I have something embarrassing to admit. On Friday, I was in the middle of a riding lesson when everything began to fall apart. After months of pushing myself to my limits, riding until my inner thighs burned and my muscles felt like jello, I finally reached that limit. And passed it. We were cantering in a circle over poles, but I was losing the strength to stay balanced, push my horse over the poles, and maneuver her in a circle. When she broke into a trot, laws of inertia sent me careening towards the outside of the circle. As time slowed, I realized that I was probably going to fall off. In that moment, though, I had no fear of falling. My horse wasn’t even that tall and I thought that I could plop into the dirt without being injured. The moment I hit the ground, I regretted not trying harder to stay on. I landed hard on the right side of my lower back, bracing my fall partially with my right hand and upper arm. After I caught my breath again, I could tell that I wasn’t seriously injured, so I immediately wanted to get back on and ride. That I did, and I finished out the lesson with a few good runs over the poles.
As soon as I got off, though, I began to feel it. Every step I took felt like pins and needles where my femur met my tailbone, as if the cartilage was missing. Showering was difficult one-handed and every time I had to bend over, I gritted my teeth in pain. I grew frustrated when I couldn’t perform simple tasks with my right hand, like turning a doorknob or slicing off a slab of butter. At night, I was grateful that I’d always been a stomach sleeper, because that was the only position that didn’t cause excruciating pain. Even in that position, however, my back throbbed. This morning, I decided not to go the barn because I needed to rest and heal. But all I want to do is go and ride, so now I’m irritated. Irritated at what? you might ask.
You see, throughout this experience, I may have been angry at myself and my body, but never was I mad at my horse. Actually, I’m never mad at Betsy. Not when she throws ugly fits and fights me with all her strength. Not when she insists on going backwards when I’m asking her to go forward. Not when she goes so close to the wall that she rams my leg into the wood. Why? Because it’s never just her fault. We are a team and every mistake we make is something that I could have done better. Before I blame her for something, I always think about what I could have been doing better. Just like neither of us deserves 100% credit for any victory, neither of us deserves 100% blame for any failure.
In considering my relationship with my horse, I began to think about human relationships. I’ve since realized that human relationships function the same way. Every relationship is a team effort and — no matter who happens to take the painful fall into the dirt — it’s unreasonable to accuse the other person without first taking a hard look at yourself. Especially since you can’t control anyone’s actions but your own, you should always think about what you can fix before you think about what someone else can fix.
Now, let me say that I think the viral “Marriage Isn’t For You” article is a load of bullshit, and not just because some religious fundamentalist wrote it. I think it’s bullshit because it expresses the same message that a church (of which I’m an ex-member) used to: that your needs don’t matter, or that your needs matter less than everyone else’s. Nope nope nope. Marriages and relationships are for you. Why the hell would anyone pursue them then? Let’s face it — nobody is that selfless. But the thing is that relationships are not all for you. Your significant other doesn’t exist to make you happy, make your troubles go away, carry you off into the sunset. Your significant other exists because they want to be a part of this team as much as you do.
And voilà, there you have it: a functional relationship.
What were your thoughts on Seth Adam Smith’s article? What’s your definition of a functional relationship?