When I was a child, I watched all those Disney movies. You know the ones where the lady meets her knight and shining armor? I grew up on TV programs like Saved by the Bell and 90210 and dreamed of the typical American things: to grow up and be able to drive, to wear red high heels with blue jeans, to have fancy clothes, to drive around in a convertible, to be a princess. I wanted to meet my prince charming and have my white wedding.
I did, at one time, really believe that these were things I needed and wanted. My life was set up for me because in every context this was the message, subliminal or not, that was sent to me: you should grow up and get married and have kids. Think “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast” or the “Little Mermaid” or any programme on TV- we’re just women floundering out here waiting for a man to rescue us. I played with Ken and Barbie dolls, who of course were a married couple living in my giant doll house. My monogamous committed-to-eternity parents also instilled these concepts deep into my brain- my mother was a stay-at-home mom who took care of us while my dad made the bread. Every white picket fence house around the corner emulated the same concepts.
My lifelong vision of a family was what I had in front of me and what I saw at home, with my friends, in publicity, on TV- everywhere. It was, and still is, a deeply ingrained social concept.
But was this the life I had to mimic? Was I just destined to do the same: grow up, finish college, get a job, get married and buy a house? Why is this context of life and relationships still so age old?
According to Oxford dictionary, a relationship is: “the way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.”
So, when along the way did relationship definitions become so tightly monogamous, so innately long-term or even life-long? When did they become end-of-the-road marriages or have to include the idea of kids to be a complete “family”? Since when did we all decide we were “meant” for someone else? That we were all destined to be swept off of our feet? Or we’d find “prince charming”? I won’t even touch on the homophobic, gender generic, and at times racist connotations that are ingrained in these relationship models.
Hm, maybe all those Disney movies had something to do with it.
After living in Europe for the past 12 years and here today a fully grown, single woman at 37, life has given me a lot of insight on what healthy relationships should and can be and how our age-old traditional notions on committed relationships can even be quite toxic. Side note: I AM NOT AN EXPERT. In fact, my opinions are this are ever-changing which I find exhilarating, honest, and necessary. I really believe healthy, loving, honest relationships, whether intimate or platonic, are based around strong connections and the right intrinsic energy- those where you bind with someone because of core values & morals, shared intellect and interests, and where together you see the potential of learning from each other and/or together. And I will go as far to say that these relationships can happen simultaneously, or if sexual can be non-monogamous, and that we may live out any of our relationships in very short or long terms.
We’ve spent too much time on the “one person for life” tag that we haven’t given ourselves the leeway to think outside the box and grasp the idea that MAYBE relationships can be very different from what we’ve learned since childhood. Maybe they have a much broader or narrower scope and can adapt as we grow older and change.
This TED talk video by Christopher Ryan discusses the outlook on sexuality and human relationships (based on biological and animalistic history and tendencies). An American author and psychologist, Mr. Ryan has released similar work in his book Sex at Dawn. We can start to pick apart the reason why we’ve spent lifetimes believing in monogamous marriages, when in fact, perhaps we are not meant to be monogamous “animals”.
I knew that something about me was different when my turn finally came to tie the knot. I stood inside a tiny church in the Basque Country with the man I was in love with, about to sign the papers to be married. I’ll never forget the feeling in my gut: “This isn’t going to work out”. It was so clear and so telling, that I immediately compensated that thought with: “Who cares / Whatever.” Literally, that was my second thought. I had been implanting “whatevers” in my head since I was 16 so I didn’t have to deal or investigate the things that I really wanted.
Something very valuable did not come to me until well into my 30’s. Basically after three horrendously toxic relationships (not including the man I was married to), I started to really come to terms with the fact that latching on to people that were not right for me to satisfy some goal that was not even mine was wasting my time and my life. I had grown up and become obsessed with the fact that I needed to be in a relationship: I was willing to be emotionally dependent with all the wrong people so that I wasn’t alone. So that I could make my parents happy. So I could start working on that marriage path. So I could have kids.
But my relationships were ugly. The men were non-committal, not willing to be serious or think about really investing in a life together. Some of them were narcissists. My last boyfriend actually made me believe I should be a different person so that I could have a happier life. What I was used to doing was SETTLING. Pulling the wool over my eyes and letting some other mediocre human tell me that if i just changed something about myself – if i just could relax more, if I just was a little thinner, if I just didn’t drink so much or laugh so hard or have such a hot temper- if I just changed, I could be married.
And suddenly I snapped out of it: why in the world would I do any of those things? Do I undervalue myself just so I could be in some committed relationship? Why would I sacrifice loving and respecting exactly how I am just to keep going on with some other person; the same person who was able to rationalize a 3 day silent treatment because they were angry? How much pain and suffering was I willing to endure just to “be” with someone?
Cut to a few years later.
Self-discovery and time off from this toxicity gave me much more than I expected. Through the process of self-realization in yoga and discovering who I really am (with all the scary weak parts), I would gather that something was off for me in how I acted in my relationships. It was time to put all the bullshit aside and start something new and fresh. A new way of thinking, loving, connecting, and filtering toxicity with anyone I would meet in my life.
Check out this eye-opening video on non-monogamy and polyamory. It’s one of many informative videos that has given my perspective over the years.
It is essential to dig dip. I believe that self discovery is the best place to start when finding what kind of relationship dynamic is right for you. And, like it has for me, it can change over time, depending on the person you are with and a multiple of other factors. I do not necessary define myself with any term like “polyamorous” or “non-monogamous” etc. I wouldn’t even say that my next relationship has to be closed or open- it just really depends on the connection and what real core values and synchronicity you have with any person you meet that you wish to engage with.
I would start by asking the questions: Why can’t we define love based off the terms that we find satisfying with our partner? Or our multiple partners? Why can’t women in their 30s feel good about being single (which doesn’t mean that be are lonely)? Why can’t we deviate from traditional definitions of being in love to real, pure, universal love? Can we stop comparing our path with those who did end up married at 28 with three kids? And can we understand that maybe that’s not what we want, need, or value anymore?
Investigate. Ask questions. Do it with your long-term sweety. Do it alone. But more than anything, engage in your relationships the way that makes YOU feel good.
I’ll leave you with one more exceptional video by Mandy Len Catron about the real meaning of love. After all, our end goal here is always the same:
LOVE AND BE LOVED.