An Improbable Tale Of Alien Romance
This short story was my 2005 birthday gift to a friend. In 2008, mediate.com made an exception to its nonfiction content rules to publish it. In 2013, I added it to my first website, conflictcompetence.com, which became this URL in 2017. Somehow, that 2013 post got lost, so I’m reposting it now.
Chapter One, Looking
There was once a lovely planet with a magenta sky and cinnamon flavored water. Although the planet was small, it was possible to see it in the universe if you were in the right place at the right time and knew where to look. The people on the planet belonged to many different social groups that lived together in communities, getting along with the others as best they could. It happened, on occasion, that someone from one group would develop feelings for someone from another group. That was seen as harmless by all the groups, but was not encouraged.
Such was the situation for two individuals that you might have noticed if you were looking in the right place at the right time. You could have seen BeeLa, a happy female of the Sparkle group, accidentally meeting Nonie, a quiet male of the Tinkle group, through no fault of either of them. Both had long lived contentedly alone, and neither had been actively seeking the complications of a relationship – and most particularly not a permanent relationship outside their own social group.
The first insight they gained was that feelings could guide someone where good sense would counsel one not to go. How we feel directs how we think and act, not the other way around.
So it happened. Nonie made an offer to BeeLa that, at first, she found easy to refuse. She was happy with her solitude as a single Sparkle and, even had she not been, she was not looking to change her life with a Tinkle, charming or otherwise. But charming he indeed was, and the offer he made was intriguing. He offered her only himself and her independence at the same time. Against everyone’s better judgment she accepted the offer just as it was, without any negotiating.
Chapter Two, Cross-Cultural Couplings
You might well ask if there was a reason that Sparkles and Tinkles, or any of the other social groups on the planet for that matter, did not couple with each other. In fact, there was a reason. It was easier to couple with someone of the same social group. This is their second insight: feelings can often take the hardest path possible. The hard path might not lead to happiness, but it certainly has the potential to lead to learning.
Sparkles and Tinkles, like all social groups, have their own cultures, rules and norms of acceptable behavior. No rule or norm was universally true for every culture, for all the time, or for every situation. Cultures, rules and norms are excellent things to have; they make it possible for social groups to function because everyone knows what is acceptable and how to behave. Cultures, rules and norms do everything from establishing the colour that means ‘go’ to determining what is beautiful, what is rude, and what is good to eat. Every part of life is described by culture, a rule, or a norm, whether we know it or not.
Coupling with someone from another social group could get confusing about how things actually worked. The Sparkle culture described certain things as good behavior and correct thinking, and the Tinkle culture described certain things as good behavior and correct thinking. But they were not necessarily the same things. This could be a challenge in couplings between individuals from the different social groups. Figuring out another’s culture, norms and rules required flexibility, perseverance, and a nimble mind.
Chapter Three, Specifics of Sparkles and Tinkles
Specifically, Sparkle culture evolved around personal privacy, and setting boundaries around what was your business and what was my business. No matter how close we might be in kin or friendship, you minded your own business and I minded mine. That was considered the only polite way to be in a relationship among Sparkles. Curiosity required poking into other people’s business. Thus questions, as a general social rule, were considered inappropriate. Loving a Sparkle meant respecting those boundaries of personal space.
Tinkles, in contrast, were curious by nature and got rewarded for asking questions early and often. No question was considered too stupid or intrusive to ask, even of strangers. Tinkles’ boundaries existed, but quite far away from their personal space, leaving plenty of room for inquiry. Also, Tinkles did not have the same number of rules of behavior that Sparkles had; a trait that might make Sparkles view Tinkles’ culture as messy, whereas Tinkles might view Sparkles’ culture as rigid.
Another difference in the two cultures was their verbalization of feelings. Tinkles said what they felt as they were feeling it, such as telling a loved one about that love just because it felt good to a Tinkle to say it. In Tinkle culture, if a male did not tell a female he loved her, it was because he didn’t. Sparkles also had strong emotions, but their norms constrained speaking about feelings. If a Sparkle male loved a female, he expected her to know it until he told her otherwise. Females should not expect emotionally revealing discussions with beloved Sparkle males.
Tinkles were adventurers and Sparkles were homebodies. And so on. Perhaps you can see where this would lead for BeeLa and Nonie?
Chapter Four, BeeLa and Nonie together
BeeLa, as a typical Sparkle, needed a lot of privacy and her personal boundaries were set quite close to her. Nonie proclaimed that he was the perfect male for her. He was much quieter than the usual Tinkle, which suited her need for alone time. Nonie did not seem inclined to profess love as soon as and whenever the thought popped into his heart. If he had, it would have made BeeLa uncomfortable, thinking that he was needy and clinging, two characteristics the reserved Sparkles found very off-putting.
Therefore, BeeLa was prepared to give Nonie a chance to be part of her coupling, which was how these things happened on the lovely small planet with a magenta sky and cinnamon flavored water. Those with whom BeeLa and Nonie associated were concerned, but offered unconditional support if it made the new couple happy to be together. Without that support, they would have felt isolated. That was their third insight; individuals, even in couples, do not function in isolation from their community. No matter how much personal space they require, they also need to belong to a social group.
The coupling went very well at first. Everything that one did was a delight for the other one. Nonie was thrilled to learn that BeeLa liked the same cream, hung her decorations in the same way, and enjoyed the same music as him. BeeLa enjoyed that Nonie did the same sports, knew the same stories, and had the same values as she did.
Then Nonie started behaving like a Tinkle, telling BeeLa he loved her whenever his heart felt it. At first, BeeLa thought that was sweet and replied, “same here.” After a while, it began to feel smothering, as if Nonie were colonizing her. When Nonie said he loved her, her reaction became, “whatever.” Nonie felt rejected, which made him insecure in the relationship, so he did what any Tinkle would do – he tried harder to be more loving so that BeeLa would respond lovingly, which made her withdraw because, to her Sparkle sensibilities, that was cloying.
To counter his fear that he was losing BeeLa’s attention, Nonie asked BeeLa questions to show his interest. At first, BeeLa thought it was sweet and shared her stories. Over time, she felt verbally invaded. The more she retreated, the more he tried to show interest in her.
Chapter Five, Self-Defeating Acts
From being delighted in the things they shared in common, they became strained over the differences in cultures, rules and norms. It looked to be leading to the end of the coupling. Nonie figured BeeLa had the most needs: for space, for rules and for things done her way. All he needed was affection and to occasionally share fun activities.
BeeLa, on the other hand, was pretty happy with the way things were. When Nonie was too intimate, she got irritated until he backed away into his personal feelings of rejection, which fit her expectations of a couple just fine. It was, she reasoned, his problem to deal with any feelings of rejection or neglect that he chose to entertain. The cycle became: Nonie showed his interest, BeeLa reacted with her withdrawal, that led to his feelings of rejection, which renewed her satisfaction that he was now leaving her alone, so she became sweet, and Nonie showed his interest again, thus sparking a repeat of the pattern.
One day, Nonie sat glumly thinking about it, and concluded that, if one of them were to change things, it would have to be him, because BeeLa was most content being coupled with him when he felt rejected enough to leave her alone. So, asking her to not reject him was unlikely to succeed, since that change would work against her being satisfied.
He could not set about changing his way of being in the coupling without help in understanding Sparkles. It was not enough to understand BeeLa because much of her needs and expectations were culturally based. He sought an expert in Sparkle culture who was not a Sparkle, since a Sparkle would just think BeeLa was correct, and judge Nonie as being wrong. That was his fourth insight: being in the culture does not necessarily allow you to see it objectively. The judgment of a different culture is made through the lens of your own culture, and your own culture will feel right to you.
Gadgets were a social group that, like all social groups, had its own culture, rules, and norms of acceptable behavior. Gadgets had a well-developed sense of humor and laughed at almost everything. As a result, they had almost no tragedy in their lives because they did not view life’s setbacks as misfortune. Death, for example, was one of their funniest rites of passage. Thus, they were gifted in their understanding of the foibles of life, romance, and dramas the social groups conjured for themselves. Most comedians on the planet were Gadgets. If you had a problem, a Gadget would put into perspective.
Nonie called a close Gadget friend. Terbah laughed, of course, at Nonie’s seriousness, and said they could meet that afternoon. That was a fifth insight: it helps to have someone who is willing and available to laugh and talk.
Chapter Six; Laugh to Insight
Terbah was brutally, humorously honest as they sat in a garden with containers full of cinnamon and dried plant flavored liquid, enjoying the outdoors.
“Whatever makes you think that the social groups were supposed to understand each other? Gadgets’ best material comes from the innate inability of the groups to figure each other out. If I give you ‘the secret’ to understanding Sparkles or them ‘the secret’ to understanding Tinkles, I lose much of what’s funny in my shtick.”
Nonie did not find this helpful or comforting. “Surely there has to be something that will bridge the communication gap. Isn’t there a compromise possible?” It was a statement more than a question.
“You’re seeing a communication gap, where BeeLa’s seeing too much communication. I encourage you to find an engineer who can build a one-lane bridge that is big enough for vehicles to enter at one end and too small for them to exit at the other end. The big vehicles enter at the big end, while the small vehicles enter at the small end. When they meet in the middle they have to stop. That’s a compromise, and all you’ve got is gridlock in the middle of an impassable bridge.”
“So, am I right in having too many words and emotion going onto the bridge at the big end, or is she right having few words and emotion going onto the bridge at the small end?” Nonie was genuinely confused about who was to blame for the metaphorical gridlock in the non-existent middle of the imaginary ill-designed bridge.
“Trust a Tinkle to simplify this complex issue to an dichotomous choice of right or wrong. You are both right and neither one is wrong. You can’t make her wrong for not being expressive or interested enough, and she can’t make you wrong for being too curious or expressive. You can both try, but you might as well make the sky wrong for being magenta, or the water wrong for tasting like cinnamon.”
Chapter Seven; Compromise, Resolution, Transformation
“Okay, if compromise isn’t the way across the bridge, what are the other choices; to continue as things are or break up?” Nonie was losing sight of the Tinkle cultural trait of optimism.
“You’re again simplifying the complex; this time to create a false binary. If you identify only the extremes, then you get a choice of only two, of which one has be made good, and one has be made bad. It’s like saying that only small vehicles can use the bridge, or everyone has to stay off it, or at the middle all those who drove the big cars on will exchange with all those who drove the small cars on to continue the journey. It’s a forced, false choice. There’s also an underside to a bridge and magenta-space over it. Last I checked Tinkles didn’t have wings, but your social group evolves quickly, so don’t give up hope. But keep your driver’s license current just in case.”
Nonie suspected Terbah was mocking him but ignored that. “As it is now, my end of the bridge is wide enough for all my verbiage and exuberance, while BeeLa feels comfortable at the small end for her smaller verbiage and lesser curiosity. Both entrances to the bridge fit our individual needs until we get to the point in the bridge where we met. Then it is neither big enough for me to proceed, nor comfortable enough for BeeLa to proceed. And neither of us could turn on the narrow bridge to return the way we each entered. In other words, neither of us can win if we do it only my way or only her way. So, compromise is a partial win that leaves no one completely satisfied. I give up, Terbah, what’s left to try to resolve our problem?”
“Resolution only ends the current problem that’s been identified. Like, you both agree to buy one vehicle that will fit both ends of the bridge. Then, tomorrow the problem needing resolving is what to do with the old too big and too small vehicles. A compromise resolution is she agrees to talk more and you agree to talk less. Who’s happy with that? No, my friend, what you want is transformation of how the two of you interact when the problems arise, as problems always do. Change the interaction, or the way you look at the interaction, or the resources you have for addressing the interaction. Change something about how you interact around your problems. What makes a joke funny? Surprise. Irony. Novelty. Satire. The unexpected. Try something you haven’t tried before.”
Chapter Eight, Getting Off the Bridge
Nonie thought he was starting to understand. “If I was coupled with a Gadget instead of a Sparkle then, if I understand you, I would initially be delighted at your humor but I would become put off by the fact that you found my serious expressions of love and interest funny.”
“Just as I would go from finding your seriousness charming to finding you dull for being so serious. Gadgets rarely couple with other social groups; you’re a great audience for us but not sustainable in the couple gene pool.”
“But it isn’t your fault you find everything funny and everyone a potential audience. That’s part of Gadget culture and rules and social norms.”
“Yup, my point exactly. Expecting me not to find the humor in every situation is not much different than asking you to say something in less than a paragraph, with a back-story and more detail than BeeLa can possibly absorb. Or than asking BeeLa to give you a rich and full description of what she saw during her day. She isn’t interested because she isn’t interested. It doesn’t fit her rules of coupling.”
“So, I was becoming irritated with BeeLa for ignoring me, and expecting one of us to change our nature to suit the other. You are suggesting that we change how we interact with each other instead. So she could continue to be solitary when she needed to be, and I could continue to be gregarious when I needed to be. But we would not find that a problem because our new attitude towards the interaction was more understanding, more compassionate.”
“You got it Nonie, and I would contribute to that, even more trusting that the positive interaction in the moment would carry you through the present and next temporary irritations.”
Chapter Nine, If it doesn’t change you or me, what does it change?
Nonie mulled over the insight and listened with part of his brain as Terbah proceeded to make fun of his situation and tell old jokes about couplings, which on other days would have had him laughing until he gasped to breathe. Terbah, seeing that Nonie was neither laughing nor paying attention, rose to leave. Realizing how rude it was to not be the audience that Gadget culture, rules and norms thought he ought to be, Nonie started to promise his full audienceship if Terbah would stay.
“Call me when enough time has passed that your current calamity has become a comedy.” And, the sixth insight was that humor would go a long way to changing calamity into comedy.
Nonie wished Terbah farewell and sort of watched as his friend moved away. Gadgets did not exactly walk so the movement was worth watching, even for a Tinkle whose normally bottomless brain was now feeling full. Long after Terbah was gone from the garden, Nonie was still looking in that direction, unblinking, with his thoughts a bucket of colors, fragments, and pending breaches in his barrier to knowledge.
Eventually, he believed he had made sense of it. He struggled to frame another insight: a compromise was good enough for the time being but might not resolve the bigger issue; for example, agreeing on how much they talked. A resolution might solve a bigger issue; such as they might agree to some overall balance in talking, shared activities and alone time. A transformation, on the other hand, could change the nature of their interaction over how they addressed all their issues in the short and long term that left each of them meeting their own needs, and also being aware of and meeting the other one’s needs.
Compromise wasn’t enough. Only a transformation of the nature of the relationship could allow them to be themselves, and also with each other. Assuming he had that right, he still was not entirely sure where to go from there. However, he believed he and BeeLa could figure it out.
Chapter Ten, If a Bridge is Non-Functional, Change Something
Nonie still sat alone in the garden considering the insights as the magenta sky glowed darkly. He thought he was coming to understand the insights.
When it was time to make choices, it would be easy to grab at the first solution that came to mind. If his was the big, unusable vehicle, for example, whereas a small vehicle might fit both ends of the bridge, using only the small vehicle made sense. However, he thought he could also envision a lot of other possible solutions. The bridge was the bridge and if it was already built, he could go around it, re-engineer it to fit both size vehicles, change the nature of all vehicles to fit at both ends, get out of the vehicle to walk the bridge leaving a vehicle at both ends, or build another bridge that fit.
“BeeLa wasn’t necessarily wrong in the coupling,” he said aloud to the now dark magenta sky, “unless she was made to be wrong so that I could be right. If she manages her feelings of irritation and silence, and I mange my reactions of rejection and enthusiasm, we haven’t changed us, but we have changed how we interact together.”
He figured he did not need to tell BeeLa this in order to fix things. BeeLa was right and he was right. Therefore, it was how they each managed their interpretation of the interaction between the two of them that could be transformed. Without consulting her, he could begin to not feel rejected and neglected when she needed to be left alone. The only thing that would change would be his interpretation of her attitude, acts, words, and intentions. It wouldn’t take long before she would be ready for the discussion about giving him the same benefit of the doubt when he expressed his jubilation and passion.
He snapped a mental picture of what that change would look like: the attitudes of compassion, patience, warmth, and kindness, replacing the attitudes of irritability, impatience, rejection, and unkindness. If they made the effort, it would meet BeeLa’s needs and his needs, and it would become a habit. It was a habit worth forming, not just for this relationship, but also for how to live in the lovely planet with a magenta sky and cinnamon flavored water that contained many social groups, and all sorts of conflicts.
This first appeared online May, 2008, at www.mediate.com/articles/swordL5.cfm