“In a Relationship”

Aren’t we all in a relationship?

It could be with a partner of two decades, a coworker, a used-to-be-close friend, an estranged family member, the cashier at the grocery store, or a person with whom you had a brief moment of eye contact. In the broadest sense of the word, you have a relationship. You two have a connection, and you relate to each other in a particular way. You have a relationship with your home. You have a relationship with food. You have a relationship with yourself. You are having a relationship with these words right now.

I enjoy looking at relationships in this light, because it reminds me that relationships are everywhere and a part of my overall experience of life. The rules of my relationships are always negotiable, and the game can change at any time.

I don’t know what the rules are for “friends.” With some, we schedule monthly hangouts. With others, we only text. With a couple of them, once a year, we’ll speak on the phone for hours at a time (if we remember to call each other back). Some feel like an exact reflection of me, and some feel like my total opposite. None of these people feel like more or less of a friend to me, because we all contribute to each other somehow.

I don’t know what the rules are for “family.” We love each other deeply in our own particular ways, and we communicate in varying degrees. Some of us still exchange birthday gifts. Some of us haven’t talked in years. With some, we say “we should call each other more often!” but we hardly ever do. It’s all completely perfect, because every moment we share, no matter how or how often, is beautiful and special.

I don’t know what the rules are for “coworkers.” With some, we are on email-only terms. With others, we have cried and held each other in times of mourning and moments of pure joy. I go weeks without seeing a few of them, and others I talk to almost daily. Each of these feel like a good coworker relationship, simply because it’s the relationship we are choosing to have right now.

I don’t know what the rules are for “acquaintances.” Some of us shook hands and forgot each other’s names moments later. With others, I have felt an unexplainable closeness, as if we have known each other for years. Some I met while waiting in line or through mutual friends, and some have made a lasting impression without us ever exchanging a word.

While different in context, each of these relationships feels equal in importance to me.

Occasionally, I have profound experiences that transcend the conventional definitions of what the relationship “should” look like. Allowing myself to experience relationships in this way means everything is possible: An intimate exchange with a partner can feel empty, and a kind gesture from a stranger can feel romantic. I can share vulnerably with a coworker or take a break from close friends.

By releasing my fixed expectations of people and the way things “should” be, I experience non-attachment and deep connection at the same time. I have accessed more acceptance, more freedom, and more joy in every relationship I have, no matter what it looks like on the surface.

The best relationships I have are those that enrich the relationship I have with myself. I don’t have any rules for this, and I don’t feel called to write them either—Instead, I will continue feeling grateful for being “in a relationship” and the infinite ways that shows up for me.

Aubrey Klein