After Higher Ground, Oliver and Shane entered a new phase in their relationship. What this new phase looked like, and how it would operate, was still very much in question at the outset of Home Again. Clear in his commitment to Shane, Oliver was ready to embrace their evolving relationship status, but wasn’t yet prepared to answer the question of how to ensure it continued long-term. The answer lay within the nature of Oliver and Shane’s relationship, which contained a self-sustaining growth mechanism that, when properly balanced and stewarded, possessed the capacity for long-term success. Once identified, Oliver faced the unenviable challenge of applying this wisdom in real-time, which required him to exercise leadership in the context of his relationship with Shane. When achieved, the balance yielded deep growth in Oliver and Shane, both as individuals and in their ability to relate to each other.
From the outset of the movie, Oliver’s heart and mind were clearly pointed at Shane. A yellow rose on his lapel, purple tie and pocket square, as well as coffee in hand, Oliver clearly had Shane on the brain---from the time he woke up, to the time he appeared with coffee in front of her home, ready to escort her to work. All of these outward gestures were a clear sign to Shane, and the world, where his heart was set.
But Oliver soon came to realize that moving forward meant bringing his heart and mind into alignment with his outward actions. This required him to completely let go of the past in one sense, and adopt a new perspective in another. The new perspective possessed the key to long-term success for his relationship with Shane.
“I always wondered if you two were… a thing…”
Rita’s statement was innocent enough, but Oliver’s apparent struggle to clearly articulate the nature of his relationship with Dale actually revealed some unfinished business existed where she was concerned.
The first sign was his hesitation to say anything more of Shane than, “she’s good...we’re good”---Oliver was holding back. It was perhaps the first time he was forced to acknowledge the uncertain, and perhaps unspoken, nature of his relationship with Dale which he had yet to let go of subconsciously. This made it difficult for him to confidently declare he was in a relationship with Shane, perhaps also out of respect for Dale. When pressed, however, Oliver tried to find a label for his evolving relationship with Shane, which he called, “a thing...an early thing,” which he borrowed from Rita. This is the first time Oliver owned his relationship with Shane.
Dale, out of her own self-awareness, helped Oliver own it even more by removing any ambiguity that existed between them, releasing Oliver to pursue Shane, and even support him in doing so. The fact his relationship with Shane was still in the “early” stages also made it the perfect time to bestow wisdom that would help it transition from “early” to long-term, which Dale did with her intuitive explanation of “lines, rules and colors.” She also provided Oliver guidance and tools he might have otherwise lacked at such a critical stage, while exposing another area Oliver needed to address internally in order to successfully establish his relationship with Shane.
We discussed in The Art of Letting Go that in order for Shane to “color outside the lines,” Oliver had to first establish them by utilizing his gift for “knowing where the lines are and following the rules,” Shane’s growth coming from pushing those boundaries. At the same time, Oliver’s growth required Shane to challenge those established lines and rules. This cyclical push/pull constituted the self-sustaining core of their relationship. When Oliver called it “a mess,” Dale challenged his “mess” mentality, recognizing that Shane and Oliver’s ability to constantly grow would be the key to their long-term success. This was her way of illustrating this truth for Oliver’s benefit.
Consequently, the success of Oliver and Shane’s self-sustaining growth core was dependent upon the structure, and proper balance, of the relationship that powered it. In this context, it was Oliver’s responsibility to lead their relationship by using his ability to “know where the lines are and follow…the rules” to establish the frame within which it operated. At the same time, however, to lead effectively would require him to necessarily abandon the “mess” mentality, and embrace Shane’s natural tendency to “color outside the lines” to just the right degree. By establishing these boundaries, Oliver and Shane could begin to invest and reinvest in their bond in meaningful and productive ways.
While Oliver may not have been actively conscious of the cycle sustaining his relationship with Shane, or even the responsibility tied to it, the consequences of it were on full display during the days that followed, particularly when Oliver struggled to draw the lines and establish rules.
As discussed in Fit To Frame: Shane’s Home Again Wardrobe, Shane’s uneasiness about the reintroduction of Dale to the picture caused her to begin testing the boundaries of her relationship with Oliver in a variety of ways. Remember, all of Oliver’s responses to these efforts were informed, likely subconsciously, by Dale’s encouragement to embrace Shane’s tendency to “color outside the lines,” which, early on, caused him to concede or acquiesce to her every advance. He may not have realized it, but Oliver was already in the process of determining how his relationship with Shane would operate, which, in practice, disproportionately favored coloring outside the lines (hanging beads, anyone?). But in order for their relationship to operate in a way that ensured long-term success, Oliver had to become confident in his ability to set parameters, and received an assist on the Kellser farm.
Shane was pushing the boundaries with Oliver because her own efforts to establish stability weren’t enough to make her feel completely secure. So when Oliver asked Shane to “go steady,” he drew a line designed not to inhibit Shane, but to create a safe and protected space within which their relationship could exist, impervious to outside influence (Dale), to establish security at a core level. It also defined the outer limit against which Shane could press, and within which the “push/pull” mechanism sustaining their bond could productively exist for the purpose of their mutual growth as individuals, and in their relationship with each other.
Investing In Equilibrium
With some semblance of equilibrium restored, Oliver became fully focused on maintaining that relational balance. His focus resulted in a subtle sensitivity to Shane, which instilled in her increasing security and confidence, and perpetuated a cycle of investment and reinvestment between the pair that deepened their connection.
The first instance of this sensitivity came in the context of booking his flight to New York. In light of the events of Higher Ground, Oliver was in-tune with the subtle nuance of Shane’s attempt to discern when he intended to return. Recognizing her vulnerability, Oliver’s quick and direct response of “as soon as I’m able” indicated that while he initiated the departure as a necessary next step in their investigation, he was committed to returning to Denver (and to her) as soon as possible. This moment of investment served to reinforce a deeper sense of security in Shane, which gave birth to a deeper confidence out of which she ultimately invested in Oliver in a very specific and profound way at the end of the film.
Sensitive to Oliver’s attempt to define their relationship a few days before, Shane, out of her own security and confidence, endeavored to help him discern the difference between being “a thing” and “going steady.” Interestingly, she did so by appealing to Oliver’s natural tendency to “know where the lines are and follow...the rules,” and articulated easily identifiable parameters that could be enforced. Oliver, of course, was amenable to “no hanging picture frames with anyone but [Shane]” and “no hanging bead dividers without prior approval.” Met with approval up to that point, Shane took a turn for the more vulnerable, committing Oliver to “danc[ing] the first dance with [her]” at Norman and Rita’s wedding.
Shane’s attempt to close the loop on their conversation about “going steady,” and appealing to his affinity for lines and rules, was a reinvestment which resonated deeply with Oliver. We know this to be the case because of the precise nature of his response. To recall Shane’s words from what, for all intents and purposes, was a moment of pain for both of them in One In A Million, held deep significance. “I only dance with you” conveyed a distinct message of commitment from Shane in the past, which Oliver used in this context to reaffirm his deep commitment to her both at that moment, and in the future.
The extent to which this resonated with both of them extended beyond words, resulting in a kiss. A kiss, of course, perhaps the most intimate measure of equilibrium to which they could connect.
Ready to embrace his evolving relationship with Shane, Oliver discovered that in order to sustain their bond for the long haul, he needed to shed pieces and perspective from his past that could inhibit his future. But that was only just the beginning---Oliver also had to adopt a new perspective when it came to relating to Shane, the principle of "lines, rules & colors." To apply that perspective required Oliver exercise leadership in the context of his relationship to tackle and become steward of the delicate balance sustaining their bond. The success of his leadership was illustrated by the increased understanding, and increasing intimacy, Oliver and Shane achieved by investing and reinvesting in each other. This self-sustaining cycle initiated, they positioned themselves for ongoing success in the long-term.
Repeating The Cycle,
The United States of Oliver: Balance | Mission | District of Integration, Part I & Part II | Articles Confederated