I didn’t used to think about what was gained from failed relationships. I never thought much good came from things that upset you. Then I began to realize that failure in relationships is like any other failure in life; some good must come of it otherwise it wouldn’t have been worth pursuing in the first place. What we do or rather what we intend to do matters. If we are with someone there must be a reason behind it. There is always a reason behind our actions even if we are unaware of it. But, for the longest time I viewed relationships through a gendered lens and through the lens of what I viewed as gender normative cultural behavior. In my view, thinking about relationships was something that women tended to focus on. None of the men I knew and respected ever talked about their relationships. Furthermore, there were never any publications that I saw, at least growing up, where men’s feelings were being talked about in a thorough, honest way. There were the pretenders out there; those who pretended that all that mattered was sex and social status, but I had never met a man that seriously held this view that was consequentially happy with his life.
When I was younger – in my early and late teens – I was very quiet and shy. I was that kid that you didn’t even know was in your class in high school. When I was asked if I would be attending my ten year high school reunion in 2012 I was surprised that anyone even remembered me enough to ask. I asked myself the question though that I thought everyone asked when presented with this scenario: “why?” There are reasons for going. If you cared about appearances or held a decade-old grudge then making an appearance and socializing with people you have only interacted with in the Facebook world over the last ten years might make sense. I, on the other hand, didn’t even like talking to these people on Facebook, so a social event in real life seemed quite out of the question. Yet, I did think about it. That’s right; me, the kid with Aspergers thought about attending his high school reunion by himself with people he vowed he never wanted to see on graduation day let alone later on in life. Indeed, I thought; if your presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence will make little difference.
I have always questioned the conventional wisdom that relationships matter. My friendships never last. It’s almost like I see someone’s value for a time then let it lapse and allow someone else to assume primary importance in my life. It’s as if I’m incapable of giving more than one person attention at a time. I often think back to Pete, who is now a three-time convicted felon and registered sex offender, who was one of my closest friends for many years. He was a really nice guy, perhaps too nice in some respects, and he was always very good to me. I suppose they say the same thing about mass murderers and serial killers. Sure, old Ted Bundy killed twenty people, but he sure did so in a creatively terse and thoroughly original manner. His jailors often noted how nice and cordial he was. I often think people don’t realize how surprisingly difficult it is to get praise from a prison guard. Now, Pete may not be a saint, but as far as sinner go I’ve certainly met worse. Not everyone is cruel in ways that wind up getting them incarcerated. Perhaps that’s the problem with the world: the people who deserve to be in jail roam the Earth while those who simply ignored society’s stigmas and social mores are forced to live a life where they must be constantly humble lest they make one wrong step and find their lives forever lost.
Romantic relationships are often characterized differently by men and women but, fundamentally, I think they mean similar things to both parties. I think society and its’ perception of gender norms plays a bigger role in how we think and talk about relationships. It’s seen as okay for a woman to gossip but if a man does it all of a sudden he’s abusing his standing in the relationship. Women can write about their relationships but if a guy does it; whoa, relationship over. You can’t kiss and tell if you’re a guy. There are a lot of things that guys get away with that women can’t do as well. A guy is praised for talking about his sexual exploits but a woman is shamed for it. This is one of the most hypocritical things our society has come up with since the creation of the Christian Conservative. People should be allowed to be who they are without facing a heap of unnecessarily negative criticism from people who oftentimes have little business doling criticism to begin with. It often shocks me how judgmental we are. If you go anywhere else in the world they may hate you for being an American but that’s usually the only thing they’ll hate you for.
When I think about all the lessons that I’ve learned from failure in life the wisdom I’ve gained is often greater than any success in life could ever give me. We have a negative bias towards failure and this isn’t just a cultural thing. Kids in China and Japan kill themselves if they don’t get into a good university. Imagine killing yourself over your safety school. It’s absurd. I’m not saying that we should encourage people to fail or anything, but you learn a lot from failure. You really do. This brings me to a subject that I don’t think men spend nearly enough time trying to learn about and understand: relationships. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a relationship with a co-worker or friend, or a relationship with a family member; we as a society do not spend enough time learning and most importantly: cultivating long-lasting, meaningful relationships. Some of the greatest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing have had spectacular skills when it came to building and maintaining relationships. I’ve become very selective about who my friends are and who I want to be in a relationship with recently and this is due in large part to my many failures in life. I think that the worst person you can disappoint is yourself and once you’ve done that, once you’ve realized that you have failed to live up to your own standards and ideals, you start scrutinizing things in a way you probably should have done much earlier in life.