I am a Paladin

I saw a thread on twitter earlier about how guys should strive to be husbands and so and so forth and while I don’t care too much about dating discourse I have spent a lot of time, sometime I think too much time, on the nature of relationships in particular my role in whatever arrangement I end up subscribing to in the future.

I don’t particularly like the conventional gender binary and traditional role of the man in the relationship, although that is mostly because I don’t like dogma and tradition more than the role of the “man” itself. I get the sexual dysmorphism frame, I get the division of labour frame, but also I think those things should not be as rigid as the default is and I want to be able to negotiate this dynamic, even if we end up doing things exactly like what the tradition says. But it did get me thinking about if given the chance, what is the dynamic I would like to have? What is the kind of relationship that I’m looking for? In particular for this ramble is, what do I have to offer to a partner in a relationship?

This is… kinda hard for me to answer. I’ve been mulling over this from the moment I hit puberty and I think it’s hard to say for certain due to the nature of who I am, who I want to be as an individual, and my approach to relationships in general. I think a committed relationship (romantic or otherwise) is about creating a shared project greater than the individual. A marriage is not just a vow, nor is it just a way to make your sex halal, nor is it just about the melding of two families, nor is it a lot of the things we associate marriage with, but it is about two (and I guess more if you’re doing poly but I don’t think I have a poly bone in my body) people forging a bond and choosing to create something new that can’t be made individually.

Now here’s the crux of the issue and the reason I wanted to write something. I don’t really know what to offer in the relationship because I don’t know what that new thing we’re gonna create is yet. This probably doesn’t make sense for most people and I have a lot of annoying voices telling me how this is Bad actually and that I’m a bad person for not being able to describe who I am and no one will want to marry me because I’m unable to man up and provide and yada yada yada now that the voices is out of the way I can say what I want.

When I think about projects, especially long term collaborative projects, I think first not about what I’m currently capable of, but about what the goal of the project is. This is useful from a project management side of thing because it gives me not only things to do, but also things to learn. As the longest term collaborative project I’m going to be alive for, I don’t know what the goal of marriage is without the other person who is involved in this, and I really don’t want to define it alone. I think when people talk about compromises in relationships, what they mean is that they have an ideal of what the relationship looks like, what the goal of the project is, and then having to cope with the fact of the reality and therefore bend that ideal of theirs according to what is possible. I don’t have an ideal. I don’t want to have an ideal, not without discussing it with my wife. I have things in my life that I care about and values that I uphold, but those values are very big and idiosyncratic and can manifest in the ideals of the relationship in a myriad of ways!

What are those values? Y’know, larger than life north star god universal values like being honest to yourself and to others, cultivating curiosity and taste about the world, practicing humor and enjoying life in all it’s many folds, revering the sacred without deifying them, striving to find balance in the world through action. Those kind of stuff, my values, as an individual. Do I have values that are less personal and more communal than that? Ehh… kinda? I guess? They derive heavily from those personal values and get mixed heavily with both the physical and mental landscape of those around me, like good friends are those who you can bare your soul and be truthful with, intergenerational interaction is a net good for society, nuclear power is necessary for us to achieve the energy requirement of our modern life in a more sustainable way, primary education should be about the needs of the child, trains are good, and everyone should have free/cheap space within walking distance that they can exercise or do events at. Once again, not an ideal about what a marriage looks like.

A lot of it probably derive from the marriage of the adults around me since I was a child. I was incredibly blessed with the chance to see many different type of healthy relationships. Sure there was a lot of those conventional “husband breadwinner wife stay-at-home” relationships, that was neither the only form of marriage around me nor was it as clear cut as the memetic cultural norms seems to imply. There are a lot of nuances about what the relationship looks like that is shaped extremely by each other’s conditions.

And so I don’t get modern dating. Actually scratch that I don’t get a lot of the ways people think about relationships in general. I don’t get how a lot of people seems to have this ideal of what a relationship should be instead of finding someone with values that align with yours, and then build the goals of the relationship within the unique intersection of each constituent parts? Actually I do get it I think, most people are too socialized to see the values that they hold and therefore think that the ideals are their values and therefore tries to find someone who aligns with their ideals and therefore their goals for the relationship. Which, y’know, fair enough.

The actual thing I wanna talk about!!

But this gets important for me I think because I do think that having an ideal is important! I think a hallmark of a good project is having a clear vision and goal, because those vision and goal help describe the constraints of the project, and constraints are necessary to talk about the logistics and actual day to day happening of the project. Another word to describe this is that having an ideal of what the largest project in my life wants to be like will determine basically the things I want to prioritize in this beautiful yet limited time we have now. I’ve given myself the least constricting ideals for my own personal life, to a certain degree because I think those values are good, but also because I want to be able to freely define the constraints and priorities of what my life will unfold into with the people who I build relationships with.

I’m going to leave more of the social commentary for another day, but what ends up happening to me right now is that I’m somewhat of a lost man. Sure I have my values, and I’m taking strides in my life with those as my guiding principles, but man do I wish I had a much clearer goal to work towards. This is somewhat of another excess optionality moment for me, and while I’m less lost as I used to be back when I stated that 2022 was the years of Collapsing Optionality, I do still have way more than the optimal amount. I could, of course, cash in this optionality of value with a more tangible form of optionality like money or power or something along the line, which I’m planning on doing, but not more than I need to in order to find that ideal.

The way I think about it is with this metaphor. I am fundamentally a Paladin. A person whose power is based off their oath towards an ideal. This could be a god, a belief, a master, or a value, or whatever it is they choose to form the oath with. I’ve prepared myself and trained myself the very fundamental of a Paladin. A clear heart, a firm hold, a faithful eye. But not yet skilled in anything else, because the skill that gets learned depends on the ideals of the oath I hold. Why? Because the Paladin’s role is not to protect and fight the enemies of the ideals. It’s to uphold those ideals in the best of it’s capabilities, whatever that means for the context. There is little use for a sharp sword in a world of commerce and wit, there is little use for riches in a starving land.

I am a paladin without an oath. What I offer is loyalty and faith towards the shared ideals we create together. Would you like to work on our longest collaborative project together with me?

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