A conversation with Chris and Lucy reveals an honest approach to relationships. Having met online two and a half years ago, they are committed to developing authentic transparency in their communications, a practice that is proving to sustain a solid foundation of trust between them.
After Lucy extends the first message to Chris, they come to realize their individual experiences of their first contact differ from the other. However, their applied meaning remains the same: they were able to begin a connection. This is a significant detail considering it highlights the reality that we have individual experiences even while relating closely with others – even if we sometimes believe the other person is feeling what we are feeling. Sometimes, the stories we craft about a relationship can be very different from even the other person in that relationship. This can be a disappointment or it can lead to a relationship of immense health because of the space given to authenticity and transparency. Claiming and taking responsibility for your own story is an empowering intention.
The dialogue unfolds to a look at how important it is to remain in true contact with both ourselves and those we are connected, as a necessary practice for remaining in touch with reality, rather than becoming blinded to the other person and consumed in our own personal stories.
This subject of personal and shared narratives emerges again as Chris and Lucy explore the identity of “Us” that emerges in partnership. They point to culture as a major influence in placing emphasis on a relationship identity over a personal identity.
Chris: We met online and I remember all the butterflies in my stomach after she messaged me. You know, like when someone reaches out to you and you check out their profile and realize how cool the person sounds, and it’s like, “They’re interested in me, too?!”
Lucy: [Laughing]. I didn’t even think about it. I saw his page and just decided to see if he would respond. I asked him something – it wasn’t even that well thought out – about a book he mentioned on his profile. I hadn’t even read it or cared to read it. I just saw an opening for conversation and took it.
Chris: Oh man. I thought you were into it! I remember thinking, “How cool is this girl,” because I hadn’t met anyone into sci-fi. It was a sci-fi book. Classic Aldous Huxley.
Lucy: I still haven’t read the book. [Laughing]
Chris: She hasn’t read the book two years after that message. It’s even on the shelf!
Stephanie: How do you think that opening question influenced the unfolding of your relationship, if at all?
Chris: Oh it definitely did influence things. I felt a connection with her and I was excited. It’s lame but I love sci-fi and I always wanted to talk about this stuff with a partner. It grabbed my attention enough to actually invest in the conversation.
Lucy: It isn’t lame. I just don’t feel the call to indulge in sci-fi tales. I prefer non-fiction. So it was such a different experience for me. I just saw an opening for conversation and took it. It’s usually hard for me to strike up a good conversation with people I don’t know. I didn’t care so much about the topic but it was really great at breaking the ice and leading to things that we truly connected over.
Chris: And I thought we were already connecting. [Laughing]
Lucy: Well it still worked, didn’t it? [Laughing]
Chris: I guess so! Going on two and a half year now. A lot of people you meet online send generic ice breakers like, “Hey, how are you?” And it never really grabbed me enough to care about saying anything back, or it never gets beyond those formalities.
Lucy: Yeah. It gets old pretty quick. You have to make it seem like you read their profile.
Chris: [Laughing] “Seem” she says. She was a master at courtship. Which is unusual because it’s typically the man who plays that active role.
Stephanie: What does it mean to you for someone to be “a master at courtship”?
Chris: She knew how to hook me, like bait.
Lucy: [Laughing] I just knew what I wanted!
Chris: She was great at finding ways to make me feel connected to her. Even if she’s not into sci-fi I still feel connected to her around it because she talks to me about it. She asks questions and actually hears my answers.
Lucy: It’s cute how into it you can get, like your eyes glaze over and you start telling me how some book is an epic reflection of society.
Chris: Or the trajectory of culture and technology. I love that stuff. She’s also willing to be vulnerable and check in with me about how I felt about our connection and what I wanted, and that’s another sign of a masterful courtship, I think. Basically, she just kept us in contact.
Lucy: I like this word, “contact”. Have you [Stephanie] heard of this?
Stephanie: Yeah, it’s been popping up a lot lately. It’s a great bridge for honest communication. Tapping into what we honestly feel within ourselves and checking in with someone else and learning what is consensual and what’s projection.
Lucy: It’s so necessary! I don’t want to assume that what I’m feeling is shared between us, especially if I don’t know the other person that well. I had to keep checking in with Chris at various stages of our relating because I wanted to create a healthy dynamic. I didn’t want to relive past habits that were actually isolating because I wasn’t sharing my honest experiences with other partners.
Chris: This kind of contact can make people uncomfortable if they’re not ready for true intimacy.
Lucy: Or if they’re locked inside and afraid of showing their true selves, or maybe if they’re caught up in a personal story that they don’t even realize they’re not in contact with the other person. You can have sex with someone and hang out with them every day and never truly know them.
Chris: It’s so true. I’ve been there and wanted things to be different with this relationship. I didn’t want to assume that my feelings and perspectives were the same ones happening within my partner. But the transition takes work. You have to be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling and what you actually want. Then you have to communicate it! Sometimes it can be shocking to find out the other person isn’t feeling the same urges or excitement at certain times. Like, “This is just me?!” But that’s fine, too.
Lucy: It’s totally fine! I love it because we don’t have to be sharing the same feelings all the time. Just because you’re excited and I’m not it doesn’t mean you should stop feeling excited. No way. Feel that excitement! I can actually start to feel excited because that’s the feeling I’m seeing in you, even if I’m not feeling it for the same reasons you are.
Stephanie: That sounds like “compersion”: when you feel pleasure through someone else’s pleasure.
Lucy: That’s it! [Laughing] That’s totally it.
Stephanie: It sounds like you’re both pretty O.K. with your stories of the relationship being somewhat different from one another, like how you [Chris] felt really connected when you thought Lucy was also into sci-fi, and you [Lucy] were happy to see Chris feeling connected even though you didn’t share the passion of sci-fi like he thought. It sounds like you’re both grounded into the reality that you both have your own stories and that they don’t have to overlap at every point when you’re in a partnership.
Chris: Yeah. I used to think we always had to overlap, but that just isn’t how it works. The longer I pretended that was required for a relationship to be successful and healthy, the longer I was actually disconnected from my partner. It’s strange. I’d be so disappointed, it was childish. [Laughing] Like I wasn’t happy to accept her for who she was.
Stephanie: What do you think is the origin of that perspective?
Chris: Oh I’m sure there are so many sources. We could analyze the hell out of it and come to so many conclusions. You never really know. But I think for sure the culture plays a big role.
Chris: It’s like, the culture is so obsessed with coupling up and the whole idea that finding our one true love is a sign of a successful life. A meaningful life. If you haven’t found that person then people feel sorry for you. And of course, to be a couple means to share an identity with someone else. That “Us”. And with Us comes the story of us. You know, we love that story, and of course, it isn’t individual. It’s a shared story and we try to make sure we align on all the points with our partner to sustain the identity. “We met on a hilltop in springtime and it was love at first sight. I kissed her right then and there.” [Laughing
Lucy: And she didn’t find that invasive at all!
Chris: Because she shared the same story, of course. [Laughing]
Stephanie: I’ve noticed that sometimes people can fall into the “Us” identity and even place more importance on it than the individual self.
Chris: Yeah. We becomes more important than me. “Are we hungry?” Is a question I sometimes ask. Then I catch myself. Why am I asking that? I know I’m hungry. It’s weird.
Lucy: I mean, it’s because you’re asking if I’m hungry too but I see what you’re saying. It’s a way to check in.
Stephanie: Right. The structure of language is pointing to something deeper. It’s easy to overlook something like that but it’s actually a clue to how relationships hold their gravity in our lives and how they’re understood.
Chris: It’s almost as if I’m asking for permission or I’m disconnected from myself enough to have to ask my other half if I’m interpreting the signals correctly. And even seeing those clues, I still do it. It’s such a habit. We were raised to hold a certain perspective on relationships and it’s work to disassemble that view.
Stephanie: You even said it right there: “my other half”.
Lucy: It’s a lot of work for sure. We’re in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship, too. Imagine people pushing the cultural image even further of ideal relationships. We have a lot of support and that makes things easier. We work on communication and sometimes it isn’t easy and it’s messy misunderstandings and conflict, but we always work through it with transparency and honesty with ourselves and each other.
Chris: That’s the important part.
Lucy: Honestly, I’m grateful. People support this and like to talk about it with us: what tools we use, how to talk about awkward stuff, how to work with anger and jealousy, and that kind of thing. People never question the image of our relationship, though. Hetero couples are the norm.
Stephanie: How did people react to learning you met online?
Lucy: It’s never been a big deal. It’s so normal these days that it falls into the background and I don’t even know if people remember. That’s how accepted it’s become.