But there’s a subtler dynamic in interpersonal, (particularly romantic or family) relationships that is similar to power hydraulics, but different in some ways. It’s a polarization effect, where people take on opposite ends of a role continuum. These are the “I’m the one who” polarities. I’m the one who runs the finances, I’m the one who has the feelings, I’m the one who does the house work, I’m the strong one, I’m the crazy one, I’m the responsible one. It’s so easy, but it’s so destructive because nobody is always strong or crazy or responsible, but you go there because it’s your role and your partner keeps you there and pretty soon, the only way you can see to get out of a role is to leave.
One of my best friends lost him marriage to this. He was older than she was and good with money. He balanced their checkbook at first and polarized into The Responsible One. She was forever running up the credit cards and he was always lecturing and worried. She finally left him because she thought it was the only way she could learn to be responsible. She felt like he’d never stop seeing her as impulsive and stupid. He felt like she’s always seem him as controlling and cheap. She wanted to manage money better but felt pushed into the spendthrift role. But she also liked pretty, expensive things. He wanted to be able to buy on impulse occasionally, but also liked feeling in charge and adult and responsible. They got so polarized that neither of them could stand the extremes, the charicatures they’d become but neither could move towards the center or allow the other one to.
My last relationship before Scott died on a polarity too. He was the crazy one. He had wild emotional swings, anger and jealously and it was my job to be the steady one. To hold him and reassure him, to protect him and heal him. I liked it because I felt important and the passion was intense. He liked it because it felt alive and real and he had some serious stuff he needed to heal and felt safe and loved enough to start working on it. But it polarized. And I could never have a bad day or a short fuse or pain, anger, grief or passion of my own. I always had to keep it together. And he, likewise, could never come into peace, calm, be intellectual or rational. At the end, he did crazy all the time and I did the Ice Queen. I’m a fairly intense and passionate person, left to my own devices, but our relationship had become so polarized that I felt nothing any longer. You find yourself saying, “This isn’t me” and wondering how you got there.
Early on, I would break up with a guy when I reached the full extension polarity and pick the next guy based on the pendulum pull back. If I’d been the smart one I’d pick a smart guy next time. If I’d been the naughty one, I’d pick a bad boy. Whatever my partner had polarized on, I’d go for the opposite pole. It didn’t take long to spot the pattern, and what I started to do was look for balance on the continuum that had broken up the last relationship. Ricki was the crazy one, so when I went looking for Scott, I wanted a man with whom I could hand the emotionality back and forth. We still do a pretty good job on that one, actually. Sometimes he’s the strong one, sometimes I’m weak. Sometimes he freaks out and I soothe. It’s nice.
We have other polarities though. I’m the neat freak and he’s the slob. Which is ironic, because I’m not, left on my own, that much of tidy type. Only he is less so and so we’ve polarized and now I’m the one who cleans and he doesn’t. At all. And yes, it makes me crazy. I’m the intellectual one and he won’t read anything I write, not even the erotica. And he was Ivy League when I started going out with him. But we’ve polarized. Now I’m the one that has ideas and he’s the one who makes things with his hands. A man’s man. Grrrrr. See me moon about.
Living with another person is a delicate balance of give and take, of compromise and accommodation, but I’m beginning to believe there are places where one should refuse to bend, refuse the push down the continuum, stand fast to the balance you have when you’re single and have to account for the full spectrum on your own. I’m trying to see what it is I get out of the polarities I inhabit, because I’m pretty sure it’s mutual thing that ends you up there.
The people I enjoy most are those who are able to maintain polarities within themselves, those who can be artistic and stable, smart and silly, kinky and responsible, daring and considerate. But it’s hard. And I think, when we fall in love, we’re all too happy to hand half a continuum off to our love. It binds us to them, is an intimate sharing, an act of love: “Here, you be smart and I’ll be silly.” Until we end up leaving him because he has no sense of humor and says you can never be serious about anything. And I’m not sure I know how to reclaim it. It sounds a lot like identity assassination when you ask your partner to be a more artistic type of person. And even it you’re not really wanting them to change who they are, you know they’ll resist if you start breaking the rules and acting all stable and business-like. That’s their role, after all. And maybe that’s the key, to begin reclaiming your competencies, edging into the middle space without asking him to leave. Could I have ever been the weak one with Ricki? Could I have had a meltdown and cried and not cared if he didn’t join me on the great role flip? If he had stayed in crazy himself and not picked up my place in stable, or would the teeter totter just have flipped over rather than snapping in the center as it did?