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In a recent meeting of the Chamber of Deputies (one of the two houses that form the Italian parliament) the physicist and Nobel Prize winner Giorgio Parisi talked about the importance of fighting climate change. He compared the issue of ozone depletion (ozone hole) to the one of climate change; the first one was complicated but straightforward, the second one is rather complex. For the ozone hole issue, scientists discovered that certain manufactured gases that are released into the atmosphere by industries are causing the depletion of the ozone layer above Antarctica. As a result, they raised the alarm, politicians signed international agreements to commit to certain standards and now, by 2065 the ozone hole is expected to be closed. Even then, the issue was challenged by parts of the population, and even then the costs to pay were high, however they still managed to make a plan and stick to a solution. How did they do that? The two problems seem similar, but while for the ozone depletion we ‘only’ had to tackle one issue and it also just affected one (a wide one but still only one) of the economic-social landscapes, the climate change cannot be solved by only making one party pay and the rest can continue living their lives normally. In order to stop climate change every actor involved has to pay and sacrifice a bit of their current benefits, so that the whole world can benefit from it. While reading his speech, I thought about how much this compares to the complexity of relationships.
I’ve recently gone through a breakup with this guy, let’s call him Ben. The separation though was not caused by any ‘objective’ circumstance, nobody cheated, nobody treated the other person badly or dishonestly, and most importantly, there was and there still is mutual respect for one another. For the brief time we dated, we were both happy and then, for various reasons, he could simply not be in a relationship with me anymore. He took this decision not based on my personality or because of my attitude towards our relationship, but he felt like it made no sense to keep me hanging in the hope that things would change one day. At the beginning dealing with this seemed very tough for me because I really saw no logical explanation. While with previous ‘breakups’, there were always what I thought were logical reasons behind it (different life objectives, me moving abroad and not wanting a long-distance relationship, different tastes in series (HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THE OFFICE ?!?!) and many others). Now, I couldn’t find any, and this made it really hard for me to accept. However, after some therapy sessions, lots of beers and thinking about climate change, I realized that even when there is a logical reason, relationships with other people are simply complex things that we cannot easily understand or explain. We can only consider one aspect of the millions that lead to interaction with other human beings.
As usual, let’s look at my favourite couples from books that I love who deal with breakups. Jo and Laurie from Little Women were objectively super compatible. They clearly enjoyed each other's company because they were spending a lot of time together and they were able to share intimate thoughts with each other that they could not share with anyone else. Yet, Jo rejected Laurie when he proposed to her, telling him that they are too similar, which I believe was partly true and I am convinced she believed it, but it is also an excuse. Don't get me wrong, I love Jo’s character and I saw a lot of myself in her when I was 16, but looking at it now (after many more break ups), I can clearly see that she was in a period where she had to put herself and her professional career first. She was not satisfied with who she was and what she was doing with her life. This had not directly something to do with a man, but also she was not in a place where she could ‘give up’ on anything to make the relationship work. I am a strong believer that if Laurie had reproposed years later when Jo’s career was launched and she was more satisfied with herself, she would have said yes. Don’t get me wrong, all the reasons I mentioned above are very valid and I personally used some of them when breaking up with certain guys. But the truth is that relationships, just like climate change, depend on so many variables related in an indirect way to each other that even when you think you found logic through a simple solution (we are too similar, I am focusing on my career, etc.), it's never that simple and it's never that logical (especially when we are honest with ourselves and the other person).
Let's take a more modern example, my favourite love triangle, Katniss, Peeta and Gale from the Hunger Games. Clearly, initially (in the first chapters of the book) Katniss and Gale seem to be in that first stage of a relationship where both really like each other, but they are also too afraid to ruin the friendship by making a move. I’m sure that if Katniss never participated in the Hunger Games, the two of them would have ended up together eventually (if not because of their feelings, but because they did not seem to interact with anyone else who is in the same age lol). But life went on, and the truth is that the life events that happened to Katniss deeply changed her and made her want to move away from Gale and go towards Peeta. I feel with Gale because he could also not see a reason for the breakup, but life happens and we cannot predict how it will affect and change not only ourselves, but also the way we feel about people and vice versa.
I cannot speak about this without mentioning Ted and Robin from How I Met Your Mother. Their breakups always seemed very logical. Ted wanted a family, and Robin did not want to have children or see herself married in the near future. Yet, they managed to stay in each other's lives and at the end (the very end), they end up together again. There is no logic between Ted’s platonic love towards Robin and the fact that it stayed like this for so many years, until she married his best friend. I can also see Robin’s point in not wanting to be with him because she knew that she cannot give him what he needs and deserves. But although debatable, I understand Ted. The world would be great if we could decide who we like or who we have feelings for but unfortunately, there is no logic behind liking or loving someone more than somebody else. The fact is that even if a person responds to our feelings in the way we want them to, will not change how we feel about them (although it would make things so much easier). As for the reason they ended up together despite no one seeing any logic behind it, it is because life happens, it changes us and how we feel about the people we interact with.
I believe that in both relationships and climate change, we should stop thinking about and forcing ourselves to believe that there is a simple logical explanation that will help us to understand and solve everything. Companies developing new technologies or consumers shifting towards more sustainable consumption and production is not going to be enough. Everything is so interconnected that the solution requires everyone to do their little part, sacrifice something and work towards a future benefit that most of us will not have time to enjoy. Unfortunately, just like during a ‘happy’ breakup, logic can just partially explain and solve the issues we have. We need to start embracing the fact that the only constant in life is change and therefore start developing solutions that accommodate change and disappointment, rather than avoiding it.
As Mark Manson wrote in his book Everything is Fucked: “Because pain is the universal constant of life, the opportunities to grow from that pain are constant in life. All that is required is that we don't numb it, that we don't look away. All that is required is that we engage it and find the value and meaning in it.”