Friday, October 5, 2012

The Romaticism of Marriage Meeting Reality


Hey all! I know it's been awhile since I've written a post. I have been busy with several things, including doing my part to promote this new book on yoga practice. As one of the essayists in the book, it's been exciting to see so much positive interest in such a short time. (The volume has been out for about 2 weeks now.)

Anyway, back to relationships. I found this post a few days ago. It has the provocative title "Would marriages last if we stopped romanticizing them?" Historically, there were all sorts of reasons why people stayed together. Primarily those reasons involved social pressure, and frankly, a fair amount of oppression - especially for women. Qualities like loyalty don't really mean that much when your entire society defines your worth by whether you're married and have children or not.

But when I consider the landscape today - in the US anyway - those social/cultural pressures are lessened, and the romantic "love-based" model of relationships is the norm. More and more folks are also ambivalent about, or completely against, the idea of life-long marriage to a single partner. This, even as the tide is beginning to shift towards freedom for GBLTQ folks to get married.

Right wing conservatives are fond of framing all of this as the "breakdown of the family," primarily blaming the liberation movements that sprouted in the 1960s for the increase in divorces, people having children outside of marriage, etc. I reject that frame. In my view, there are many reasons why the culture around marriage is shifting, and the majority of those reasons are positive.

First off, there's the understanding that "til death do you part" came from a time when the average person lived to be perhaps 60 years old, and where it wasn't uncommon for people to die in their 30s or 40s from everyday illnesses, complications during child birthing, or dangerous working conditions.

Secondly, more and more people are realizing the limits of a single, nuclear family unit as the model for healthy relationships. It's one model, but not one that serves the entire, diverse population of people alive today.

Along those lines, there is a lot of exploration around what it means to be "committed" to another person, and whether such a commitment should be maintained "no matter what." I recall the story of an American Zen teacher who married the love of her life in her mid-40s after a long period of friendship, and then later courtship across continents when he was living in Australia. He ended up moving to the States to be with her, but found the experience of living here miserable for a variety of reasons that had nothing much to do with her. They spent a lot of time talking about the situation, trying this and that, hoping that something would shift. But it never did. She was deeply rooted here, and didn't want to go live in Australia, and essentially experience the same thing he was going through.

Eventually, they decided the best thing for both of them was to end the marriage, and for him to move back home. You might say that they should have never gotten married, and yet the time they were married deepened a friendship that feeds both of them to this day. They live half a world apart, and yet continue to share their lives, and love for each other, in a different way.

Thirdly, taking off from the last example, I think more people are paying more attention to the personal growth curves in relationships. And recognizing that sometimes two people do simply "grow apart," to the point where it's not really in anyone's interest for them to stay together any longer. Part of my goal with this blog has been to emphasize the beneficial role that simply paying attention and learning to see what's actually happening can have for each of us. A lot of these "growing apart" situations tend to creep up on couples because they haven't been paying much attention. I'd like to think that if people were more regularly focused on how changes in their own lives are impacting their relationships (romantic and non-romantic), that there might be more opportunities to salvage the connections worth salvaging (before it becomes too late). And to bring a kind, respectful end earlier to connections that aren't serving the two people involved anymore.

Eh, but we're all still people in the end. And sometimes, things like loyalty or attachment overwhelm the reality of a situation.

Furthermore, I still think there's value in lifelong partnerships. When they actually are mutually beneficial, and/or help make both members of the couple better people. But like the author of the post I linked to above, I do wonder if there's too many romantic notions driving the desire to get married, and for some, to stay married. It's not as simple as just that, but it's part of what's going on in my opinion.

What do you think?

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