April 15th, 2018
Hopefully it’s not just me who's had this train of thoughts: You meet somebody of the gender you’re generally attracted to, and you have a quick thought of “Am I interested in this person?” Now, you just met them, so you’re not working with much, but it’s just something that happens every so often. You start talking to them, getting to know their personality, and such, and perhaps your initial opinion changes. Perhaps you learn that they’re interested in the same things, and so again you ask yourself “Am I interested in this person? Could I see myself with them at all?” I’d like to take these quick thoughts and use it as the beginning of three relationship stages: The “Could I” stage, the “Can I” stage, and the “Will I” stage.
Could I. “Could I?” is completely hypothetical, and absolutely judgemental. I like to use the phrase “We have to start somewhere” to justify it, but it really shouldn’t need justification. It’s just instinct. Its full manifestation is most commonly in the forms of “Could I like this person? Could I admit to somebody (or myself, or even this person) that I like this person? Could I see myself being intimate with this person? “Could I see myself saying ‘I love you’ to them?” It’s completely noncommittal, and that’s what makes it key to the “Could I” stage.
Friendships live here. For some friends this thought may never cross your mind, while for other friends you might ask yourself every time you talk to them.
For example, you’re introduced to someone’s friend.at first you think they’re cute or handsome, and so you ask yourself “could I like this person?”, and you say yes, of course. But after talking to them for a bit you realize that they’re an insufferable moron and so you ask yourself again and now the answer is no. Likewise, you’re introduced to someone who is not attractive to you, and so your initial answer is no, but as you get to talk to them your realize that you two have a lot in common and get along well together, so your opinion of them changes and so does your answer to “could I like this person? Could I see myself in a relationship with them? Could I see myself saying ‘I love you’ to them, perhaps?” That last one is a bit of a stretch, but I hope I’m not the only one that imagines a lifetime with someone after knowing them for two seconds. Or no seconds, if you’ve never talked to them.
Can I. “Can I?” is something that is asked almost constantly in an active romantic relationship. Its full manifestation is most commonly in the forms of “Can I commit to this person? Can I overlook this flaw, difference, or conviction? Can I continue to look past these? Can I tell this person “I love you” despite their shortcomings? Can I continue to see myself with them?” “Can I see myself with this person for the next 60 years?”
For example, You did your go/no go on the “Could I” with a girl, and she’s done the same with you, and now you’re in a relationship. A week in, you’re talking about animals, and she mentions that she despises cats. Like, doesn’t even like seeing their pictures on facebook, which makes you instinctively close your facebook tab, because you love cats. Like, “I would love to retire with 60 cats” level of love. So now you have to do a good ole’ Can I: “Can I tell this girl I love here, even though I love cats and she hates cats? Can I continue a relationship with this girl even though I really want 30 cats when I’m older, and she wants... not 30 cats?” These types of questions are “Could I” questions, because if the answer is ever no you’ll have to then ask yourself how important the difference at hand is to you. It’s an active, committed thought. It’s something that you’re constantly asking yourself in a relationship, because it’s a “make or break” question.
Will I. “Will I” is the question that you have to ask yourself only after a decent amount of time in a relationship. “will I” is when you ask yourself “Will I commit to this? Will I commit to all of these perceived shortcomings, all of the things we disagree on? Will I commit to saying ‘I love you’ for the next 60-some-odd years? Will I commit to him/her?” Will I is a decision that demands an action. If you ask yourself “will I”, and you answer yes, then at that point you should probably propose. If you ask yourself “will I” and you answer no, then you probably need to end the relationship. Most of the time, however, the answer will be “I don’t know” or “Insufficient data for meaningful answer.” And that’s okay.
Will I is not a hypothetical, like “Could I”, nor is it a constant affirmation of the possible permanence of a relationship, as “Can I” is. “Will I” is a question that is asked a few dozen times and answered once. It is definitive, final, a commitment.
“Will I” is permanent. Except when it’s not. Divorce is obviously a thing that happens, but hopefully both of you would have asked “Can I” enough before answering “Will I” that you know exactly what you’re committing to. “Will I” shouldn’t have to be rescinded because one or both of you didn’t ask “Can I” enough, or didn’t ask “Can I” about the right subjects.
As a visual exercise, I’d like to think about the progression of a relationship in the context of “Can I” and “Will I” as what starts off as a blank sheet of paper. As you go through this relationship, you start to ask those “Can I” questions, and with each answer, you draw a few lines on the paper and fill it in with a colour: Green for “I can”, yellow for “eh”, and red for “I cannot”. The size of the area that you fill in reflects how important that particular answer is for you: a large section might represent their religious views, while a tiny section might reflect where they put bowls in the dishwasher (they go on the top, obviously). If a tiny section is red, you can probably get past that, but the larger a section that isn’t green is, the more you should think about what your answer to “Will I” might be.
As the paper gets more and more filled in, you start to see the bigger picture. Once a large portion is full, you can start to consider asking yourself “Will I?”