(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)
(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way – 13 time zones to be exact – from my original home town of Rolla, Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork creek.)
I have a friend who recently returned from an extended trip. Over a long lunch, we talked about events that had occurred in our lives since the last time we met and, even more interesting, what we had learned from our experiences. It was a very pleasant lunch with the additional, non-caloric benefits of some entertaining new stories.
Some of those stories, however, set me to thinking. Afterwards, I thought a bit more about the stories of relationships and the repeating patterns we can see – especially in the rearview mirror of hindsight. In cars, if certain areas not being visible from the driver’s seat, we call those parts of his view “blind spots”. In case of an accident, the driver can honestly say he couldn’t see what was in his blind spot.
Let’s consider relationships in that light. What if some of our relationship choices could be explained by the concept of blind spots? What if some individuals have psychological blind spots that cause them to have repeating unsuccessful relationship – some of them real disasters? These are patterns they simply cannot see, even though they may be clear to others. Blind spots.
Some people seem doomed to repeat certain errors in their personal relationships. They make the same mistakes over and over, just with a different partner each time. When something happens once, it may be simply bad luck or a poorly considered decision. However, when the pattern is repeated several times, the onus falls on them, the poor-decision maker. They – not the partners they have chosen – are the primary cause of the disaster.
Many of the horrendously embarrassing relationship errors we make – then repeat, then repeat again, then repeat yet again – are the result of psychological blind spots. We just don’t see the trouble coming, even though our friends may try to warn us. Even more tragic, after we clean up the mess and we earnestly declare that we learned from the experience and we won’t make that mistake again, very often, we soon do make that same mistake. We do exactly the same thing but in a new relationship.
Smart people can make some very un-smart choices. It’s like they have a psychological blind spot; they simply cannot see the errors they are making in this area of their life. (Not me, of course. I’m too smart to do something that self-destructive.) In finding a new partner, those smart people don’t change. They unconsciously choose to ignore the fundamental law of the relationship universe: If you keep doing the same old thing, you’re going to keep getting the same old results.
How we human beings find love is one of the great mysteries of life. As soon as they approach maturity, most people immediately begin seeking a mate. We all begin looking for Mr. Right or Ms. Right. It becomes a top priority, consuming inordinate amounts of time, money, and attention. Inevitably, as in every new skill, people make mistakes in the process of struggling up the learning curve. In the process, almost everyone makes a few bad choices. That perfectly wonderful Mr. Right or Ms. Right turns out to be less wonderful. Normal enough. Something they did or some quality in the other person made it inevitable. A few people, though, go right back into the relationship search and engage in exactly the same pattern that caused their first downfall.
Inexplicably, however, some people just don’t seem to learn from their experiences. They fail the relationship test over and over. These tragedies are the results of their personal psycholoigical blind spots. They remain ignorant of what is glaringly obvious to the people around them. Even when warned by concerned friends, they assure the friends (and themselves), “This time will be different. I’ve learned what not to do.” Famous last words. Sadly, we cannot see what we cannot see.
What is a tripwire? It is a hidden wire stretched across a path. Unwary intruders walk into the tripwire and set off an alarm. Often, they literally trip over the wire, hence the name. Since we cannot remove the blind spots that cause repeating personal disasters, we need to install tripwires to alert us – with blaring alarms and flashing lights if necessary. Those trip wires are to keep us from falling off the romantic cliff again. Think about this: We would lead much happier, more stable, and less traumatic lives if we had a tripwire to alert us that we were on the edge of repeating another relationship disaster due to our blind spot. If we simply cannot see the danger, the tripwire will give us advance notice. The tripwire will make us aware of the dangerous waters we are entering by pursuing this new relationship.
Why do we need a tripwire? Because we are often guilty of self-delusion when it comes to our personal blind spot, we do not see the upcoming danger and quickly reverse course – the actions of any reasonable person. If we could install out own personal tripwires, wouldn’t our lives be smoother, happier, and less filled with half-forgotten relationship traumas which jolt us awake some mornings years after the event?
What would a tripwire look like? When you see a pattern is about to be repeated, you need something to remind yourself that your own judgment and intuition are not to be trusted. Your impulses are about to drag you into another relationship disaster. In essence, it would be a reminder that what has led to disaster in the past is about to be repeated. The tripwire is to physically interrupt that process.
You need a tripwire to make you consciously aware that you are on a slippery slope and that, instead of proceeding as before, you need to make a hasty retreat. Your first impulses and habitual behaviors are your own worst enemies. To invert an old hippie phrase: If it feels right, don’t do it.
Maybe, if we had created a tripwire – and we profited from its warning – we would have fewer sad stories to share the next time we have lunch with an old friend who has just returned from an extended trip.