Monday, March 8, 2010

"Diet Coke relationships"

This is a guest post written by Tiffany's husband-the one who she calls "HH".

The other evening, Tiffany and I were watching a reality TV show in which the main character (a woman who was recovering from obesity) was in the midst of a very involved relationship with a certain man. They flirted; they had fun together; they shared all kinds of deep, personal things with each other.

So they're dating, right?

Wrong.

Oh. So they're just friends?

No. Not exactly...

Then what are they?

Even they do not know! Seriously. They have no word for what they are. They are "more than friends". But they do not want to date each other. At least they don't think so. Yet. Maybe.

If these people were categorizing their relationship on facebook, they would have chosen the "it's complicated" option-know what I mean?

Tiffany was confused about these people, to say the least. How could they not know the nature of their relationship, she wondered. But unlike many of the mysteries of the universe, I actually had an answer to this question.

"I know what that guy is to her", I said.

"Really? What?"

"He's a Diet Coke".

Diet Coke relationships are unfamiliar to people with full emotional health, but I am not one of those people. So I can speak from personal experience, for the benefit of those that (happily) are unfamiliar with Diet Coke Relationships.

A Diet Coke is not as good as a regular Coke, but it tastes almost as good. It makes a reasonable substitute for Coke, when you can't get anything better. And because it has no calories, you don't feel that you're responsible for quite as much as when you drink real Coke. If you get really practiced at drinking Diet Coke, you actually begin to convince yourself that it tastes just as good. This is self-delusion, of course, but it works to the benefit of the drinker. Diet Coke is better for you, after all.

Many modern relationships are like Diet Coke. In these relationships, men and women relate to each other on a deep, personal level. They talk to one another about all subjects, and offer each other great amounts of emotional nourishment. They comfort each other, share all the details of their lives with each other, and give each other all sorts of encouragement and praise. In fact, they do all the things that dating couples do-with notable exceptions. They don't kiss, say they're dating, or plan their futures together.

So if you're in a "Diet Coke relationship", you will find that your relational needs are being met-almost. And "almost" is as close as you're ever going to get from that relationship. Usually, every Diet Coke relationship has one partner who wishes that it was more than that. But he/she is wishing in vain. The other partner will never consent, even though the feelings between them are strong. The reason for this brings us to another feature of the Diet Coke relationship:

Diet Coke relationships allow the participants to have most of the benefits of a dating relatonship, but without the commitment or responsibility of a real boyfriend/girlfriend. Diet Coke relationships don't turn into real dating relationships because one partner finds it so much more comfortable to keep things as the are. But they rarely revert to being mere friendships, because one partner wants more than that.

But there is an even bigger problem here than having a real relationship dangled just out of your reach. As I said before, prolonged exposure to Diet Coke causes a person to start thinking that it tastes as good as regular Coke. Given the option, such a person might continue to drink Diet Coke, even when regular Coke is available. Just so, the members of a Diet Coke relationship may continue to spend time on each other, even though they might have a shot at a real relatonship with someone else. Furthermore, they may take enough comfort in their relationship with each otherto discourage them from seeking out a real relationship with anyone else. But here is where my analogy breaks down, for Diet Coke is a healthier substitute for regular Coke. But Diet Coke relationships are less satisfying versions of real relaionships. The one gives you taste without unwanted calories; the other gives you just enough pleasure to prevent you from getting the emotional nourishment you need.

When I first met Tiffany, I was in one of these relationships. Speaking as a man, I believe that from a biblical perspective, I was to blame for letting this situation develop. Miss R. and I had known each other for years, and we meant a lot to each other, but she had long since made it clear to me that she was not interested in dating. When she said that, I should have just left the whole thing alone. But I did not, and the result was a Diet Coke relationship. She was my Diet Coke, and I was hers. I still wonder if I somehow kept her from forming a healthy relational bond with someone else during that time.

When Tiffany found out about Miss R, I told her that she was my friend. That was true, and it sounded innocent enough. But Tiffany was perceptive enough to sense the Diet Coke-ness about this whole arrangement. Maybe I wasn't "dating" Miss R, but she could still be rightly seen as a rival. And Tiffany didn't like that at all.

So she did the best thing she could have done for me. She asked me to choose between Miss R. and her. The one could continue to have my attentions, and the other I would never see again.

Praise be to God, I chose the real thing.

When I told Miss R. about this, I received a confirmation that both Tiffany and I had made the right decision. Miss R. reacted exactly as a woman could be expeced to react WHEN HER BOYFRIEND LEAVES HER FOR ANOTHER WOMAN. Sure, maybe Miss R. was never my girlfriend, but the bond between us was stronger than any two friends' should have been. If I was to have a successful relationship with Tiffany, that bond had to be severed. Thank God it was.

So here is my advice to all of you who are single: Don't settle for Diet Coke! Have friendships. Date. But never settle for a friendship in the hope that it will develop into a dating relationship. And never foster a close friendship with someone who you know wants to date you. No matter how much they say they are satisfied with friendship, they are lying-perhaps even to themselves. This will cost you some pain in the short term-but in the long run, you and all your beverage-themed relationships will benefit from it.

This is HH, signing off.

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