Gate Theory of Personal Relationships

What a long way to walk to find there’s a gate blocking my way. Inglorious in means and forgive me for not seeing it coming from you. Forgive me, too, for stopping your own passage.

My friend, when I entered a relationship with you, our pairing created a new path for me to walk. That was exciting– an adventure I wouldn’t have had without you. Even though we’d bonded, the path was just for me. I walked it alone. You walked yours by yourself as well.

It sounds odd when I say as a blanket statement, “A friendship creates two solitary paths.” How is that possible, and why the solitary point of view? Aren’t we in this together? Bonded by handshakes or hugs; inseparable, and proven by years of loyalty?

There is one self, always. We are individuals– before, during and after we are friends. Our respective spaces must be for just one. Even though pairings have extra power, they never remove a person from self-regulation and autonomy.

The one-self-always concept is evident even at the mother/infant level. While the child may be dependent for many needs, he cries on his own inclination. His satisfaction comes from inputs processed by his nervous system and brain. How do his skin’s sensations feel to him? Are they tingly, tight, itchy or just right? Does anything on his insides cause him discomfort? Only he knows, because the sum of sensory factors affects him alone.

Independence is also voluntary, going beyond instinct and reaction. The youngster holds his breath, as an experiment, or to be provocative, despite being told not to do so. He responds differently to identical instructions and more often than not, his individualism increases over time.

If the one-self concept is true, then a human pairing is linking, not merging. Think of it this way: Becoming friends is a personal decision made by two. You do not decide that we will be friends. And I, and you, will always retain our right stop it, as sad as that sounds.

We also retain the right to reach out again.

In the moments before our friendship began, there was nothing that was you and me. Our bond started as nothing, we both had a massive blank wall in front of us, a wall that was impenetrable with just our individual tools. When we two became a thing, our friendship created instant openings in front of us. Your wall and my wall were modified with entrances and in fact each of your personal relationships hollows out an entirely new full-length alley in front of you. Time spent with each pal allows deeper progress along these passages and keeps you moving– so long as you remain friends.

This description can get tricky so let me speak from my side of things. I’m walking down many alleys, concurrent and at varying points of distance, and each passage has been enabled by a given personal connection. They’re my friend, or my mate, my special friend, my cousin, my brother. That would make Alleys 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The numbers can range into the hundreds, for some people. I’m walking each corridor, simultaneously. If you are one of those people in my life, I’m in the alley you have opened for me.

As are you, over on your side of things. We talk, you walk, and our relationship marks your progression.

Now let me tell you of my passages. Alleys are for one person and yet if I describe them, you can acquaint yourself with the experience of mine.

Picture these, as my friend.

First of all, thanks to knowing you, I’m happy to be able to walk into new territory. Sure it’s maroon-colored brick, but look what you’ve done with it, as we step inside. You can see that the alley’s not dark at all. Your attention to me has illuminated this place, better than the sun or lightbulbs could ever do. Is my description an exaggeration, flippant, for a lazy compliment to you? Because what light could be better than the sun? What light could possibly be better than what we know?

Let me tell you. Your light moves; it varies in color and intensity depending on what you see I’m looking at and how you gauge my mood. By manipulating the light, you’ve made it easier on me, killing shadows and all they hide. Your light has a way of toning down the harshness of hard truth and smooths out the edges of the facts I must face.

You hide nothing. I’m still seeing the truth with your light. I’m seeing it in a custodial way, where the facts’ impact on me is being managed by a kind heart. Because you’re somewhere out there, for me, in here.

That’s just the start of my alleyway, created by our friendship.

What you say to me is written on the walls on the left and right– the innermost thoughts you’ve shared are for me to re-read at any time. And I do, often. I walk back and forth, up and down this corridor to go over your jokes and your wisdom and your thoughts on why things are. Since this is my place, there’s no risk of others’ eyes getting ahold of what you’ve chosen to express.

What we’ve experienced in our shared lives warms me in here. Remember all the times we ran around town, having laughs and taking in the sights? How about the times you told me of your discoveries and couldn’t wait to see my reaction? You’ve brought new music and right here, right now it’s being played at the perfect volume for my mood. There are no speakers or radio in my alley but the music is here. All I have to do is be present and I’ll be satisfied.

Do you hear that? We were sixteen and you brought an exciting new guitar player to my ears– a player who would live a short life and yet would inspire generations to come. You found him before most. He gave his perfect music to the world and you gave him to me.

Listen, that’s you.

Here’s a narrow table to the left. On it are the foods you’ve introduced, like that day in Somerville when you told me to get the capicola sub with hots and extra onion and provolone and olive oil. You said, “Tell him to make it the way he likes it and he will use the freshest bread for you.” That sandwich always keeps me fed.

I’m walking further along and I can talk to you, any time of the day or night.

I have your favorite chair in here and all I have to ask is, “Want to talk?” and an impression of you appears in seconds. I lean against the wall and say: “Did I do the right thing?” When I’d done that thing. We go over the basics and your words form into something I can absorb, like how the fresh Italian bread takes in the precious oil.

And there’s more, because our experiences are ongoing.

This part of the alley up ahead has soft lights, colored green and purple. What’s the reason for the mood? I’ve come to find out these faint hues at this time of day help slow down my world. You read me, you have the gels set and I walk right into it. You sit me down and put a drink in my hand. See where my mind goes? It’s thanks to you!

We go on a road trip and I keep walking. I hear echoes, we’re playing pinball at some dive and you are hitting all the table’s sweet spots. Your quarter is lasting forever and a hard knock within the machine awards you a free play. A small group of townies has formed behind us and you shout words of encouragement to yourself. I walk deeper into this corridor that echoes with the celebration of a million points and seven strangers, affected by one deft swipe of your hand.

That is the greatness an alley can bring.

The alley experience is complex. And then, some relationships end. You drop your gate in my alley and as far as you’re concerned, it’s over.

For whatever reason, you’ve decided the friendship’s no more. It had run its course, or we had grown apart, or I’d betrayed you, disappointed you, perhaps done you wrong. Maybe you wanted to trade up. Find someone smarter, with more education, more money, a more desirable address. Maybe I’d stopped being what you needed me to be. It happens and it hurts.

The gate keeps me from moving forward here, but it does not close the entrance.

The gate blocks what’s up ahead, which if I stare hard enough looks to be a long darkened pathway. Past the gate are empty walls– no sounds, no aromas, just a closed opportunity of what we were going to be. I can only suppose the blankness goes on forever, since I can’t actually see much past these bars.

Sometimes your gate dropping is due to your own limitation, and not mine. You had given all you have, and are done. You’ve coasted to a stop. You don’t want to go anywhere new. Or maybe someone better than me came along. Or you decided after all that you don’t want children, don’t want to get married. BAM! There’s the gate. And here I am, sometimes miles down this way, feeling– just what am I feeling right now?

You? Have stopped us?

You? After we’d come all this way?

Is there anything I can do about it? Talk it out, as we’ve done? No.

If I’d known at the beginning of our walk that one day you’d give up, would I have chosen to have gone all this way with you?

Do you know that at the time you opened this alleyway, there were others wanting to do that for me as well? How far along are they now, with someone else? How deep have they gone, what kind of joy is happening inside their unbroachable space, that I can’t see?

How many years have I spent with you? I can never get that time back! If our alley is no longer an ongoing thing, created by you, just for me, then how can I stay in here another minute?

And sometimes it can be me that calls it quits. I can place a gate in your way too. I can close off your path, if I’ve decided we’re over. I think:

If I’d have known you were not going to honor your vow, I would not have married you.

If I had known you were an abuser, I would not have given you so many years of my life.

You’re sabotaging me. You might not even know it. I’ve swallowed it back for years– no more.

I can do better than to be with you.

I am sure there are people with many gated corridors. To them I say: You are not a failure. You are not a poor friend. A question to ask is, how’s the content of your gated passages? Are they well-decorated with conversation, do they echo with laughter, are they filled with scents of candles burned on your behalf? I say, don’t focus so much on the gate. It is but one space. You were a great friend for each bit of cherish your ex gave you.

You earned every inch of that space.

I also say, look to your alleys that are working. In fact, you should spend more of your time there, and let that particular companion know how much you appreciate him or her. Look to create new alleys, for someone new. There is no maximum limit, no diminishment with quantity. You may find that more alleys are actually healthier for the overall reduction of gates.

There are people who face a mostly-solid wall in front of them, their entire lives. That’s right, few to no alleys. Some may call them lonely people. They didn’t make the connections, didn’t know how to go about the whole personal relationship thing, or were simply content with a life on their own. I’ve thought a lot about this. It is very difficult to find someone with whom to make a personal connection. Someone with your best interests at heart, that’s the qualifier that has left many without.

Some alley-less people have had disastrous cave-ins from childhood, and have taken quite some effort to seal up those passages. They are not going to let that happen again.

The alley-less by choice don’t want to get stuck in there. No thank you. They don’t want to be down any tight path involving anyone. I’m open to talking to them. I respect them. The best I can do is to make myself available. I’m here if you need me. You can always hang a drapery over your entrance, if you don’t want to acknowledge someone cares about you.

Friends don’t give up easily. I’ve had a gate dropped and instead of cutting my losses and turning back, I stayed there for awhile. I called to you. I waited to see if you saw your way past what had caused our rift. Sometimes I try to think of ways around our problem. I think: The gate does not have to stay closed. I think: You dropped the gate to protect me. Or to protect yourself.

Sometimes a gate is dropped and I’m okay with it. Our friendship had its day and was over. Other times I think, my friend’s made a mistake and I can solve this for us. I can do something where this gate could transform into something I could work with. I could somehow make my body smaller and glide through openings that required me to change. Or I could speak through it, and perhaps find out it’s not a gate at all, but a microphone that only my friend could hear. And then we’d rejoin, a little wiser perhaps.

A gate can be dealt with. The person who dropped it must be the one who lifts it. This is the stuff of friendship repair.

Is there a single best way to deal with the gate? One guess is to measure how far I’d walked with your presence with me. No matter how much I loved what you’d done with my alley, the fact is you weren’t satisfied with what I’d done with yours. If I walked away from the gate without giving you a protest, please forgive me; it’s because I didn’t think I could do any particular good right now. It’s my alley and I can come back to your artificial end of it, any time I wish, and give it a shake.

I’ve found it’s ok to park at the gate. Just sit and wait, right here. Bring my own light, if you’ve shut yours off. I can stop at this artificial end and just be present for awhile. And not say, “Screw it.” Not say “Screw her,” or “Screw him.” Just, sit and wait. Because the friendship was that grand. And deep down, you’d know I was here. As you knew me.

The measure of a great friendship is not just how well adorned your alley looks. I like to think it’s more about how well did you furnish your friend’s passage.

CAPTION: This low-resolution photo inspired the concept of Gate Theory and I quickly scribbled the first ideas on a Post It note and stuck it to the computer screen to ponder. The photo of this conglomeration became the picture for the finished story.

About Ara Hagopian's The LITERATE Show

For over thirty years, I have enjoyed drawing beautiful shapes and writing complementary stories. The imagery tends to focus on our place in the world—whomever or whatever we may be. I am influenced by Twentieth Century history—I read vintage magazines, books and letters. Inspiration comes from visualizing human achievement and personal interaction—derived from people, places and things which may be obscure, but never insignificant. My pen-and-ink THE MAGNIFICENT RECOVERY was selected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for their 2008 summer art auction.
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4 Responses to Gate Theory of Personal Relationships

  1. Clive Donald Watts. says:

    A wonderful piece. Excellent and beautifully explained. One of your best pieces Ara.

    • Thank you Clive. Oh gosh how did I get this all out in a cogent thought. I worked on this one for three weeks, it’s very difficult to keep the thoughts together when there’s no set time to write. It has to be shaped just right. I’m happy with it.

      Last month I lost five hours of a draft I’d been working on, this was for an as-yet unpublished piece. The WordPress autosave feature was malfunctioning and I didn’t realize it until too late. I had finalized a very difficult conceptual piece, more complex than Gate Theory, and it has set me back. It’s like losing a painting in a fire, and then feeling the need to make that picture again. For Gate Theory, auto-save malfunctioned again, but this time I saw it was hung up and was able to save the work another way. Thank you for reading! -Ara

  2. spesch0831 says:

    Excellent analogy of a concept often verbally discussed during relationships and friendships as they ebb and flow — yet left to each drawing their own conclusions. With the Gate Theory it becomes far clearer.

    • Thank you- this one took a lot to work out. It started with the simple street photo. I scribbled the idea, which survived basically intact to the final draft: “If I’d known at the beginning that one day you’d give up, would I have chosen to have gone all this way with you?”

      Being in a new apartment now without the physical presence of my lifelong friends, makes me more aware of companionship, and needs. It makes it easy to transform the ideas to writing, which means that despite missing my pals, decent product is being produced. At least, the ideas are captured in the way I present things. Thank you for reading! -Ara

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