This is a very thoughtful piece. I might argue that your last sentence underscores what we could easily say is much of the point of relationship: getting an education in what it’s like to be lonely with someone, as much as it’s important to learn to be with ourselves when we are without someone. Because I have a deep commitment to personal growth, I tend to fire all manner of uncomfortable and downright painful questions at myself all the time no matter what situation I find myself in. In the short pieces I write for Medium, it would be right impossible to go into all of that, or even a good deal of it, because these are not only lifetime journeys, they are also constant challenges to a way of thinking and being. I like your use of the term “contract,” because that speaks to something that I teach in my classes around visible and invisible agreements. The choices we make in relationship are informed deeply but what we feel we deserve, our family dynamics, the messaging we received in childhood — I could go on forever. A part of our work in relationship, all of them whether friends or intimate-has to do with teasing out those threads and confronting them. In many ways it’s no fun at all. In others it’s freeing.
I would posit, Joel, that all of us need an education in X to appreciate X. That is the point of life. Whether we have to fail to appreciate success, to be lonely to appreciate love, to be poor to appreciate flush times, doesn’t matter. If we’re going to be alive, we are getting an education. It would be pretty hard to isolate just one area, like love and relationships. That education never stops. And thank god it doesn’t. Thanks for your comment.