Righting Texts

When friends get in a relationship, one of my favorite things to say to them is that they are in a “honeymoon phase.” That lovey dovey feeling? Not going to last forever. Those feelings aren’t “real” love. And I am completely qualified to say things like that. It’s true.  Because single 21-year-old males are easily the most qualified to make claims like that.

I’m in this class on the psychology of narrative this quarter. And I was reading an essay by Michael White today about the analogies psychologists use to explain human relationships and stories. For a long time, beginning with Freud, the only analogies used by psychologists were that of science – either machines or organisms. These analogies do a lot of things correctly, but they have a major short-coming: they pathologize any deviation from what is considered the norm. If there is a break down in a machine, it stops working. If there is a break down in an organism, it gets sick.

Ironically, as White points out, the biologic and machine analogies are static. A scientific system can only be one way. It does not allow for multiple truths. So when the “honeymoon phase” passes, the assumption is that the objective reality of the issue is that there was always some glaring problem in the relationship.

White thinks we can reject this position by using another analogy. If relationships are seen like a text, then the “honeymoon” phase and the phase after become competing texts. Neither is any more true or any more real than the other. Thus, White suggests, the couple can identify the text they like the most and why and construct a relationship that involves those things.

There is an idea floating around out there that genetics is much more intimately influenced by our choices than we ever thought. Some people think that genes that we activate during our life time are more likely to be passed on to our children. That’s incredible to me. And it seems impossible. That’s how I feel about changing stories, or “texts.” It feels impossible. It feels like someone telling us “Just change your story” is simplistic and overly reductive. And that’s true: it is overly reductive.

You can’t just wake up one morning and decide that you are never going to leave your honeymoon phase. You have to make a commitment to incorporating the story you want into the reality of day-to-day life. But it’s possible.

Your life is not a machine. One messed up thing does not ruin it. That wrong thing is just a story that doesn’t have an end yet. Write (right) it.

 

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