Conceptualizing Relationships

As someone for whom being able to conceptualize things is very important to thinking and feeling about them, and who also has both a practical and theoretical interest in relationships, including non-mainstream relationship structures, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to conceptualize relationships. I also repeatedly run into issues that show me holes in various existing conceptualizations.

Zack was trying to explain to me that he likes one book series more than another because of the lack of friendships in the second, and we spent a bit of time with me arguing with him and him trying to explain because I couldn’t figure out what he was actually talking about. The moderator of a blog on alt relationships stated that they don’t understand the difference between a queerplatonic relationship and a very close friendship. I for at least the second time ran into the problem of not knowing how to refer to a significant-other relationship that is sexual but not romantic. Etc.

At the moment, the conceptualization of relationships that works best for me in terms of capturing everything I want to be able to capture is a combination of two axes and a tag system.

The two axes are used to plot two measures of significance: 1) How emotionally important a relationship is to you, and 2) how large of a role this person has in your life. Emotional importance runs from ‘complete strangers’ to ‘focus people’, with focus people being the term I’m using for ‘most important people’ – people who would be your ‘hostages’ for the second task of the Triwizard Tournament, who would be the best targets if someone wanted to blackmail you into something or haunt you with visions of horrors, for whom you would drop everything if they needed you or were in trouble. Role-in-your-life is about time and ‘utility’ – how much do you interact with this person, are they meeting some of your day-to-day physical and emotional needs, etc.

For some examples (note: I’m using some personal examples because I find this works best for me when thinking, but I’m basically making up the exact numbers here, and they should not be taken as any kind of declaration of who is how important to me and such):

  • My best friend is very emotionally important to me, however I see her about once a year and don’t talk to her much more often than that.
  • Some villains will abandon their right-hand minions in time of trouble, because while these people are practically useful for what they do, they’re not emotionally important to the villain at all.
  • Zack and I used to live closer to each other than we do now. This change decreased our presence in each other’s lives, but did not decrease his emotional importance to me.

RelationshipGraph1

The tag system covers everything else. Is this relationship sexual? Is it romantic? Is it a Relationship? (I’m using capital-R Relationship to mean the ‘we’re in a relationship’ kind of relationship, wherein this is how the people involved see it and think of it). Is there a legal bond involved? A biological connection? A financial connection? D/s? Is one person in authority over the other? Do they have shared responsibilities? Etc.

This allows me to answer the earlier questions. A queerplatonic relationship is distinguished from a close friendship by the ‘+Relationship’ tag. The thing Zack wants in books is relationships that are high up on both axes, but do not have ‘Relationship’ ‘romantic’ or ‘sexual’ tags (in other words, are –Relationship, -romantic, and –sexual).

It also allows me to talk about some other things I want to talk about. For instance, I’ve been struggling for a while on how to define ‘significant other’. This gives me a definition – ‘significant other’, to me, is the intersection of ‘very emotionally important’ and +Relationship. Likewise, I now have a definition for what ‘primary‘ means to me – it is the intersection of either-or-both ‘very emotionally important’ and ‘very large role in life’, and +Relationship. So, a life partner can be a primary partner without being emotionally important (as, say, for a sociopathic villain), and a significant other can be a primary partner without having the largest role-in-life (as, say, in a long-distance relationship).

Meanwhile, when I talk about culturally conceptualized ‘idealized monogamy’, I mean that in our culture it is considered the right way to do things to have a relationship that’s in the top right corner of the graph (very emotionally important and very large role in your life), that is +Relationship, +romantic, +sexual, and preferably +married, and additionally that no other relationships in your life should be that far in that corner, or have those tags.

So – possibly more adjustments to this system as I do more thinking, but meanwhile, this is what I have.

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Guilt and Forgiveness

Guilt and forgiveness are two related words/concepts that are very powerful for me, both in a kink way (especially guilt, there), and in other ways. As such, I’ve spent some time thinking about what they mean to me.

Most fundamentally, guilt, to me is about separation and distance, and forgiveness is about bringing back and together again.

Beyond that, for me there are three kinds of guilt: fact-and-not-feeling guilt, from-inside guilt, and from-outside guilt. (They are not mutually exclusive, and more than one can be present in a situation at the same time).

Fact-and-not-feeling guilt is, as the name suggests, not about anyone’s emotions. It is about a situation where someone did something that they are now being considered guilty for. As such, they are seen as separated in this way from everyone else – they might be regarded differently, treated differently, etc. In some cases, there is then some condition that can be met for the person to be able to ‘return’/to be forgiven – maybe if they ‘pay for their crime’ with some punishment, or if they show themselves to be penitent, or if enough time passes. And in some cases this is a permanent condition – that person is considered separate for life, and even if some conditions are met, they can never fully ‘return’/be fully forgiven. As far as I can tell, Les Misérables, for instance, is about this kind of situation.

From-inside guilt is when a person considers themselves to have done something wrong. They feel guilt for this, and they feel like this makes them separated – they regard themselves differently, and may or may not feel that others should regard and/or treat them differently as well. There are then three subsequent options. Some feel that the separation can only be breached from the other side, by those on the other side deciding to forgive. This is then framed in terms of the grace/mercy of those others. Some feel that they need to span the separation through their own efforts. This is then framed as atonement – they want to contribute something, for instance effort or suffering, and it is through this that they can ‘return’. Therefore, the wider they see the separation as being, the more atonement they are likely to feel is needed. And some feel that they ought to stay separate, that there is no way to go back. For instance, a character of mine believes that after her execution she will end up in her faith’s version of Hell, and also believes that this is exactly the correct outcome.

From-outside guilt is when one person, usually the authority, creates a negative feeling of separation in another person. This usually happens between people who have some sort of bond, and the separation here is between the person being told they’re guilty, and the person doing the telling. It involves distance-feeling created by the first side – “you did this and it was wrong, I am disappointed”, and the second party very strongly feeling this distance as painful and wanting to bridge it. Here again there are three options, this time for the first party. They can grant their forgiveness (either explicitly or implicitly), therefore connecting back. There can be variety in time and intensity here – from something like waiting a moment, saying ‘I’m glad to see you’ll be taking this more seriously from now on’ and allowing the interaction to continue normally to remaining distant as the guilty part begs and cries and apologizes repeatedly before finally saying ‘very well, you’re forgiven’. Alternatively, they could impose some sort of punishment first. This one is common in corporal punishment stories, usually manifesting in a ‘lecture (seperation) – punishment – comfort and forgiveness’ sequence. Punishment in this scenario usually involves the party being punished thinking about how they’ve disappointed  the first party, as opposed to simply about what they did. Finally, they could completely refuse to forgive, and let the separation and its feeling remain.