The Convoluted Psychology of Relationships

Steve 3

Stephen in the Jungles of Rio San Juan (Nicaragua)

How’s that for a title: The Convoluted Psychology of Relationships. It’s both a mouthful and rather pretentious sounding. I’m certainly no expert in psychology, or relationships for that matter. I’ve spent the better part of my life, a life spanning nearly seventy years, trying to figure out my psychology and relationship failures. It’s a personal ball of twine for each of us to unravel on our own and in our own time. Many never do. What brings this to mind is a book, a biography actually, about one of my early heroes Colin Fletcher. The title is: Walking Man: The Secret Life of Colin Fletcher.

Fletcher was arguably the father of modern backpacking as we know it today, and an early pioneer in what we now call ecological awareness. He came on the literary scene in the early 1960s and I found him, after returning from a combat tour in Vietnam and a stint in the Marines, in the late 1960s. His voice and message immediately resonated with me, and continues to do so after all these many years. Fletcher had a lot in common with another of my heroes Henry David Thoreau: both solitary men, thinkers, poets, and long-distance walkers.

My psychology tends to emulate men of this ilk: Fletcher, Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis & Clark Expedition), John Steinbeck, and maybe even Ernest Hemingway. They are heroes prone to depression and self-destruction, but interesting men in their own right, they are: solitary and self-sufficient, sensitive with an overlay of hyper-masculinity, adventuresome, easily bored, and socially awkward. Non-conformists who continually flaunt the rules of society, rebel against authority, and challenge the status quo. Like them I am the proverbial pain-in-the-ass.

These personality traits are not conducive to good relationships. Ladies be forewarned—we are not good marriage material or even good boyfriend material. In the lyrics of Paul Simon (another of our kind): I am a rock, I am an island—and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries. That is not entirely true of course, but to most women it will feel absolutely true and unsatisfying. We won’t change despite your best efforts, and you wouldn’t like us if we did, so it’s better to not get involved with us in the first place. You should trust me on this and save yourself a lot heartache.

Thoreau famously said: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. I have found this to be a fact carved in stone and worthy of a place on Mount Rushmore. To deny our true nature is to commit emotional and sometimes physical suicide. I have spent my entire life looking for my true nature, my reason for living. I think I have it pretty well figured out, and have even reduced it to a Zen-like mantra: Photographer, Writer, Traveller; Live Simple, Live Cheap, Live Free. My most valuable asset is time and my biggest luxury is spending my time my way. It took a long time but there it is.

That’s not all of course—my life has many facets reflecting different moods, environments, and situations—but in a nutshell my mantra sums up my essence. The paradox is that the more I understand myself the less I’m understood; the more comfortable I am in my skin the more it pisses some people off. People, to a large extent, abhor change within themselves and others. To bring about change, even positive change, is to seemingly introduce a threat into their world as weird as that notion is.

Longterm followers of this blog will realize I have recurring themes and repeat myself often. Whether it’s my photography, writing, travelling, or lifestyle I repeat myself—ad nauseam. This repetition isn’t a comment about their ability to understand and absorb what I’m saying it’s more personally cathartic than that: it is my way of affirming and re-affirming the truths (my truths) I have so diligently sought out and discovered. Also, I am constantly adding followers and there’s a good chance they missed the original posts, though they can be found in Expat Journal’s archives.

My hard-won freedom and self-realization can’t survive a relationship and that’s a price I’m willing to pay—yes, that’s how important it is to me. Enduring years of others trying to stuff me into their preconceived boxes I just won’t allow it anymore. I don’t have an ounce of compromise left in me. Life is about choice and this is my choice. Freedom trumps acceptance. I don’t waste time trying to explain or justify my choices anymore, I don’t have to and so I don’t. I’ve grown intolerant of other people and their sanctimonious, holier-than-thou judgements.

Although this post might seem to be about explanation and justification it’s really about the affirmation and re-affirmation I mentioned. I write for myself because it helps me to think more deeply and clearly. If others can benefit from my process then so much the better. Like my heroes I thrive on adventure, change, and new experiences. If I’m not being creative and experiencing new things I get bored, and when I get bored it leads to dissatisfaction and depression. I don’t put myself in their league but I do share aspects of their collective psyche—and it’s nice to know I’m in good if dubious company.

Caveat emptor (buyer beware) is my caution to you. This is about me and my struggles, it’s not about you and yours. This is my story to live and to tell, it’s not yours. Live your own life and find your own truths, or don’t. I really don’t care anymore. Reserve your judgements, insights, and advice for those who ask for them. Truth be known most people don’t want your advice. I certainly don’t. That sounds harsh and probably is, but it’s called boundaries; if I’ve had one overriding failure in my life its in not setting enough personal boundaries. Think of yourself as a project, a work in progress.

Many people think I live too much in my head. The same was true of my heroes listed earlier. My relationships failed because I wasn’t given the freedom to change within their context—it was a perceived threat. That I allowed myself to live under those stifling conditions was my choice, to eventually escape those self-imposed prisons was also my choice. Life is about choice, and you often have to give up something to gain something. My lifestyle appeals to a very few and that’s okay—it appeals to me and that’s all that really matters.

The takeaway from this post might very well be: I don’t need you in my life but if you’re there it’s because I want you there and not because I need you there. Its been my experience that many women can’t handle that truism in their man (or maybe I just chose poorly). I’m a loner, a solitary man, intolerant at times, and I don’t share emotions easily. I’m getting grumpy and more curmudgeon-like (I have a lady friend who calls me her grumpy gringo), but I have to tell you although I’m not always ecstatically happy I am pretty damn content. And I’m done with apologizing.


5 responses to “The Convoluted Psychology of Relationships

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