I’m still totally enmeshed in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races world these days. And the deep thoughts she inspires are coming fast and furious. Today, I’m reflecting on the fact that I have something in common with Dragos. No, I can’t shapeshift into a dragon the size of a G5, nor have I suddenly become fabulously wealthy, more’s the pity. But I do share with Dragos the fact that Pia is fast becoming one of my best teachers, particularly with respect to how to have a successful relationship.

One of Pia’s consistent tendencies throughout the evolution of her relationship with Dragos has been to fight her own instincts on how to behave for the benefit of their growing connection and so that she can share a life with him. That is extremely hard to do, and requires tremendous self-awareness as well as strength of will. Overcoming the impulses of our lizard brains toward self-protection and the avoidance of fear, pain and discomfort is a very tricky business and in my experience, few of us do it very well. 

But in Thea Harrison’s world, Pia does it extremely well, and her actions have inspired me to think about my own. As I’ve talked about before, doing the hard thing is hard. That seems quite obvious, I know, but in truth I don’t think it is. I think many or even most of us do things we think are hard in our relationships– be they romantic, platonic or professional–such as taking on extra work, logistical, physical and emotional—so that we can then believe that we are paying our dues for being in relationship (this only applies to those of us who understand that all relationships are, or should be, reciprocal and balanced in some sort of equitable way, however that is specifically measured between two people, and the metrics can vary widely between and among different relationships, of course. And there are also those unfortunates who have no clue at all that relationships should be a two-way street and those folks fall into either the taker category or the giver category, and neither category, when someone hangs out exclusively in one or the other, is a good place to be. But that is an issue for another post).

And so, in pursuit of being good partners in our relationships, we who strive for balance and fairness, work to do the right thing and shoulder our share of the load. And for those of us who are at least fairly well adjusted, we are also (usually) willing to go with the flow associated with all long-term alliances that necessitates the assumption of more than our fair share of the burden at various times, with the expectation that the other will do the same for us as needed.

And all of that is well and good and probably contains enough material to explore in a number of future posts.  But what I really want to talk about is what Pia has pointed out to me. In order to make the relationship with Dragos viable, Pia must do things above and beyond what we think of as doing the work in relationships. This is not about negotiating who is going to cook versus who will clean up, or who will stay home with the kids and who will bring home the bacon. This is well past the conversation about whose turn it is to clean the toilets or take out the garbage. What Pia must do to become Dragos’ mate is to overcome her natural instincts to run and hide and isolate. In her case, it is literally a life and death decision. For the rest of us, it just feels like that.

When we are called to overcome our most deep-seated fears in order to take an important relationship to the next level, it can be paralyzing. In fact, I believe our lizard brains work overtime to cloud our perception and judgment with denial so that we won’t even recognize the need to move beyond our fears toward action that represents risk at the most primal level. Our lizard brains don’t want us to take such risks. It is way too dangerous and is best avoided in pursuit of self-preservation. But our lizard brains are not considering all the factors. That’s not its job, though, so that should be expected. It’s the job of our frontal lobe to think through the implications of our actions and decisions and determine whether such risks are warranted in light of the reward that may be achieved (but also may not be–hence the risk factor involved in the choice).

When Pia decides to trust Dragos with her most intimate secret so that she can have the possibility of a life with him–but by no means a guarantee–she must go against the almost deafening clamor of every self-protective instinct she has, not to mention everything her beloved mother had ever taught her. Not easy, for sure, and Thea Harrison does an exceptional job in evoking the difficulty that Pia must face and over which she must triumph.

Pia’s lessons are particularly relevant in my life right now, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn. Not because it’s fun. It most certainly is not. But because it’s necessary, and I’m not sure I would even be thinking about this stuff if I hadn’t been reading these books. For me, I’m a fixer and a doer. I’m a woman of action and I am never more comfortable than in figuratively leaping on my war horse, drawing my sword and rushing headlong into the fray, confronting my opponents and resolving the issue one way or the other. I know lots of people, though, for whom this is not their way, and they are much more comfortable watching and waiting and seeing what develops, avoiding confrontation and any sort of frontal assault at all costs.

And neither of these ways of being is right or wrong. They just are, and it is all just fine. Except when it’s not, and we are called to go against our instincts to save a relationship that means something to us. At those times, we are called to overcome our lizard brains and take scary risks for the possibility of getting something that we want very badly. Without any guarantee that we will be successful. This is the true work of relationships.

Yes, I feel like I’m working toward making my relationships work when I do things like make the coffee more than half the time for my husband, or travel more often than my friend does so that we can see each other. And I don’t mean to invalidate or devalue such work, because it is important and necessary for the day-to-day continuation of any relationship. But there are times, and luckily they are few and far between, when we have to do something much, much harder to preserve a critical connection. 

In my case, I have to back off. I need to stop rushing in to fix or to instruct or to do for another what needs to be done, but not by me. The technical term, I think, is enabling, and I am coming to realize I do a lot more of it than I thought I did. I am a human doing rather than a human being. And I’m starting to wonder what would happen to some of my relationships if I did less so that the other can do more. And the thought scares the pants off of me, because what if I back off and things fall apart?  Can I live with that? But do I want to have relationships that are dependent on my holding them up, mostly by myself?  I’m not Atlas, and I’m getting awfully tired.

This is not to say that effort in a relationship does not come in a variety of packages and apples need to be compared with their like and doing that often involves some convoluted translating. I get all of that. But sometimes, we all need to make like Pia and do the thing that is most uncomfortable in order to see where we stand in the aftermath of doing what does not come naturally. And for me, my lizard brain feels as big and overwhelming as the large lizard that is Dragos, so no pressure there!

And I can only hope it works out as well for me as it does for her and that in this case, when it really counts, there will, in reality, be truth in fantasy.

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