This post is a bit different than the others I’ve done so far, because this is applicable to everyone and not just writers and storytellers. I’ll show at the end how a writer can integrate this into their creations.
As this is a broad subject, my focus is romantic relationships and how they can affect relationships with others.
Many will say a romantic relationship should be 50/50. Let me explain how this fails before we get to the meat of the post.
Consider an air traffic controller (ATC) and a pilot at a major airport. The two are separate individuals with a common goal in mind: the safe landing of the airplane at the airport. This safe landing is not the sum of the ATC and pilot as people, but an entirely separate entity that will be achieved if the two work toward it.
The pilot needs to be aware of, and in communication with, the ATC and vice-versa to accomplish their goal. Can you imagine if the pilot only contributed 50% of their ability to the safe landing? What if the ATC also only contributed 50%? That means both the pilot and ATC are withholding 50% of their investment* from their desire.
Investment* is diligence in maintaining their goal, contributing to the cause, individual effort, open communication, compromise, and understanding.
If the pilot and ATC are only 50% invested the plane is likely to crash or at least have a very, very bad landing.
A relationship equation is not: 50%you + 50%me = 100%relationship
In order for a relationship to succeed those involved need to be 100% invested in it. Giving 50% of your work ethic to anything is stupid and unbecoming.
Wait a moment. Are you saying you have other friends and family that are in your life and you have a responsibility to them as well? Absolutely, everyone does. That doesn’t give you an excuse to hold back your investments. Each person you have a relationship with, romantic or otherwise, is its own separate identity and you need to be invested in those as well. You have a relationship with that specific person. So how do you balance it?
Returning to the airplane analogy: The pilot understands the ATC has several other planes that need to land as well (relationships with friends and family), so the first pilot needs to be actively engaged with the ATC to ensure the ATC is able to fulfill his responsibilities to the other pilots. In addition, the ATC needs to maintain and be engaged with the first pilot so they can land safely and not end up flying around without direction or crashing and burning. The pilot and the ATC give and yield in respect to each other and the other’s responsibilities while maintaining their own identities and their relationship with each other.
Relationships aren’t pause and play. They are always in flux. They go up and down like an escalator. Every interaction either positively or negatively affects the relationship.
Let’s revisit the main points before moving on:
Those in a relationship must invest 100% of themselves to that particular relationship.
Each person an individual interacts with has a separate relationship with that specific person.
An individual can, and should, continue to have their own identity even though they’re in a relationship. They still have their own interests, jobs, friends, and hobbies. Remember, it’s not “this is a sum of us” but “this is something we work toward.”
Even though all relationships might not be romantic, there is still responsibility to them and a balance must be maintained. However, while each should have 100% investment, some require more work than others. An analogy to explain this would be cleaning a room versus a house. You still invest 100% to cleaning the room and house, but the room is smaller and will have fewer responsibilities to keeping it clean and maintained; while the house is much larger and has several tasks that need to be done.
Have you ever had a really close friend who became involved romantically with someone and just stopped hanging out with you? I have, a few times. Some had absolutely nothing to do with me or the rest of their friends; they were completely devoted to their partner. (NOTE: Devoted doesn’t necessarily mean invested in the maintenance of a relationship.) These people lost friends.
It is to be understood that when you’re involved romantically with someone more time will be spent with them (cleaning the house) and that’s completely fine. It’s natural. But, you can’t forget about the other relationships you have with friends and family. Some attention needs to be given to them too. (It’s like the ATC working with the pilot landing first, which would be the romantic relationship, and the others preparing to land are the friends. The most immediate relationship will have more responsibilities.)
By investing 100% into any particular relationship, balancing all relationships, and giving the correct amount of time to each, one will have healthier and longer lasting relationships.
So how does this work with storytelling? Writers sometime set two people up in their stories and completely disregard one or the others friends. It’s only about the lovers and their relationship. What happens outside their relationship (with their friends) will influence their romantic relationship. It will put stress on them when they talk about how their friends don’t want to be friends anymore because they’re dating.
For example: Jane and Alexa are roommates and hang out together all the time. Jane meets David and the two begin to seriously date. Alexa hardly sees Jane anymore and their conversation has become forced, leading to Alexa feeling abandoned; she begins having anger towards Jane.
Sure, you want to focus on the blossoming romance between two characters, but if you’ve introduced a major player in someone else’ life and just sweep them under the rug, like they totally don’t care they’re seeing less and less of their friend, you’ll leave your reader unsatisfied and wondering what’s going on. This might lead to the reader being less invested in your story.
No one is always okay with a negative impact on their life. Give us something real.
Understanding how relationships work can not only benefit you in real life, but also benefit you in your writing and creating three dimensional, believable, characters.