In the early days of aviation, pilots used to wander around the country giving airshows in the fields outside of local cities. One of the most popular daredevil tricks was “walking with wings.” This is where an artist steps out of the cockpit and walks on the wing as the pilot flies the plane, often doing acrobatic maneuvers at the same time. Typically this feat was done using biplanes, with the wing walkers holding onto the guy lines that stretched taut between the wings.
From time to time there were accidents. If you let go of the guy wires, you could easily fall and die. It was best to hold on with both hands, but if you wanted to move on the wing you had to temporarily release it with one hand while reaching for the next guy wire. Then you could drop the first wire and reach for another, etc. (You never wanted to let go of both hands at the same time …)
Why do I talk about aerobatics in an article about love relationships? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, love can be dangerous. An emotional fall can be devastating and something to avoid if possible.
I have two friends, let’s call them Kelly and Linda. They both have emotionally immature boyfriends who treat them badly. Kelly and Linda love their boyfriends and want to be in a relationship. However, neither of the grooms shows signs of growth. What should they do?
Linda broke up with her boyfriend. Now she feels very depressed and lonely. She violated “Bessell’s First Law of Wingwalking,” named after my friend, mentor, contributing author, and famous psychologist Harold Bessell, Ph.D. The First Law of Wingwalking says “Never let go of what you’re grasping until ‘I’ve got something else!” Releasing herself with both hands, Linda “fell” into depression.
Kelly, observing the First Law of Wingwalking, released it with one hand. She gradually pulled away emotionally from her boyfriend, while telling him what she was doing and why. She kept waiting for him to grow up, but it didn’t seem to be happening. When she was willing to give him only half of her heart, the other half was available to someone new. And sure enough, someone new showed up, reached out and now has two boyfriends.
Kelly is going a little crazy, but she’s not depressed like Linda. In fact, she’s happy with the increased attention, something she’s never had before. She is also having a unique opportunity to compare how the two treat her. And you are more likely to be successful in a new relationship because you are entering it from a position of strength.
No doubt many of you are yelling, “That’s terrible! She’s playing them in two beats! You can’t forgive that!”
I have two things to say in response:
1. First, much depends on the nature of the various relationships, the agreements that have been made between the partners, and individual beliefs. For example, Kelly told her boyfriend that things were not going well between them and that she would be open to other relationships if they showed up. Therefore, he was not breaking trust. Also, she is not (yet) having sex with the new friend, so she doesn’t have to go against her own inhibitions of having sex with more than one person.
2. Second, it is important to keep your own beliefs in perspective. For example, I believe that “emotional stability” is of great value. While I rate it below “honesty” in my own prioritization of values, it is above “adherence to social norms.” So if your social norms say “date only one person at a time” and that conflicts with your “emotional stability,” I suggest dropping the social norm. Of course, if adherence to social norms is a higher value to you than emotional stability, then you must follow social norms and accept that depression is a possible, even probable, outcome.
Another way to express the First Law of Wingwalking is “Two is better than none”. While this is obvious in the case of wingwalking, social conventions make it not so obvious (but equally valid) in the field of love relationships.
Why does our culture establish rules that conflict with our emotional well-being? In this case, I suspect that the rules were set by immature people trying to protect themselves by making others feel guilty. This is something immature people love to do.
My suggestions are:
(1) “Don’t let others think for you” and
(2) “Don’t fall off the wing!”