St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/06/2011 : 2:44 PM
...how relationships are like riding two up
This past summer I was on a trip with two friends both male and we each were riding a BMW motorcycle. The last evening before the trip ended and we went back to our ordinary lives we had ridden late into the evening. As we soaked in the hot tub and it was lovely after a long day's ride, I thought I could've stayed there until we all went to bed. Then the younger one asked, What about dinner? None of us could decide what we wanted to do order pizza in or go to the local McDonalds that was still open. I didn't want to ride even a mile farther I was that tired. You could ride behind me, the older of the two suggested.
And that was a dilemma for me. I ride alone. I very rarely ride pillion especially since I rode behind David. I used to get free tickets to see the Academy Award nominated movies down at the Academy of Motion Pictures itself. It was really very cool to watch movies there it was a splendid theater, the crowd was all industry people and they always announced prior to the film "The feature you will see tonight has been nominated in the following categories..." Yes, it was a fun thing to do. Since I could bring a guest, I often did.
This time it was David who had a little crush on me. He insisted on meeting me at the apartment instead of the theater and when I went to get on my bike, he said why not ride behind him? He was, he assured me, quite used to carrying passengers. I took his word for it, got on the back and a mile later knew whatever else he was used to doing it was not carrying a passenger. With fear and trepidation, I not only braced myself to avoid the boob jams he was attempting and the too rapid acceleration that practically threw me off the back of his Ninja. A "boob jam" is stopping fast and short so the passenger is thrown against the operators back. It's the motorcyclist's way of copping a feel, I suppose.
We went up the hills through Encino towards Muholland Drive as the sun was beginning to set. Calneva, I had told him, curved left, then curved right at the top and ended in a t-intersection but we have no stop sign he needed to turn left at the top. David approached the corner very slowly about 10 mph and as he leaned over I could hear that distinctive silicone crunch and knew before it happened what would happen. The bike slid out from beneath us. David tried to catch it and failed but just scraped his knee he never even fell down. Me well, I was tossed off the back and my head hit the curb right above and a little behind my right ear. Bam. I blacked out, came to, blacked out again and came to. There were three results: my modular helmet was no good anymore, I had a concussion and a fervent desire to avoid riding pillion again. And I rarely have since then.
But that night, I really trusted the older of my two friends even though he hadn't carried a pillion in years. I agreed to ride behind him to McDonalds and it was wonderful. The younger friend then asked me to ride behind him on the way back and he showed off what his more sporty BMW could do. I was a little more nervous riding behind him but he didn't drop me on my head so all was well. While both were safe riders, I still prefer to ride in front on my own motorcycle. Alone. But that's the reality whether one is the operator or the passenger: Ultimately, one is always alone on a motorcycle even if they ride in a group, even if they carry a passenger. Unless there's helmet to helmet communication, it's hard to communicate on a motorcycle even when it's stopped. Even when it's stalled out. There ends up being a lot of shouting and misunderstanding, repetitions and very often the operator ends up doing whatever he wants anyhow.
Otoh, iirc, Gold Wing owners refer to passengers as co-riders with or without helmet to helmet communications. I suppose motorcycling could be a metaphor of a relationship: two people united in love, heading out together on the road of life, sharing the joy and the difficulties, accepting and facing the risks that are the inevitable part of life and of love and of marriage. If a relationship is a Gold Wing, then, both are co-riders: equal partners sharing decisions equally, communicating freely about the direction and goals of the ride, traveling together through life finding freedom together. A relationship based on being co-riders would be a nice way to ride through life.
But as nice as that image of the passenger as co rider that's not how it works on a motorcycle. On a bike even a Gold Wing all positive control comes from the one whose hands are on the grips. The operator determines speed, lean, and direction, destination. There's not anything, really, the passenger can do about those choices or the skill with which they are executed. Unless there's communication. Unless the passenger can give input and the operator is willing to adjust his course based upon it. Otherwise, the passenger is pretty much warm baggage and that's the best case scenario. Maybe that's why so many women refuse to ride on the back. And one of the reasons men dislike to ride behind other men.
It strikes me that some and let me stress I'm not talking about all relationships are exactly like motorcycling: one of the two takes control overtly or covertly even if there's lip service paid to co-rider/equal partners. One way or another, it's one that makes the decisions, sets the direction and so forth. Everything ends up revolving around what that person wants and needs. It may be temporary as in the case of an illness or a personal struggle one has or it may be just the way things are. And that might be just fine for both parties: there are those who like to go through life as a passenger and those who like to go through life being the one in control. Though, of course, in the normal course of things, even in co-rider relationships when they simply can't agree one of the two has to make the final decision. And that's a good way to do it. But when one of the two dominates the other, love eventually turns to indifference and respect to disdain and the two drift farther and farther apart.
I've seen a lot of two up riders out on the road and the motorcycle give that distinctive wobble as the woman squirms. Iow, exerting negative control shifting about excessively, leaning the wrong way, shouting to be heard, pushing or punching the operator, distracting the rider though, I must say, it's fun to let my hands slip lower than the man's waist and help his piston fire. My peccadillo notwithstanding, negative passenger control can be deadly. I heard a story about a woman who leaned over to get something out of the saddlebags just as her husband leaned the other way into a curve. Forces thus negated, the bike drove either straight into the cliff or off the cliff. I can't remember which one but I do remember this: they both died as a result.
Negative control maybe that's another name for the high maintenance, pain in the ass behavior men complain women do all the time. But being a PITA is not the only kind of negative control that both men and women can exert in a relationship. Some do it hot: stomping about the house or slamming doors my sister was a pro at that; denigrating the other before friends and family even professional acquaintances; yelling; accusing; destroying the other's possessions; physical violence; verbal or emotional abuse; threatening to take the children away; just plain being mean or even cruel; dramatic gestures like fainting or hurting themselves. We all know someone who goes hot at times. Some do it cold: emotionally distancing themselves; refusing to engage; staying away from home; not doing what they said they'd do; sending mixed messages; refusing to give physical affection, withholding sex. And sometimes when one goes hot and wrests control, the only choice the other has is to go cold and the hotter the one grows, the colder the other. And sometimes it's in reverse: one goes cold to control and it forces the other to go hot. The relationship wobbles back and forth down the road out of control headed for an eventual crash.
Which, for some reason brings to mind this video clip from a Love Ride I once saw: A rider in the pack was riding down the 5 on his Harley with his very heavyset woman behind him when she leaned over a little bit and she fell right off the bike. Plop! She was down and out but he rode on. He didn't even notice she was gone. And sometimes the passenger in the marriage falls out of love, out of respect - opts out - and the other doesn't even notice until the passenger asks for a divorce.
Yes, bad things happen when someone's forced to ride in the passenger seat in a relationship and they don't want to be there. No wonder so many relationships end up crashing: negative control can drive a relationship right offor into the breakup cliff.
Otoh, the other party just doesn't seem to understand that negative control is often a strategy of last resort the only way some men or women have any control at all. In my experience of knowing hundreds and hundreds of couples over decades, negative control is almost inevitable if one of the two dominates the relationship one way or another. It seems that there's no other way to deal with the other. But, just like children acting out, those techniques don't get them what they really want which is to be a co-rider. It sure doesn't make the other person fall back in love with them and it usually drives them farther away.
Then again, there are those who operate by negative control because that's they way they like it - like with Mr. Inappropriate. Negative control sure can terrorize the other into staying together as long as the other can be taken on a guilt trip. Those who use negative control like that bully their partner and then let up just before the other walks out. Then they appear to have changed and promise they've changed. They aren't like that anymore. Can't the other see how they've changed? They want the relationship to work. They'll do anything. Promise anything. They're different now. They've changed.
But they haven't. They never do. Not really. Not for long. I went through that with Mr. Inappropriate. Every time I was going to walk out the door he'd suddenly be sweet and nice and attentive to me. He really wanted to work on our marriage. He did the things around the house that he wouldn't before and want to do things with me. He'd talk the sweet talk. And all that would last until he was sure I'd stay and then he'd revert and become twice as bad as he was before.
The issue is whether people really can change and I believe they can if they want to actually change the behavior for themselves. In reality, it often means that whatever they changed was really for another reason: I know people who gave up drinking or smoking to keep a loved one or a job, for example. In those cases, it doesn't usually last because we're not doing it because we own the change accept responsibility for our behavior, realize it's wrong and want to change for our own sake. When we do it for our kids or our significant other or friends/family or employer, the offending behavior tends to comes back and especially when things get a little stressful. And, because they didn't do it for themselves, they're even more secretive and so the betrayal is greater when its discovered. And it's that betrayal that does more destruction to the relationship than the behavior had in the first place. Or, in the words of Homer Simpson, "I guess some people never change. Or they quickly change and quickly change back."
I know other men and women besides Mr. Inappropriate who've done the negative control then the sweetness and light and other men and women who've been tricked by the Oh-but-Ive-changed into staying and staying: first they're cowed and then they're deluded then they're disillusioned and then they finally leave after they've ruined their kid's lives and their lives by trying to save the relationship. Of course, at the time those of us who've been deluded that way never think we're being fooled and being fools. We only see it just before the ultimate crash. Until then, we stay and stay. But, as they say, some people prefer a known misery to an unknown freedom. And some people can't believe they deserve to be happy and to find someone who loves them for who they are. Women, in particular, find it so easy to sacrifice self respect for the facsimile of a marriage. But sometimes, those cowed and deluded do finally get off the bike and find their own ride. Like I did.
To really be co-riders, as my friend Castan says, the key is communication. Too often relationships really are like riding a motorcycle: communication just doesn't happen. It breaks down into shouting, misinterpretations and endless repetitions that mean no more the third or twentieth or hundredth time you hear it than it did the first. Stomping, or slamming doors or sobbing hoping that the other will ask what's wrong is negative control. Saying cruel, curt or ambiguous statements that can't help but mislead is negative control. Communication isn't happening. And lack of communication will lead the couple over the cliff just as fast as that poor couple where the man leaned right and the woman leaned left. I don't know if Castan would agree, but my guess is that lack of true communication is at the bottom of every relational crash. But then Castan and I often have difficulty communicating ourselves - though invariably he's got excellent points I eventually get.
The truth is sometimes relationships shouldn't be saved. Sometimes it's God's mercy and will to end them because it's no way to ride a motorcycle if only for the sake of the children. Years after the divorce, my kids still hold one resentment against both their father and I that we didn't divorce sooner. Why, they ask, did we do that to them? For their good, we told them. How could we lay that guilt trip on them, they've said. Did we dislike them or were we just incredibly self-centered? Good intentions mean squat - when kids grow up and see their parents for who they are.
But it's not just the passengers in a relationship that can man-handle the motorcycle. Harleys aren't made to be ridden like sportbikes their tire profile is too square, and the front tire is so skinny it's practically anorexic. Sportbikes have a big, fat rear tire and a pretty hefty front one both are as gently rounded as a breast. In a turn, they roll over as easily as the high school slut. The Sporty, on the other hand, protests at severe angles like a tight ass spinster. In some tight turns, the rear tire will even play sideways hopscotch. At times, it feels as though I'm forcing the bike, manhandling it, around the corners.
Perhaps some people were raised to believe they were the riders and the other in the relationship were the Harleys. That control must be exercised forcefully for the bike to turn at all. If so, they don't understand motorcycles. As experienced riders know, most turns only require a glance in the correct direction a gentle push on the handgrip and the bike automatically begins to lean at the right angle. It's as if cybornetic wetware links us to the bike. Think it, and it is so. Force is rarely required and usually only when I have made a prior mistake.
The truth is I cannot do what the bike cannot do I'll crash. A Harley will always be a Harley and never be a Honda VFR or Ducati Monster. Then again, those bikes will never be a Harley when it comes to laid back highway cruising. Occasionally, it's hard work to balance what I want with what the bike is capable of doing.
But if I am one with the bike, yield to the bike and the bike yields to me. That's what partnership is shared control. It occurs to me that front or pillion aren't the only options you can travel with another, each one riding their own ride. Truly co-riders-each on their own motorcycle sharing the same journey. Each taking responsibility for their own ride and how that ride affects the other. Sometimes one takes the lead, sometimes the other. Sometimes riding side by side. Sharing the ride together without controlling the other.
That's motorcycling at its best when it comes to relationships because we all want to love and be loved in return. Those of us who are riders don't want to be owned and will rebel hot or cold. And we don't want to take the back seat in anyone's life. It strikes me that we need to change the metaphors, that's all. Not co-riders in the Gold Wing rider sense but riding side by side. We need to learn to ride with one another and stop riding one another. Like I said, I ride alone unless I happen to find a man who understands motorcycles.