maintain a relationship and we don’t have to shut the other person down in order to be autonomous. Be a creator in your relationships. Say, “Yes, and….”, or “Yes, but…”, but saying, “No”, will only leave you feeling discontent.