Our relationship -- which has survived a lot longer than just 14 years -- has never been guilt-edged on either side.A quarter-century; that's how long we've been together. And never once, until this past week, did I feel exploited. Now there is real hurt and real anger.

But first let's remember the good times, when to be a Democrat always meant being in the middle of important things. In the historic political battles over civil rights, most Republicans were non-combatants, simply interested observers. On civil rights, and again later on Vietnam, the essential debate was among the Democrats. Democrats Hubert Humphrey and Phil Hart eventually besting Democrats Richard the nation's laws were rewritten.

As Democrats, we understood that those who counseled waiting out the tides of history did not, themselves, usually sleep on the beach. Democrats were chronically impatient.That's why every generation's outsiders and oddballs -- trade unionists, academics, immigrants -- invariably wound up as Democrats. -

And like Ivy League football coaches, we Democrats were not above recruiting. Over the last 10 years, the Democratic Party recruited women and people uner 30. Women were guaranteed half the delegate seats to the Democratic national conventions. While Nixon and Agnew called a whole college generation "punks" and "bums," Democrats called them "altruists" and adopted their dress.

For these efforts, Democrats in 1980 became collectively the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics: we got no respect. Seven freshmen House members under the age of 30 were elected; every single one of them is a Republican. Every woman elected to Congress last November is also a Republican.

The Democrats have sat passively by while the national debate is conducted by Republicans like Barber Conable and Pete Domenici and Jack Kemp and Dave Stockman. Their Republican figures are heard on the Sunday news shows; their features are seen on the news weeklies.

Meanwhile, Democrats try to figure out what to do and when. Which old programs must be defended and which old ideas might be discarded.

As of this week, Democrats had the word from on high as to where that line would be drawn. The House Democratic leadership has lifted the burden of introspection from the rest of us. The Democratic Party in 1981 will fight tooth and toenail for synfuels.

That's right. Synfuels. That's what it has come to. The House Democratic leadership will gutsily oppose any administration ploy to deny even a dime of the 50 million public dollars requested by divisions of Mobil, Tenneco and Occidental Petroleum for laudable projects like the production of "synthetic natural gas." You can be confident that the Democratic leadership intends to fight just as passionately for the rest of the 20 billion public dollars for synfuels, too.

If this were unwarranted federal intervention or if the "energy" companies did not really need the direct financial assistance, you and I both know that Mobil would have blown the whistle in a very literate newspaper ad.

Forget Social Security. Forget Medicare, collective bargaining and the Clean Air Act. Public accoimmodations, workmen's compensation, voting rights? Never mind. If you want to know what being a Democrat means today, you can have it in one word: synfuels.