So maybe, just maybe, you could make a version of a relationship contract – only make it about the relationship with yourself first. The writer of this article claims that codifying the terms of her relationship made her finally feel that there was room for her in her own relationship. I am sure we have all been there – so eager to please, or so eager to be loved, or just to preserve harmony (or whatever our multitudes of reasons) that we would “consent to give a finger and then an arm” (Marge Piercy) to let the relationship, or the lie of the relationship, persist.
The writer explains, “Writing a relationship contract may sound calculating or unromantic, but every relationship is contractual; we’re just making the terms more explicit. It reminds us that love isn’t something that happens to us — it’s something we’re making together. After all, this approach brought us together in the first place.”
She could be right. But perhaps she is jumping the gun. It is not really possible to define your needs or yourself within a relationship without first figuring out what your own must-haves are. Sure, maybe you can come to these conclusions (or whatever sliding-scale needs you have) in conversation with another, but it would not hurt to do some self-reflection first. Maybe even draft a little contract with yourself: after all, you will have must-haves and some things you cannot live with and should create thresholds, things that will trigger a built-in kill switch.
Perhaps this self-involved contract would become something like a dreaded wishlist, but certainly there must be must-haves and makes-or-breaks for many people who feel they are on a determined life path or have specific things they want to achieve. Figuring out what those things are and making a semi-flexible promise to yourself to consider these things when you find yourself flailing … it couldn’t hurt, and could help hone some of the instincts a bit better (so you wouldn’t necessarily need this contract later).
Sure, I didn’t like being on someone’s to-do list as an abstract concept once I realized I was a means to an end – who would? But that is why you communicate and try to determine that you are on the same life path or want the same things. It won’t always work, but it’s a start. This is basic relationship 101 stuff… and people in their 30s probably should have some basic experience with this.
We know that people often enter relationships and quietly hope that their perseverance will lead to change in the other person. Or will secretly hope that, despite all signs pointing to the contrary, the two are somehow on the same page. Not all people, not all relationships. But for example, if you get involved with someone of another religious faith, can you reasonably assume (but then as a person of no faith, I don’t see reason attached to faith and the people who believe in and practice religion, so this is a rhetorical, (oxy)moronic question) that you will fill their heart with the light of your truth (or, much more likely, wear them down to begrudgingly tolerate your faith – making for a half-lived life of resentment – for both of you)?
Why try to sand and sculpt a reluctant person into what s/he isn’t when there are probably more than a few people who already believe what you do or who want what you do? Of course this is oversimplifying the complexity and desperation and pigheadedness of our world, filled as it is with farkakte schmucks and putzes, brimming with hopeful romantics and determined would-be breeders, feeders, leaders and seeders. With older people especially, the pool is limited. Time is of the essence, but this urgency is also what leads to coupling up and projecting traits and hopes that are not and will never be there. We know this but proceed anyway, even though it’s almost inevitably headed nowhere good.
Resentment: Take poison, expect other person to die
And despite how hurt or embittered we are by this (temporary, usually), feeling we were misled or that our time was wasted, shouldn’t we take a dose of our own medicine? Personal responsibility for what we failed to see or admit, our failure to look at the big picture or to look at the situation through the other person’s eyes? After all, as cliched and half-baked as this sounds, the longer you cling to the resentment, the longer you are putting off getting on with it – and finding whatever traits in another that you included your personal contract with yourself.