In studying relationships, as I have for my whole life, I’ve learned a lot. Watching the dynamics of other people’s relationships has led me to believe that it is unwise to lose yourself too deeply in the idea of The Couple.
In our culture, we think of the enmeshed life of The Couple as “romantic.” It can be, of course, but it can also just be a futile attempt to build a barrier against fear and uncertainty.
The fact is, Impermanence is real. Life is uncertain. It always has been, and it always will be, regardless of how many scientific discoveries or technological advances are made, regardless of how many people or things we gather around ourselves. We can never get rid of life’s uncertainty. And, in our attempt to build a shelter against uncertainty, we could be constructing our own prison.
We are expected to be half of a twosome. We’re supposed to find “the one,” marry, buy property together, start families, have “couple friends,” etc. All of these things solidify the coupling to the outside world. It becomes harder (theoretically) for anyone to come between you. Breaking up becomes more difficult – it would entail more than a phone call, a text, or – god forbid – a ghosting. A breakup would require one to file a legal proceeding, sell the home, explain to your couple friends (and see how many remain), etc.
There is nothing wrong with solidifying a relationship. The problem comes when the coupling becomes oppressive. What happens if you realize you’ve made a mistake, or if your life is expanding and growing in ways your partner’s isn’t? What if you need to get out for your own sanity, or even safety? Then all the structures you built to prop up your Couple, and keep the reality of impermanence at bay, become obstacles keeping you trapped in an unhappy or stifling situation.
This doesn’t mean that I’m against couples, of course. If you are coming together to create something beautiful on this earth and make a difference on the planet, that is perfect and wonderful. Or, maybe you take a practical stance, and your purpose for entering a relationship is to stabilize your life and support each other through life’s challenges into old age. That’s fine too. It’s a sober, intelligent, and, still beautiful, thing.
But! I think that no matter how solid your couple is, no matter how committed you are, you should always hold onto a little bit of You:
- Always have your own money. Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, make sure you tuck a small amount away just for you. You don’t have to ever spend it. But it’s good for your head to have it.
- If you buy property, try to get a place that you could manage to afford on your own or with a roommate. If that’s not possible, make sure you have a plan in place just in case you, for whatever reason, need to liquidate that joint asset and go your separate ways. And, of course, make sure your name appears on the title.
- DO NOT give up your own friends. It doesn’t matter how many couple friends you have, or how much your significant other whines about your time away. Always maintain your own group of friends.
- Don’t let a partner talk you into abandoning your family. You need that kind of unconditional support. If your own family is not helpful or not close, create a “chosen family.” These are beyond just friends. These are people you can count on like family.
- Read widely, socialize widely, take classes (even the free ones online), become better at your career, and stay in shape. Being in a relationship is no reason to stagnate. Quite the opposite. Being in a relationship should allow you to evolve even further than you can on your own. You’ll be a better partner if you continue to grow as an individual. And if, for some reason you need to get out, you’ll be totally equipped to do so.
I know all of this sounds terribly unromantic. But I think notions of romance have hindered more than helped us, especially as socialized women. Relationships, especially marriages, should be entered into as soberly as one would purchase a business. Having an exit plan does not mean you’re planning for a divorce any more than having a succession plan or a buy-out policy in a business means you’re planning for the business to fail. It’s just a wise thing to do.
Once you have your plan in place, you can forget about it and enjoy your lives together. I care about people and want everyone to be safe and happy. You should always expect the absolute best, but don’t be blindsided by the worst. Have a game plan in place, an emotional insurance policy against unforeseen events.
And then forget all about worst case scenarios and have fun!