28. Roles of a Partner

Good morning and welcome to your twenty-eighth meditation. What is the role of a partner in a relationship? We may have some ready-made answers to this question, such as to listen and to care, to offer emotional support, to love. We all require these things in our lives and so it’s only natural that we would expect to receive them all from our partner… Or is it? As Anthropologist Chris Ryan points out, hunter-gatherers in pre-agrarian societies were “fiercely egalitarian”. As a means to mitigate risk, everything was shared among the group, whether it was food, shelter, protection, or sex. As a result, there would be no certainty of the paternity of the children, and as with everything else in those societies, the raising of the child would be a group responsibility. So if our ancestors from the not so distant past, to whom we are anatomically identical, depended on a whole group of people to provide them with everything they required, it would seem anything but natural for us to now depend on just one person to fulfil that variety of roles for us. And yet that unreasonable expectation of relationships tends to be the generally accepted model nowadays. So why is this? Why are we all, to some extent, held in the sway of this illusory view of partnership. Ryan’s theory is that it is a byproduct of the agricultural revolution, when women were suddenly expected to tend to the home while the men worked. Thus specific roles were established. But, of course, in today’s society, we’ve refined these roles so that they are far more complex and subtle. And there is little doubt that Hollywood and popular music have done much to influence our understanding of the meaning of love and partnership. This would all be fine, there’s nothing inherently wrong with myth-making. It is an activity we engage in every day down to believing that we share some special bond with people who happen to have been born in the same country as us, or believing that the pieces of paper in our pockets have specific values. The problem arises when we develop expectations that can’t possibly be met – such as expecting our partners to fulfil a range of roles that only a group could fulfil – which can only lead to our partners feeling unduly burdened and to our own disappointment. So how do we counteract this malignant myth of the partner as the fulfiller of the roles of an entire society? Appreciate the people in our lives for who they are, don’t lament who they are not. Observe what function they serve vis-a-vis your own life, and how you can serve each other best. Rely on different people to fulfil different needs. There is such a wonderful variety of types of people in the world, and your needs are almost as varied. So match them up! Your bonds will be stronger for not putting undue strain on them, and you will be more fulfilled for the specialized help you will be receiving. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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