picture taken in 2006

What is a couple? It is a pair of two things of the same kind. Couplehood happens everywhere, with any animals, and even on a molecule level. It is deeper than marriage, because marriage only exists within social construct.

Marriage is the ultimate couplehood in many cultures. It’s about meeting social norms or legal requirements, where the relationship isn’t valid without marriage. As the citizens of such a country, we get married to be able to run our life together with our partner. Without that license, we cannot traverse life as one package.

There are cultures that don’t treat marriage as a necessity. This doesn’t mean that they couple and decouple like they wish. It’s human nature to not just mate (being friends to each other), but to couple (being in one package) for a long term. In those countries, citizens can choose from several legal forms of couplehood.

Marriage is advised by religions. To my understanding, religions were created and spread in order to address human nature. The religious teaching of marriage is accepted by any society because it supports couplehood.

That reminds me of one of my English students back then in South Korea. She came to me through a friend, needing a quick Beginner English lesson badly prior to her departure to USA. I ended up practicing my Korean, because she tried to talk to me about many things even though her English skill wasn’t yet conversational.

As she told, the main purpose of her American trip was to meet a Korean-American young man, whose parents have agreed with her parents, that they would marry. Almost like an arranged marriage, but she also explained about the marriage concept in her religion (a minority Christian sect).

“A couple is like two thorny balls. Marriage helps you stay close. You grind each other (she was showing her two fists punching each other) until one by one your thorns are broken. In the end, the two of you are then smooth balls, no longer hurting each other with your thorns.”

Therefore, she was determined to take this challenge of meeting a complete stranger and try to prospect him for marriage. After four weeks, she left for the trip. In nine months, she came back to Korea and surprisingly she contacted me. With the now rather polished English, she told me that she decided not to marry this guy.

We were conversing in English. She had worked at a supermarket part-time while taking an English course. She said that with her English now she had a bigger chance of finding a good job in Korea. A trip worth taken. And then I no longer heard from her.

I wondered whether her quoted statement is true or not. True according to my experience, although not to the extent of marrying a total stranger.

It’s rather extreme to consciously choose a partner whose thorns we don’t discover before we decide to marry him/her. Choosing a partner needs our heart to decide, but our mind needs to acknowledge the potential thorns that our partner may show during our couplehood.

Just give it some time, because we tend to find other people’s thorns more than our own. Then we can use our mind to decide whether we want to help shaking their thorns off. And we use our heart to decide whether he/she is the right person to help shaking our thorns off.

When our thorns get shaken by our partner, it may hurt. We think this pain comes from our partner pricking us with their thorns. Well, not really. I wrote that our emotions are influenced by the way we perceive others. When we have a relationship so close with someone, the perception is more intense.

We discover more of our own thorns when we are in a close relationship. If we’re not aware of them inside of us, we wouldn’t go through the relationship having the thorns come off one by one. The pain heals after each thorn completely comes off. Another part of us is healed, and it’s a sign of growth.

Relationships do not cause pain and unhappiness. They bring out the pain and unhappiness that is already in you.

— Eckhart Tolle

If you are now in an unhappy relationship, ask yourself this question, “Why would I want a relationship if I’m not ready to explore the opportunities of being healed despite the chances of getting hurt?” Don’t continue the relationship if your partner cannot appreciate your pain. Both sides need to acknowledge each other’s pain and understand what role each side plays in enabling it, because apologizing isn’t a lip service.

Relationships may also end because your remaining thorns aren’t meant to be shaken off by being with your partner. When such relationships end, the partners are still friends. They fully understand why the relationship no longer serves them.

Outside couplehood, the opportunities to face our thorns may be limited but not closed. We can find them in daily life, even in short encounters with strangers. However, this needs good reflections, to connect all the events and make a meaning out of it. With a close and dedicated relationship for an extended period, it’s easier to discover the patterns from the intense interactions with the other person.

Certain people aren’t meant to couple in their lifetime, such as monks and certain storytellers and changemakers. These people aren’t trying to couple, because they know their thorns aren’t to be shaken off in a couplehood. If you’re not content with being single and desperately looking for a partner, it could be that you’re afraid of discovering your own thorns.

We cannot grow without others. Despite the sometimes complicated marriage regulations, I understand why it is recommended by many religions. It fits our social construct as well as our individual need. The need to discover our thorns and shed them off.

To be a smooth ball of love.

a storylistener, a connector