the way we're put together

“The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together.” Carl Sagan

What makes you you is not the stuff you are made of, but the rules that hold the stuff together.

What makes your RELATIONSHIPS what they are is not the people in them, but the rules that hold the people together.

I had a long ass, eventful drive to Indiana, which gave me an opportunity to think about a bunch of things, and one of the things I thought was about the way relationships get put together. It’s a Lego metaphor:

Imagine two people, each of whom has a collection of Legos. And when they meet each other, they get really excited about playing Legos together and they jam their Legos together any which way in an intense FRENZY of Lego assembly. The result will be kind of a mess, right? Or at least maybe not the structure they would have built if they had planned ahead.

They probably had a hell of a good time building it. But the structure itself isn’t good for much other than the fun of building it and then breaking it down.

Now imagine two people, each with a collection of Legos, and they get excited about playing Legos together. And they put their Legos together, alternating one by one, excited and curious to watch the gradual construction, piece by piece, of a new structure. They don’t know what it’ll be in the end, but they love the gradual process of watching it emerge.

See, I talked to a student at the end of this semester who was wondering whether or not it was okay that she didn’t feel crushing, desperate infatuation for her boyfriend; she felt warmth and respect and friendship and attraction and desire and pleasure and happiness… but it didn’t, you know… it wasn’t an agony of ecstasy.

I said yes. I said that both styles can grown into long-term relationships. I said that a lot of the agonizing ecstasy people experience has a lot to do with their problematic families of origin rather than with what makes for a healthy new connection.

Now I wish I’d told her that the beauty of a relationship is not the individuals in it, but the way those individuals build their connection together. I think it’s possible that the beauty of a relationship lies in the game two people play in crafting their relationship day by day. I think it’s possible that that game, and how each person feels about playing that game, is what makes a relationship worth having.

It’s the way we build our connection, the rules that hold us together, that determine our happiness.

Or anyway, that’s what I thought as I sat in my car for two hours, waiting for OnStar to come fix my flat tire.