Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bird Feeders Are Like Relationships?

Well, now I've heard everything. This article by Benna Sherman of The Capitol Gazette could make for an interesting conversation piece with customers as she compares finding a bird feeder to finding a mate...I would refrain from referring to your spouse as a suet feeder:

When I first wanted to feed the birds in my yard, I asked a more bird-experienced associate for guidance on what bird feeder to buy. When she met me at the store, she started to ask me questions about what I wanted in a bird feeder. I started to enumerate what I wanted, based on the preparatory reading I'd been doing.

I told her that I wanted it to have perches for the perching birds, as well as a platform for the birds that preferred to stand on a solid base. I wanted it to attract the big birds and the small birds, those that fed standing upright and those that fed hanging upside down. I wanted it to serve sunflower seeds, thistle and suet to cover different birds and different nourishment needs. I wanted it to swing free for those birds that liked movement, and be stationary for those who needed the security of something immovable.

At first she'd listened carefully, working to imagine a bird feeder that would meet my requirements. After awhile I noticed a sort of open-mouthed disbelief, which was followed by outright laughter. I stopped and asked her what was so funny.

"You're crazy. There is no single bird feeder in the world that could do everything that you want this one to do. Some of your requirements are mutually exclusive. If you want to do all these things, you need several different feeders. Some of these features could be combined in one feeder, but not all. If you're going to have only one feeder, pick the features that are most important to you and not mutually incompatible with each other. If you need other features, add additional feeders."

I'd been really excited to buy the feeder. But as I wandered the aisles of the store, I saw that there were different kinds of feeders for different purposes; some combined features that I'd been looking for, but none tried to be a feeder for all birds and all birds' needs. How could I possibly choose the right feeder?!

I thought back to what she'd said - "add additional feeders." I finally got it - one feeder couldn't and, more importantly, didn't have to do it all.

In a marriage, we often think of our partners as the one person who is going to meet all of our needs. It's really no more realistic for partners than for bird feeders. No, this isn't a call for polygamy or infidelity. It is, in fact, a call for the idea that you shouldn't be expecting any one person to be every person you need in your life.

You might want to marry the person you feel is the best partner for getting things done; or the person you feel the safest with; or the person you feel is the most fun or the most socially adept; or the person who is most like the people in your family or who most shares the values with which you were raised. All of these criteria are legitimate, but they may not all be found in the same person. This is especially true when we expand the criteria to include the person who shares your taste in books or movies, who enjoys the same museums or mud wrestling that you do, who likes the Dolphins but boos the Patriots. The more criteria you add, the tougher it is to find it all in one person.

So maybe you choose to marry the person who's the best working-together partner. Does that mean that you have to give up the mud wrestling or the Patriots just because that partner is an art museum and Dolphins fan? An alternative is to find other same-sex, nonromantic relationships to meet those needs. If you want to read and discuss historical fiction and your partner thinks books are mostly to be used as paperweights, find or create a book club. If you want to watch chick flicks and your partner thinks that "Fight Club" is romantic, find a friend with whom to watch chick flicks. If you prefer shoot'em-ups and your partner likes Swedish-with-subtitles, encourage your partner, too, to develop connections with people who share those tastes - a colleague from work, a neighbor down the street, a cousin, whatever.

The point is that no one person can do and be everything for and to you.

I ended up with three bird feeders and two suet cages in my back yard. I also have a husband and a collection of women friends with whom I share additional and diverse interests. Although these people all tend to have some qualities in common, they all also have their divergent interests and personalities.

My husband is unquestionably my main partner, a role he fulfills remarkably well. And he's grateful that I don't require that he also be my shoe-shopping, jewelry-lusting, beach-going buddy. My life is enriched by having more than one person to connect with and to be supported by. That's what friends are for.

Dr. Benna Sherman is a licensed psychologist in private practice and her Web site can be found at www.DrBennaSherman.com

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