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by David Truman

Many of us faithfully pursue self-discovery throughout our lives. Unfortunately, conflicts arise between our commitment to personal growth and the demands of intimacy. At times, love and growth seem almost incompatible. Is loneliness the price we must pay for growth? No! Hang on to that dream! If we play our cards right, perhaps we CAN have our growth, and our love too!
What is the basic motivation behind our urge to grow? In the past, people were satisfied to define themselves in terms of roles and careers: "I'm raising a family; I'm building a company." Our new goal is to create a CHARACTER, not a CAREER -- and the pressure is mostly internal.
A Popular Growth Agenda
Minimize physical & emotional dependence
Develop personal power & self-assertion
Stay in control with self-reliance
People who are committed to personal growth are driven by the motivation to become a unique, clearly-defined individual. That motivation produces some of the same identity concerns, and some of the same relationship agonies that teenagers suffer. While searching for our own true identity, we fear that being there for someone else and being there for ourselves may be conflicting objectives. Obviously, until and unless that concern can be satisfactorily resolved, intimacy will be problematical.
When is the time for growin' solo?
Periods of self-focused growth are good times for growin' solo.
Sometimes our personal objectives are so self-focused, we really don't have room for an intimate relationship. Consider, for example, the popular growth agenda shown above. And while you are re-reading it, ask yourself this: What does this agenda have to do with love? Not as much as people tend to think. And that, precisely, is the root of our conflict. As long as our growth goals center on self-reliance, any attempt at intimacy may feel like a contradiction.
Love needs energy too, and plenty of it. So before entering into intimacy, we ought to ask ourselves these questions:
1. Can I serve two masters? If it feels like intimacy will compromise my goal of self-reliance, perhaps I should put intimacy on the back-burner for now, and concentrate on my own becoming.
2. Am I strong enough for love? I need self-confidence to succeed in intimacy. When I am just trying to BECOME an individual, I am not yet sufficiently secure in myself.
3. Do I trust myself enough to depend on someone else? It's hard to trust someone else when I'm still trying to learn to trust myself. It's hard to depend on someone else when I'm trying hard to become independent.
We often discover that readiness for love is a matter of personal security. Obviously, when we're actively worried about issues of power and control, it's tough to gracefully share power. In fact, when we are just learning to stick up for ourselves, we feel like we are fighting for our very selfhood. As long as we're cutting our self-assertion teeth, we're almost sure to create distance in intimacy, and draw some blood in our power struggles. We may be excessively reactive at times, and overly defensive or offensive. Others may try to understand, and they may understand very well, but even so, frequent combat can hurt any relationship.
At times, "first individuate, then relate" is the most compassionate choice.
Prescription: If we aren't quite prepared to jump the hurdles of intimacy, we may be wise to go it alone for the time being. First individuate, THEN relate. That may be the most compassionate choice -- for ourselves, and for our potential intimates, both.
Special tip for solos getting ready for love
To get ready for love, we need lots of social exercise.
Whether we're mated or not, we ought to remember that love is a SOCIAL skill. If we want someday to be in good social shape, we must be careful not to isolate ourselves in pursuing our growth goals. We need to relate as much as we can. Also, we should not let ourselves hide in relationships with companions who can have little idea where we're coming from -- dogs, children, or anyone we are trying to help, or save! That's like Mike Tyson boxing with Rush Limbaugh -- or Marilyn Monroe dating PeeWee Herman! Saving and helping is fine, but to get good social exercise, we must relate to people who are sharp enough to give us a real run for our money! True peers, that is.
About using intimacy for personal growth
Most of us WANT companionship. We feel that for us, the goal of relationship IS compatible with the goal of individuality. So we may choose to grow WITHIN a relationship.
Rightly used, intimacies are powerful aids to personal growth.
When we take the intimacy route, we learn to use people and relationships in ways that serve our becoming. The following are typical growth-oriented uses for intimacy:
1. Autonomy practice. Relationships offer a place to exercise individualism, and to practice staying on track with personal goals, projects, etc. So we draw neat little dividing lines: "I want to do MY work, and YOU can do YOUR work."
2. Assertion practice. Intimacy provides an ideal challenge to evolving personhood -- a way to test our commitment to self-assertion, limit-setting, and the like.
3. Chance for an important role. For teenagers, a sincere wish to "be someone" often manifests as a desire to find some respectable role in life. Likewise, anyone who wishes to grow may jump at the chance to play a challenging part in rela-tionships: the nurturer, the provider, the beloved, etc.
4. Personal wish fulfillment. Relationships are often manifestations of personal desires. "This is what I want: I want a mate who is like THIS, so I can do this and have this . . ."
There can be no question that rightly used, intimacies are powerful aids to progress. Growth partners ought to feel a sacred obligation to support each other's development. If we really want to grow within a relationship, it is crucial that we find a mate who supports us in that effort. We may make agreements when entering into partnership that individual growth will come first -- that the relationship must support that growth, and not get in the way of it.
Love secret: value people apart from their usefulness
In making growth come first in our relationship, we need to proceed with care. Any person who is deeply committed to personal growth may unconsciously think of a mate PRIMARILY as an aid to growth. That's a mistake. The number one source of conflict in growth-oriented intimacies is an unconscious tendency to undervalue our mates.
No one is happy playing second fiddle to their partner's growth goals.
People do not do well as "growth aids." Almost no man will be happy playing second fiddle to his wife's personal drive to become someone. Almost no woman will be comfortable if her mate seems overly inclined to use her as a pawn in a larger game of his ambitions.
It's not that we can't use relationships for growth -- we can, and we should. But even a stepping stone needs to be loved for what it is. The tendency to "use people" -- for anything, including growth -- kills intimacy. If we forget that, we'll all end up feeling "used" -- even if we agreed, right from the start, that we would use each other to grow.
Prescription: When relating to valued companions, a wise person will carefully balance the appreciation of their usefulness with the appreciation of their inherent soul worth. For intimacy to flourish, we need to love our mates for who they are, completely apart from their usefulness to our growth process. As you know.

by David Truman

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