Good relationships, great relationships

A friend of mine and I talked about relationships the other day.  I realized that there are good relationships, and there are great relationships.

You may have been lucky to be in a good relationship.  I think that these can be characterized with an absence of guilt.  I've been in relationships that have been marked by embedded guilt (even if it's implicit, "because you don't want to hurt the other person") and in those that have not and the difference is enormous.

Most, if not all guilt comes about because we are fundamentally insecure creatures.  We don't like to be criticized, we are cautious by nature, we like to stand on firm ground that nobody questions and wear a thin skin that nobody pinches.  In relationships, this is particularly important because we are by definition sharing something with another person; insecurity only stands in the way of this.  This is what makes us want to present ourselves in a better light; as a result, we're not ourselves -- we are what we think others would like us to be if they were us.  In many relationships, this facade is kept up for a long time (again, not always deliberately, and often implicitly) but the tension remains (because it's still just a facade).  This tensions causes those relationships to collapse.  So if you've been privileged to be in a good relationship, this would not have been a problem.

Great relationships are very few and far between.  A lot of people may think they've been in great relationship but that's naive.  I think great relationships are marked by our willingness (not just "being OK") to relinquish control and comfort with sharing everything with the other person.  My friend told me he thought he had a great relationship but later it turned out that he would never want his significant other to get access to his email archive.  Why not--if you're relinquishing control and comfortable with sharing everything with the other person?  Well, my friend said, he may have said something about himself, or that significant other, that he wouldn't like the significant other to know.  Why not?  In a truly great relationship, the significant other would understand.

What are great relationships?  Why are they better than living alone?  And why are they so special?  I think the only thing that's better than being comfortable with yourself is being able to share this comfort with another human being.  There's something about human interactions that makes us go a little crazy if we have to keep too much to ourselves.  As my friend said, so much is happening in his head that he is constantly wondering if he's the crazy one (surrounded by normal people).  Obviously, though, everyone thinks they are crazy and everyone else is sane, so we can sleep at night, but the paradox remains: with so little feedback we suffer.

And since in a great relationship, you have the opportunity to share with another human being, there is no need to cheat (what for? to share something different with a different other human being?).  There is no need to lie (unless in circumstances when you would lie to yourself).  In a way, the only danger in a great relationship is the danger of losing your significant other due to death.

Don't get me wrong -- there's nothing wrong with good relationships.  I believe that for many (if not most) people, being in a good relationship is better than being alone.  But I think that many of us think they are in a great relationship because they feel good in it, while it's nothing of the sort.  Feeling good is contextual (and often prone to a confirmation bias) so we shouldn't draw many conclusions from that.

I do think we should all strive to find the great relationship in our lives, but the truth be told, they are very rare.  Once we do, we can consider ourselves very lucky as we keep our significant other close to us.  The good thing is that since this is a great relationship, we don't have to put much effort in it – it just happens naturally.  It's a little bit like playing an instrument -- the greatest virtuoso who must put a lot of effort in rendering the music perfectly well with an astonishing accuracy still fades in comparison with a musician who can feel the music.