We all come with a bucket of sh*t

Background

You know, this was one of those articles that I kept for a “special” occasion. Like that bottle of wine or that nice dress that you have. Just waiting for a perfect occasion to wear it; or consume it.

To make things even more funny, as you also probably know, that “perfect” moment usually never comes. It’s never “good enough” so you just keep it in there, waiting for the “right” opportunity.

I truly believe that the same can be said for relationships. Or, basically, anything in life. We love to keep our hopes about things. Keep hopes for those “perfect opportunities”. Be it a dress, a bottle of wine, or … well, a partner. We love to hope and wonder, as if that “one” moment will miraculously appear, showing us a clear sign along the way!

Well, this is me pulling this article out of the closet, hoping to turn the action into the opportunity, instead of waiting for vice versa ๐Ÿ™‚

Real-life story

“I’m just really sick of all the shit that I’m getting from her! Over and over, I’ve been trying to find a way to make things work, but it’s just pointless! Some minor things do change, yeah, but mostly it’s just pure shit! And I just can’t take it any more!”. “I understand what you’re saying, Mihailo”, my therapist said.

“Yeah, and what’s more, I’ve been ranting about this for months, if not even a year! I’m not sure if I can or SHOULD take this shit any more!”. “I can see why that makes you feel that way”, the therapist proceeded.

“And on the other hand, there’s this new person who showed up, basically out of nowhere. And aside from being just amazing all the time, she actually appears to have NONE of the flaws that piss me off so much with my GF! Maybe it’s the universe telling me something, you know?”.

This, I kid you not, is pretty much the same version of the story that played out at least three or four times over the course of 10+ years. It all starts amazing, fairies and angels, but then it slowly starts wearing off. Confused, you keep fighting for that old momentum, trying to get high again. But you can’t. The reality settles. The arguments start. As if out of nowhere, the bucket of sh*t appears.

And then you meet someone new. And you start wondering … “Why take all that shit? Why not go the easier path? Maybe I made a mistake and now it’s time to make it right?”.

“Mihailo, we all come with a bucket of shit. Every single one of us. With a bucket. Of shit. The only question is how good we are at hiding it. And for how long. But every single one of us carries that bucket with them and that’s just how the life is. And that’s OK.”.

Relationships

RRC graph

If it hasn’t been made clear by now, this article is about relationships and all the lessons I’ve learned. Mostly through failures.

I’ve been attending REBT (Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy) sessions for more than five years. Usually on a weekly basis, like, once a week. And yeah, that’s a lot. And let me tell you this – if there’s one thing that I learned about relationships, it’s that they are hard to do. Like, damn hard. And unless you have someone teach you that, you will have very hard time coming to terms with it. Trust me.

The graph that I presented above is called RRC graph. A Relationship-roller-coaster graph. Yeah, I made that word up (thanks to my ‘silent’ co-author!), but it’s a damn good representation of a reality.

Problem is that, unless we are aware of it, we might make ourselves victim of the, so called “honeymoon phase”, which usually manifests with oneself constantly chasing that “hype of a new”. And yes, I myself am a victim of it. Or, hopefully, was. For a long time.

Let me explain this in a bit more detail.

The Love of New

This is just a matter of fact and a very well known human personality bias. The love of new. And we are all biased towards it. I am, you are, our friends and family are, … the new is always exciting!

What’s really funny though is that, if you think deeply about it, what’s exciting is not the outcome itself, but the process that we go through. The mind games that we play with ourselves. Because, once we get that “new”, the buyer’s remorse kicks in and we’re back to square zero. But that’s a topic for another article.

The problem is that we can’t help ourselves. When we see a new car, a dress, or, you know, meet a new person, it’s not that we are incapable of thinking of its flaws. We are. And we might even see the flaws. But it’s the chemicals in our brain that we can’t help! It’s nature, bruh. Fantasising of all the fun ways we can immerse ourselves with them is simply way more pleasant than thinking of its flaws. So we start daydreaming and, unless we are cautious or well trained, we might even start falling in love. No help for it.

Anyway, let’s talk about the phases that the relationships (usually) go through. The RRC graph.

The Buildup

Pretty much every (potential) relationship starts with meeting someone appealing. As you can imagine, the above-mentioned “love of new” bias has to kick in. You can’t help it.

The buildup phase is a very first phase that, assuming that attraction is mutual, lasts anywhere from couple of days to couple of weeks. This is the time when your dopamine kicks in, you start thinking about this person, you fantasise about them, and the excitement builds up.

What’s characteristic here is that feeling of uncertainty, mixed with the bias for love of new. You are clueless whether the other person would like to be intimate with you, but they give you some signs and might even reciprocative with affection.

I usually refer to this phase as a “bucket of roses phase” because this is the time when you try so hard to hide all your flaws, and display what’s best of you. And the other side does the same.

Now, what’s important to understand is the reality of the situation. Due to all the chemicals and biases kicking in, unless experienced or trained in any way, you might be completely oblivious to the fact that other person hides their sh*t bucket behind them. And this is dangerous! Especially if you are already in a “relationship phase” with some other person. And trust me, this happens a lot, regardless of whether we want it or not. This is when nature is your biggest enemy. It successfully eliminates any rationale out of you and renders you dumb enough to understand that every person comes with TWO buckets – one of roses and one of sh*t.

If excitement is all that you you are after, the buildup phase of the relationship is one of the most adrenaline intensive ones that you can go through. And that’s cool if you are younger, but can become a burden and massive time consumer as you grow older.

Assuming that the buildup went through and that both sides agreed to make things more physically intimate, the next phase slowly kicks in. The “honeymoon period”, usually referred to as “rose colored glasses” period.

The Honeymoon Period

I said that The Buildup phase is, usually, the most intense and exciting one. But I lied. Depending on the circumstances, the honeymoon period can be way more pleasurable and exciting then the buildup itself. This is where you might skyrocket yourself all the way to la la land. Which, in all honesty, is amazing! But …

The honeymoon period is basically that time when you fall “in love”. You tease & text each other, you kiss & hug, have sex & watch Netflix. Or HBO:GO if Netflix isn’t your thing.

It’s just overwhelming in a really positive way. You needn’t nobody else really! And let me tell you this — this is absolutely amazing period! And you should love it and enjoy it to it’s fullest! It is a perfect time to create a great bond and grow some love & respect for each other. But …

This period, according to what my therapist claims, usually lasts between 6 and 12 months. Give or take. And the great BUT is – but, it eventually wears off. And that can be a problem, especially if you are unaware of it.

Now let me pause here for a second to tell you an interesting story that, in my opinion, is a perfect metaphor for what happens here.

Let’s say you live in a small flat, and you’ve been living there for a while now. You’ve been living there for long enough to call it “home”. And you don’t get particularly excited when you get back to it after work. It’s “just home”, right? Now let’s say you saved some money and you move to a bigger flat. It’s all new and cool and shiny and you get excited just by being there, right? You enjoy it and you tell your friends and family about it. But, if you’re being honest, after a while, it becomes “just home” again. You get less and less excited and more and more used to it. Eventually you’re not excited at all, and, depending on your awareness levels, you might start looking for a new excitement. The cycle repeats.

The main problem is the lack of appreciation for what that home represents. We forget why we bought it and why and how it’s better than where we used to be.

It’s same with relationships really. The excitement eventually wears off. It just has to. And you slowly start realising that the bucket of roses you fell in love with, might have been planted on and fertilised with … well, some crap ๐Ÿ™‚

This is when the comedown starts and that’s when you need to be extra cautious! Because, if it catches you unprepared, you are in for some nasty emotional ride!

The Comedown

Let me start by quoting Wikipedia’s definition of a “comedown” phase:

Comedown or crashing is a phase of drug withdrawal that involves the deterioration in mood and energy that occurs when a psychoactive drug, typically a stimulant, clears from the blood.

Source: Wikipedia

Now, why the hell am I comparing something as extraordinary and heavenly as love, to a drug? Especially to coming down phase of it? Well, if you’ve never (ab)used drugs and never gotten high out of it, you’ll have to take my word of it – the feeling can be pretty comparable. Trust me.

I’d also like you to pay special attention to what I’m going to say here. Nobody goes to a therapy because they “can’t stand all the love and excitement they are feeling”. No. It’s usually because we are confused or uncertain about something, and, if you’ve never experienced the comedown phase of a relationship before, there’s a plenty to be confused about. And that’s OK! In fact, that’s why I’m writing this article in the first place ๐Ÿ™‚

The comedown phase usually starts once the initial excitement and hype is over. And that’s the thing with excitements, honeymoons and holidays – they always come to an end.

This is when we start exchanging some dirty laundry as well. Arguments pop up here and there. We start wondering “what happened to the person we fell in love with?” and “Maybe this was all just a passing fad?”.

Now, I can’t stress enough the importance of the following sentence. This is the phase when it’s incredibly important to be self-aware and literate enough to recognise that this is a make or break phase! And unless you want to keep fuelling yourself with the excitements of the Buildup and Honeymoon periods, this is when you need to invest real work in order to have your relationship progress into The Relationship phase.

Tips on Surviving the Comedown

You know, if this were as easy as giving “7 tips for overcoming the comedown”, I probably would have saved 5+ YEARS of therapy, both in terms of money and time! For those with cheaper tickets – this is, most likely, the hardest thing that you will have to deal with. But it’s well worth the reward.

What helped me get it through some of the come downs was constantly reminding myself of the following facts:

  1. Buildup and Honeymoon periods are amazing, but they must not be considered as a fuel, but as a spark for starting what might later become a beautiful relationship.
  2. The higher you get during the Honeymoon phase, the longer you will have to fall during the Comedown. And this is ok, just be prepared for it!
  3. Building and sustaining relationship requires constant work. This is the fuel that you need to keep putting in order to keep your relationship going. And that’s OK, as the reward is well worth the investment.
  4. We all come with a bucket of sh*t. Getting on terms with this is probably one of the most beneficial things you can do both for yourself and your partner. Understanding that our quirks, flaws and imperfections are the exact things that make us and our relationships so uniquely amazing! It’s the journey, not the destination, that we need to learn to enjoy!

The Relationship

I’d actually argue that the real relationship relationship starts after the comedown phase. Once you’re done with all the hype and travel through the la la land, you start seeing all the goods and bads in your partner and, hopefully, you start accepting them.

I’d also be free to call this phase the “Reward phase”. This is where the actual rewards start. Where you finally show your dirty laundry. And you know that the other person is OK with that. This is where you get to terms with the fact that roses in your bucket have to be fertilised with some sh*t, because that’s what fertiliser is for. And that’s OK! That’s how roses grow!

Now, what confuses most people is that this phase is definitely way less exciting than the Buildup and Honeymoon ones. Rightly so, because there’s way less adrenaline being produced and way less excitement happening. There’s no more anticipation and anxiety, shivering over whether the person will like you, or text you, … I agree, that is the case. But that’s OK!

I myself have been victim of this “now what” syndrome, when, after an insane buildup and honeymoon phase you end up feeling “meh” and asking yourself “well, what do I now?”. And my therapist always has this perfect response – “Mihailo, relationships are ‘boring’. And that’s OK!”. I understand that this response might be crafted for myself only, but I think that the point he wants to make is a really good one – you should not expect fairies and angels all the time, because if you do, you’re in for some deep shit, trust me!

But here’s something else that might not be obvious at first. That feeling of “boredom” usually means that you are feeling confident and satisfied enough around the person that you are in a relationship with. This, in turn, frees up your mental capacity to embark on other things and pursue other hobbies, try new things and enjoy netflix-and-chill nights. Bonus points if you consume those with your partner. And you know what? That’s just fucking amazing, trust me!

That’s also a reason why I sometimes envy those couples who have been in long-term relationships (think 5 – 10 years or more). Yeah, they might seem like they are “bored” because they appear not to have that much excitement going on. But if you dig deeper, 9 out of 10 times you will find that those people have way more interesting stuff going on. They pursue hobbies, they travel, play games and watch movies together. They have someone to go out for a walk with, or watch a nice movie on a rainy day. They have somebody who knows them and listens to them. And, as someone who has been on both sides of the fence, numerous times so far, I can damn tell you that it’s just purely amazing. And that’s why I love being in a relationship!

The Main Problem (or one of)

So let me tell you what I believe that the main problem of failing relationships is. Or, at least what MY biggest problem is, but I believe that many others are a victim of the same syndrome.

The main problem is that we believe that The Buildup and The Relationship phases are what relationships are all about and that it’s how we should be feeling all the time. This is especially true if nobody taught us the difference between infatuation and love. Let me do the honors of presenting the definitions, straight from Wikipedia:

Infatuation or being smitten is the state of being carried away by an unreasoned passion, usually towards another person for whom one has developed strong romantic or platonic feelings. Psychologist Frank D. Cox says that infatuation can be distinguished from romantic love only when looking back on a particular case of being attracted to a person. Infatuation may also develop into a mature love.

Source: Wikipedia

Love encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, the deepest interpersonal affection, to the simplest pleasure.

Source: Wikipedia

You get the gist? There’s a massive difference between two and if you keep pursuing the constant excitement, you are trying to fill up a bucket with a hole in it. Trust me.

Now, one might ask, and rightly so – if I’m so damn enlightened, why the hell I keep mentioning that I went through all of this numerous times so far?

Well, I never said that it’s easy, did I? And that’s exactly why I’ve invested last 5+ years attending those REBT sessions. The improvements come in small chunks. And my therapist has to make some money as well ๐Ÿ™‚

Conclusion

Every single person out there comes with two buckets – one full of roses and one full of sh*t. The first one is what everybody presents, and the other one is what is kept hidden until we can’t keep it any more and it starts overflowing. Understanding that in order to keep your roses growing, you will need a fertiliser from the other bucket and that relationships are beautiful exactly because of all the uncertainty that comes with them, is what will get you a long way! And remember – it’s not the destination that we enjoy, but the ride itself! Good luck and have fun!

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