Over the past couple of years, I’ve made a few friends with other writers and introverts online, and a couple of the folks who inspire me the most post a lot about ‘Relentless Forward Progress.’ They are usually talking about physical fitness or moving a story or studies or home improvement or some other personal project forward. It’s the first day of a brand new year, and this is customarily a day when we all think about ‘Relentless Forward Progress.’
I made some really ambitious personal goals for this year. Post writing here *every day,* and write new words *every day.* I’ve had a blog in the past, but I never tried to write something every day before. I’m not huge on ‘New Year’s Resolutions,’ so I started writing every day here December 3rd of last year. But I’m not really going to write about resolutions and goal attainment today, because that’s not what my blog’s really about. I write about love and relationships.
I’ve been thinking about how the phrase ‘Relentless Forward Progress’ applies to relationships.
I’m a dork who has a ‘thing’ for men with glasses, so I have kind of a musical crush on Ben Folds and I know I’ve quoted his lyrics in posts before. Sorry. I’m doing it again. He has a song called Do It Anyway with the lines:
“You might put your love and trust on the line
It’s risky, people love to tear that down
Let ‘em try
Do it anyway
Risk it anyway
And if you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head
It’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead
Go on and
Do it anyway…”
One of the reasons I’m so happy in my relationship with J is because there’s no standing still. There might be the occasional stretch of coasting, but we are always moving forward, working on knowing ourselves better, on knowing each other better, on making our lives better, on working together to get things done and achieve goals, both personal and mutual. It’s not something I see written a lot about (maybe I’m not looking in the right places), but strong relationships need forward momentum. They need relentless forward progress…even if that’s just coasting…because once they’re standing still for very long, they rust. And everyone involved in the relationship has to be making an effort to move forward, or it doesn’t work. In fact…I think it’s worse if one person is moving forward and the other is standing still, than if all parties are standing still.
I’ve seen the rust. A lot. A disheartening, depressing lot.
Most of the ‘partner’ type relationships people I know are involved in, with only a handful of exceptions who are mostly my online friends, are pretty stagnant, at least from one partner, and it REALLY shows. Those people are noticeably, sometimes vocally unhappy, particularly those in a relationship where one partner is still trying to move forward when the other one has obviously pulled up the parking brake. I’ve seen marriages end over this. And I’m still seeing them end over it.
Forward progress can look different and mean different things in every relationship…
It’s often not a straight line. Sometimes you have to go under, around, over, or through things. Sometimes you might even have to go backwards for a bit to gain momentum to go forward again. Forward progress for some folks is slow and sometimes it’s fast, or anywhere in between, or the speed switches up a lot, and none of that is wrong. Each relationship needs work on different things. Growth looks different in every relationship, but standing still, to me, always seems to look predictably and frighteningly the same.
So many people I know and have heard from have apparently taken a view of their committed relationship as a contest. They successfully ‘won’ a partner; then they feel like they can just stand still. No more work. No more effort. Just sitting around waiting for the moss to grow; they already put forth their best to win the contest and the trophy is theirs now. They presumably only wanted the trophy to collect dust on the mantle, to show people they won a trophy.
Holiday socializing has highlighted this for me; how important relentless forward progress is. I spoke to a friend of mine yesterday who said at her family holiday…thing, a few children were being…well…children...and relatives spoke over their father’s head to their mother to ‘do something about it.’ And then their mother had to *step around* their father to get to the children. Talk about standing still. My friend even referred to him as ‘The Lump.’ I guess it was meant to be a funny anecdote, but I think it’s scary. How easily checked out people tend to be with people they claim to love the most…their partner and children.
I wrote an analogy for this before, about cars (J’s a car guy…I’m pretty good at car analogies now). If a person bought a new car, even if they didn’t have to make payments on it anymore, they wouldn’t assume the car no longer needed oil changes, or new tires, or windshield wipers. They’d know they had to put gas in the car to make sure it would take them where they wanted to go. If something on the car was ‘off,’ (check engine light came on…tire went flat…it’s making a funny noise…there’s a funny smell when they turn left…radio speakers have to be on volume 37 to hear anything at all…) they’d research and work on it and/or take it to a professional to have it fixed. But somehow, even though human relationships are harder to navigate and predict and troubleshoot, and we value them more than our cars…or careers…or homes…or hobbies…(at least we claim to), so many of us seem to believe that they should be effortless. They’re not.
Relationships require effort and care to foster growth or at least health.
They need relentless forward progress.
I’m glad I have that relentless forward progress in mine. Because standing still scares me.