The Social Network Triangle
We’ve been looking at various triangles that people form to alleviate tension in their relationships (see previous posts on triangulation). The Social Network Triangle is one of them.
I have wonderful friends who want the best for me in life, so when I started dating 2.5 years after I divorced, they were concerned for me. That was all well and good until they started giving me unsolicited advice. However, I was able to recognize that each friend provided advice from their own experience that they projected onto me. I’m glad to have people in my life who care about me and who want only good things for me, but their projections actually made it harder for me to read my dating relationships clearly. Until I was able to take a step back and read each situation from my own perspective.
Projections of the Social Network
For example, one friend was worried that a guy I was dating couldn’t be trusted because it was a long distance relationship; her husband had been unfaithful to her. Another friend was concerned that this guy wasn’t my intellectual equal; his wife and he are intellectually disparate. My mother suggested that he was shady; something he did reminded her of a questionable car deal my father had made early in my parents’ relationship, that became a wedge between them for their entire marriage. Another friend seemed to want to avoid asking questions about my relationship with this guy at all; perhaps she was giving me space to make my own choices, as she’s the only one of my loved ones who has an intimate partnership that seems healthy. But with all the energy it took to filter out the input from the others, I didn’t have the energy to find out why this friend seemed to be avoiding engaging with me about my new dating life at all.
The effect of all of these responses on me was the same. I wrote in my journal, “My friends are so protective of my future, that they forget to celebrate with me the feelings of the present. And this makes me not want to share things about dating with them, which leaves me feeling distant from them.” I decided that I had to allow my dating relationships to develop without input from friends and family because their filters, their life experiences prevented them from engaging with me objectively.
I wrote in my journal:
My friends don’t see how I’m making choices these days and wouldn’t understand them, even if they did. They don’t see me wrestling through the issues and triggers that come up, and they aren’t daily witnesses to the process of my worldview becoming more and more broad, more and more forgiving, more and more tolerant of people and our limitations and frailties. They don’t see the peace that is developing inside, and the stories that are developing it.
So the way it plays out is that they don’t ask about my dating life, and when I offer something, it feels like the response I receive is skepticism. There aren’t follow-up questions or continued interest in my process of choice-making. This leaves me feeling alone and cut off from those who used to be my closest confidantes. It feels strange and lonely….
I can’t do anything else but trust myself, believe in myself, and my ability to make good choices, sometimes even in defiance of those around me. Some of my best choices have run counter to the party line, and it looks like I have to do more of that. So be it, because I have to go with what feels right in every fiber of my being. I have this opportunity to question my own assumptions….
Not sharing my quandaries with my friends also meant that I couldn’t share the joys of a developing relationship, either, because such stories would only seem like rationalizations of early hormone highs for relationships they didn’t believe in.
Dreams to the Rescue
Of course, I also contributed to this problem by my own childish seeking after the perspective of other people, as if I weren’t adult enough to make good choices for myself. Then one night, I had powerful dreams that brought me back into my solid center. I wrote:
I had several dreams last night that have helped me know what I need to do to make choices for myself regarding dating. In the end, they are my choices to make, and the best choices I’ve made for myself have not been with the advice of other people. In fact, they’ve sometimes been against the advice of other people, such as when I divorced. There was a lot of pressure not to do that, and it was one of the best choices I ever made. When I listen to my own voice, and when I trust myself, I make very good choices, and I’ve had to make some of those choices completely counter to what my culture or sub-culture advised.
So where dating is concerned, I will continue to move forward because when I don’t have many other voices in the mix, I can think more clearly about it. Cathie said, “Listen to your friends.” I’m sorry, Cathie, but I have to listen to myself first, and if that worries my friends, so be it.
The dream that remains most clearly with me from last night was one in which I was flying on a hovercraft with a girlfriend and there was much concern on the ground that this was a dangerous endeavor. I could just feel what I needed to do to operate this thing, which was a delicate endeavor, but I trusted my athletic sense and maneuvered myself on the thing, carefully but surely, and even helped my friend carefully maneuver herself on it. When I blocked out the concerns from the ground and just trusted myself, I flew the thing nicely.
My friend got scared at one point, and the saucer came to an awkward landing, but I got right back on, to the chagrin of the folks on the ground. Again, I knew the feeling inside of me when I was on it, and I knew how to operate it safely. So I did, and when I just trusted myself, I could fly with confidence and ease.
When I woke up, it was clear to me that I need to stop soliciting advice from my friends about my dating life. I simply need to go forward, bringing up with anyone I date my concerns as they arise, and then allow myself to enjoy the flight, trusting how I feel as I fly in freedom from the voices of concern on the ground. I’m a big girl now; I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I need to trust what I’ve internalized. Those lessons have given me wisdom, instruments and intuition that I can trust.
I feel like my dreams grew me up last night—a sort of final thrust into adulthood—and for that I’m grateful.
Taking Personal Responsibility
This was a good lesson to learn, and when I began dating my partner Brad, my brother (Jon) tried to wiggle his own caution into the mix. Given that I had ended my previous relationship with a guy who Jon had figured out was bad news before I did, I could understand his concern. However, I had to allow the relationship with Brad to develop naturally and trust myself to see things on my own, so I told my brother that Brad was my choice, and Jon would simply have to accept and respect that. Putting my brother on the outside of my dating life was a wise decision.
Perhaps your family and friends are more reasonable and objective than mine, but it’s still your life to live, and allowing others to exert influence on your decisions may be keeping you and your life small. If you trust yourself and make poor choices, own the consequences and learn from them. If you trust others and things turn out badly, you’ll only resent the people to whom you gave your power. Better to simply take responsibility for your life and own your choices. Then when you make good ones, you can take all the credit for them!
Whose Life Do You Want to Live?
Also consider: Are you soliciting relationship advice from people who’s relationships you wouldn’t want to emulate? Why? Their relationships are a result of the beliefs they live by, and the beliefs they live by turn into the advice they offer. If you don’t want to live the kind of life they’re living, it doesn’t make sense to seek their advice, does it?