Ashley Kelsch Questions if Relationships Really Are Figureoutable
"In this era of self help and doing the work, we proclaim that we are doing the hard things, but what does that really look like?"
I listened to my client closely as they explained to me that it was difficult to walk away from their relationship.
“I’ve never felt more challenged by a person,” says my client. “I can’t figure it out. I know there is a lesson for me here, but I’ve never been a quitter.”
Silence followed, leaving only their breath to be heard, breath that they were running out of. This — the back and forth, the “I’m in, I’m out” — had been the theme of our conversations for the last few years. “It’s just so hard.”
The collective consensus: Relationships and love are hard.
I was reminded of Marie Forleo’s book title, Everything is Figureoutable. This compound verb-like adjective is not quite realistic. Everything is actually not, nor should be, figured out.
In an age where our culture is inundated with people who have created success and businesses from the ground up, we have been indoctrinated with the idea that “anything worth having is worth fighting for” and have extended that idea to our relationships. This really comes as no surprise because we are a culture that has been conditioned for marriage and monogamy. Up until the 70s, people chose relationships out of duty and responsibility. Many people — mainly women — were left without options.
It wasn’t until the onset of self help and development that the conversation shifted to relationships that were found in connection. Finding a soulmate and being seen became the new wave and the new way. However, even in our state of peak self help and awareness, we find ourselves ready to “fight for it” only to half-toss in the towel. We succumb to dated tropes on love and working things out and tell ourselves that relationships are complicated. We believe that’s just how it is if you choose to spend your life with someone.
A few years ago, my dad and his wife celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. Somewhat in awe, I congratulated him. To spend that much time with one person and not walk, especially as a person who saw the ups and downs of that relationship as I grew up, was nothing short of remarkable to me. It’s also something I have yet to accomplish at this point in my life. By the time I was 32, I had been divorced twice.
I asked him, “How’d you do it, Dad?”
“Well Ash, after some time, you stop trying to change the other person and just let them be,” says my dad. “Then, you start enjoying them and your life.”
I knew exactly what he meant. Not only can I recount being someone who spent a majority of her years trying to change the people she was with, I have also been on the receiving side of that. If you ask me, that is difficult. It’s a no-win situation where everyone is miserable. It reminded me of my past self in relationships, when my brain was obsessed and preoccupied with solving my partners problems rather than my own; fixing them in the name of “us;” creating more problems and unnecessary drama. Once I dropped that effort, I was able to focus my attention and energy on the one problem I could solve: who I was and how I was thinking about our relationship.
I wonder if that is the collapse right there? In this era of self help and doing the work, we proclaim that we are doing the hard things, but what does that really look like? Is it working on getting someone else to be and act how we want them to be just so we can be happy?
When we say relationships are hard and complicated, what do we really mean? Are we communicating the “hard” by exposing our most vulnerable selves to our partners? We wax philosophical about what it’s like to be in a relationship — all that we are going through, what we said when, how we are handling it, why we can’t stay or leave. How much of this are we expressing (not lamenting) to our partner? Are we overcomplicating it? How much are we listening to and sharing in our partner’s experience? And by their experience, I mean that it’s unfiltered by our lens of it.
Moreover, why do we continue to stay? Do we like doing “hard”? Is “complicated” something we possibly want to solve? I do know people who enjoy that challenge and aspect of relationships. However, the majority are without joy in their pursuit of figuring it out.
Once you’ve figured them and the relationship out, then what? Has it completed itself?
Do you really want to spend your time being frustrated in a relationship? To what end? What do you believe is waiting for you on the other side of it?
The collective consensus: Relationships and love are hard.
I mean, in some ways, I do relate to the sense of accomplishment one might feel in that scenario. I’m training for the New York City Marathon at the moment. Everyday, I’m up thinking about my next run, unable to go out late because I need to run, watching everything I eat so my body has fuel, spending hours with myself running around our town, cramping, crying, laughing and talking. It’s been months of this on repeat, with two months left to go. I have no idea how that day will go. I only know that I visualize crossing the finish line with my child by my side. I know that singular moment will make every sacrifice and pain that I’ve endured leading up until then worth it. Six months of hard work for that five second stride. I’m all in on it.
Are you all in? Have you weighed the exchange? Is it worth it?
I’ve spent the last six months or so accounting for when I’d been in love and in serious relationships. I counted three times in love, three serious relationships and a plethora of dating experiences — some deep, but they never resulted in more.
The one consistent theme of my experience of being in love compared to the rest of the relationships I had been in was glaring. There was an ease to being in love that was missing from the rest of the relationships. It was the opposite of hard. There was a flow, a natural way of coming together. That is not to say it wasn’t without its arguments, difficulties and questions, but it wasn’t an uphill battle riddled with anxiety or a back and forth Rubik’s Cube that left me doubting myself and intelligence.
Rather, being in love was — and is — figureoutable.
Ashley Kelsch, former owner of Teddies for Bettys, a lingerie and well-being store, is a top-certified coach who works with parents and caregivers of teenagers and young adults who are struggling to understand their child’s gender identity and sexual preferences. She helps guide her clients from confusion and conflict to curiosity and connection by teaching them how to manage their thoughts and emotions. She also has a weekly podcast called House of Other: a modern update and sex-positive education about human sexuality, gender sexual diversity, intimate justice, trauma healing, consent and loving relationships. Ashley continues to explore “your brain on dating, love and relationships” through her writing and with her private clients. You can follow her on Instagram @house_of_other and read more of her Tribeza columns here.