“We just got too used to each other.” That was the reason a former co-worker of mine gave me for breaking up with his girlfriend. It’s not an uncommon refrain, and it’s a sentiment that is easy to empathize with. Familiarity does breed contempt, after all. To a point.
I tend to get tired of things I am familiar with too – TV, car, computer. For other people it’s clothes or even jobs. We tire of things we expect to entertain, amuse, or excite us because such feelings require newness, something unexpected. Once we get familiar with items of entertainment we begin to look elsewhere, to comparison shop. We want to upgrade or to change things up. Doing this regularly with material goods is a bad habit. Doing it with relationships is devastating for all involved.
Healthy relationships are built on trust. Chevrolet advertises their trucks based on this – “the longest lasting, most dependable truck on the road.” You can trust them; you don’t need to upgrade. You can get used to them, in a good way. People build relationships with pets this way too. We train them and care for them and get familiar with them, get to know them, until the thought of swapping it out for a new model is unthinkable. And all of these examples are subservient to the beauty of a healthy relationship, platonic or romantic. In such a relationship familiarity and knowledge of the other person is the foundation, the core. This sort of familiarity and getting used to someone builds closeness, not contempt.
What is the difference between the couple who got so “used to” each other that they broke up and the couple who revels in the comfortable familiarity which allows them to order for each other at a restaurant or finish each other’s jokes? The difference is that the first young man and his girlfriend saw each other as entertainment, a source of amusement and excitement. Entertainment always loses its novelty. The second couple sees each other as partners, mutually beneficial relational beings. The value for them is in knowing the other; being “used to” each other is a good thing. And this is true for any good friendship whether it’s with your wife, roommate, or German Shepherd.
When we treat our relationships like our toys we are in for long road of short friendships with ugly ends. It’s easy to scrap a laptop and get a new one. Not so much a good friend. While there is plenty of wrong motivation and selfishness in relationships, there’s no such thing as “too much” familiarity.