Friday, July 3, 2009

What's love got to do, got to do with it?

I've been thinking a lot about relationships lately--how they work, how they don't, and how many different kinds of intimate relationships there are just within my own circle. Granted, my circle are a bunch of left-wing radicals ... still. What works, works.

Some questions floating around in my brain: does traditional marriage have a place in today's society? I know people who are together, living in the same house, simply because they cannot afford a divorce and all the splitting of property and income that entails. People who are together and who function smoothly, but who haven't made love in years and who can't imagine doing so. And then there are the couples who seem perfectly suited for one another: affectionate, respectful of each other, sharing their lives and a mutual circle of friends ... I used to fall into that category, at least outwardly. When the depression and pressure of living up to expectations got to be too much I had to leave. Are there happy couples out there? Long-term marrieds, who still snuggle and smooch and look forward to seeing each other at the end of the day? I'm sure you must be out there, right?

And then there are the many variations I've seen. A friend, let's call him Fred, has been in an open relationship with his wife since they met some seven years ago. Both of them have outside relationships, with varying levels of disclosure, but they also share a house, parenting, and a level of commitment that has nothing to do with legal vows. In fact, they never had a ceremony, but because of the state in which they live they are common law spouses. It seems to work for them, at least as well as traditional marriages seem to work.

I know some friends who are in a tripartite relationship -- a married couple, plus their girlfriend. As long as all three of them are getting something satisfying out of the relationship, I think this is great. The balance must be tricky, but then, the balance in any relationship is tricky. I think stepping outside the box can put balance in the spotlight in a positive way -- it requires negotiation rather than assuming everything's fine as long as both parties follow "the rules."

And don't get me started on the whole gay marriage issue. My gay and lesbian friends have relationships just as healthy, just as complex, just as supportive as my straight friends (and of course, just as messed up in a similar ratio), and if marriage is something that they shouldn't be allowed to do according to the Christian right, then f**k marriage. Seriously. Also, the kids of gay/lesbian couples that I know are well-adjusted, loving, happy little people, so let's here it for family diversity!

For me, I think the most important parts of any relationship are (and here comes a list):
  1. Honesty. Not just with each other, but with yourself. Nothing kills a relationship more thoroughly than a lack of self-awareness.
  2. Independence. Especially emotional independence -- and this flies in the face of all the romantic crap we're led to believe, that we need someone to "complete" us, that true love means not being able to live without the other person. Dependence leads to resentment. Resentment leads to contempt. Contempt leads to those conversations in the car where you say, "you didn't signal back there, did you?" and the other person says, "of course I did," and you say, "I don't think you did. You never signal. You're going to get us killed." Lather, rinse, repeat.
  3. Respect. I can't be in love with someone I don't respect, and I can't be in love with someone who doesn't respect me. The first step in loving someone else is loving yourself, and if you love yourself, you know you deserve respect.
I don't have all the answers, obviously. I find it interesting that after all the craziness of the past few years, I'm now in a committed monogamous relationship, but I have my eyes open, and I think he does too, and at the end of the day, I'm happy. What more could I ask for?

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