An Emotional Insurance Policy for Relationships

An Emotional Insurance Policy for Relationships

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!

That Which We Resist Persists, a commentary on a passage from Nella Larsen’s Passing

Today I was reading Nella Larsen’s novella Passing when a particular passage jumped out at me:

“That strange, and to her fantastic, notion of Brian’s of going off to Brazil which, though unmentioned, yet lived within him; how it frightened her, and – yes, angered her!….

“He had never spoken of his desire since that long-ago time of storm and strain, of hateful and nearly disastrous quarreling, when she had so firmly opposed him, so sensibly pointed out its utter impossibility and its probable consequences to her and the boys, and had even hinted at a dissolution of their marriage in the event of his persistence in his idea. No, there had been, in all the years that they had lived together since then, no other talk of it, no more than there had been any other quarreling or any other threats. But because, so she insisted, the bond of flesh and spirit between them was so strong, she knew, had always known, that his dissatisfaction had continued, as had his dislike and disgust for his profession and his country…

“It wasn’t now, as it had been once, that she was afraid that he would throw everything aside and rush off to the remote place of his heart’s desire. He wouldn’t, she knew. He was fond of her, loved her, in his slightly undemonstrative way. And there were the boys….

“It was only that she wanted him to be happy, resenting, however, his inability to be so with things as they were, and never acknowledging that though she did want him to be happy, it was only in her own way and by some plan of hers for him that she truly desired him to be so. Nor did she admit that all other plans, all other ways, she regarded as menaces, more or less indirect, to that security of place and substance which she insisted upon for her sons and in a lesser degree for herself.”

Wow! I really appreciate the psychological subtlety as well as the universality of this passage. It encapsulates so well the common dynamics that go on between couples. It is unfortunate, but, in many long-term relationships, people are coerced into relinquishing pieces of themselves, aspects of their hearts’ desires in response to the selfishness and insecurity of their partners.

I have seen people pushed into giving up school, abandoning their dreams of entrepreneurship, dumbing down their talents, abandoning friends, and even family. This list goes on. But, for me – because I am keenly aware that I have only one incarnation that I know of for certain – I am not willing to do this.

I accepted long ago that my belief system necessitates certain trade-offs. What other people call “security,” for example, I do not have. But what other people view as security I view as minimum-security prison. I am also aware of my privilege to hold these beliefs due to the country and time period in which I live. In many parts of the world, people, especially women, still face dire consequences for not submitting to society’s plan for their lives. I plan to use my privilege to live my life full out, whatever that means to me over the years. I accept that this makes me an oddball. While other single women often look at couples with a sigh in their hearts and a lump in their throats, I view relationships as calculated risks, mostly ego-alliances, and socially sanctioned refuges from fear and insecurity. Such relationships often encourage mediocrity, consumerism, frustration, and stagnation.

On the other hand, I celebrate the fact that there are also vibrant, dynamic couples in which both parties are evolving, living their lives full out, and actively supporting each other’s dreams, goals, desires, and happiness. In these partnerships, each person feels free to be fully themselves and to pursue their deepest longings, free from emotional blackmail. I admire and respect such couples. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are couples in which neither party has desires outside the culturally-approved goals of a “normal” life, an easy retirement, and a gentle coast into the grave. These couples are traditionally-minded and very well matched. They are doing no one any harm.

But in the many cases in which people are clinging to each other in a desperate attempt to control the natural unpredictability of life, where one or both parties apply external restrictions and psychological manipulation in order to prevent their partners from growing and changing, where people have resigned themselves to an unsatisfactory life out of guilt or obligation, I would hasten to remind such people that Impermanence is an inescapable fact of life.

The protagonist in Passing assumes that she can beat back the passionate longing in her husband to explore Brazil, and pursue other career paths, with a barrage of threats, manipulation, blackmail, and fighting. She is wholly and singularly concerned with her own needs, comfort, and happiness, not his. She comes to learn that what we try to deny in ourselves, and in others, has a sneaky way of rising to the surface anyway. Then we are left not only with the original problem of Impermanence, but an even greater feeling of panic, failure, and helplessness.

The best way to deal with change is to get out in front of it and embrace it. (It’s coming anyway).

Peace and blessings,

Raven

Do You Want “Change” or a Revolution?

With the turning of the seasons come shifts in attitudes and perspectives. A new year tends to bring new resolve towards achieving goals, and manifesting our deepest desires. The prospect of a new and different type of president has filled our common talk-space with various chirps of rage, dread, cautious hope, and giddy elation.

The common idea underlying all of the above is a longing for “change.” The New Year brings with it hopes for change. Many presidents have won elections promising change. Somehow, though, nothing, or little, ever changes. Why is that? Do we really want change? If so, is “change” enough? Or is revolution what we really need?

Revolution, based on the word revolve, means to turn things around. A revolutionary acts fearlessly (which doesn’t mean not feeling fear, but acting boldly in the face of fear). A revolutionary challenges existing practices, institutions, and people in power, questioning their very validity. They are willing to upset the status quo in order to achieve their goals, whatever that means (Vocabulary.com). There are very few genuine revolutionaries.

Artists of all kinds – fine artists, poets, musicians, performers – tend to have revolutionary temperaments. It just seems to come with the package. We spend a lot of time looking and observing; feeling everything deeply, too deeply; analyzing and questioning; making connections between disparate things, connections other people don’t seem to see; trying and failing to communicate what we see to the larger world.

"After the Tears Dry" 16" X 12", Acrylic on canvas
“After the Tears Dry” 16″ X 12″, Acrylic on canvas

This is the real reason, in my opinion, for the starving artist stereotype. It’s not that people don’t care about art or that art is not valuable, it’s that the temperament to make art and the temperament to make money are not often found in the same person. These two things require different skills, different mindsets, different priorities. It’s hard to be a wealthy revolutionary. Society rewards conformity and predictability, not radical change.

And this is what hinders many people, artists and non-artists alike, from truly behaving in revolutionary ways. Society and its denizens will punish you if you do. You might want to revolutionize relationships, or workplaces, or politics, or the financial system. But when you attempt these things, you will be punished. Not jailed, necessarily. But criticized, threatened, ostracized, ridiculed, abandoned. You will lose relationships. And money. And status.  Many people talk a good game. But when it really comes down to it, most shrink back and do as they’re told, or continue to do as they’ve always done. This isn’t a criticism. Pressure is pressure; it’s hard to bear. But it’s better to live in such a way that your words and your actions are a match.

Therefore, many people who truly live revolutionarily, in whatever sense, do so quietly. This is the best way. People who talk a lot and make a big outward show out of going against the grain usually turn out to be all talk; their lives are often quite conventional. The few people I’ve met who are truly living counter-culturally, are quiet but insistent about it. They tend to hurt people’s feelings without trying. They withstand the rejection of family, friends, and society at large in order to be true to their beliefs. They give up certain privileges and comforts if it contradicts their sense of what is right. For all the people who prattle on about “change,” few are willing to pay the price of the revolutionary.

Although I’ve never thought about this before today, I find myself naturally attracted to the revolutionaries. The small price I’ve paid is loneliness and sometimes isolation and/or being misunderstood. I can tolerate this. I would rather pay the price than be a hypocrite. I’d rather be isolated and uncomfortable for being who I am than have stability and comfort at the cost of my integrity.

So, to be more specific, here are some examples. I believe that monogamy is optional, not mandatory. Non-monogamy is a healthy and more realistic alternative and something I believe in. All of the institutions and ingrained beliefs that support and mandate marriage and monogamy are based on sexism and the transfer of property. I actively question all of these beliefs. Religion is a way of coping with life but it does not matter in any kind of life or death sense. All decisions based on fear are wrong. I believe in choosing what works for me. Through my eclectic spiritual practice, I have become a more loving, wise, balanced, and resilient person.

The current political structure is bankrupt. Community organizing is the pathway to lasting change. The current law enforcement system is also hopelessly corrupt. I believe it should be dismantled altogether and a new system based on community empowerment and community responsiveness should be in place. In other words, having police prowling around looking for people to “get” should be done away with. Rather, they should respond to empowered community law enforcement task forces who should be voted into their positions by their communities.

These are just a sample of some of my unpopular beliefs. I usually keep them to myself. I provided them here only as an example. I believe the next (successful) revolutionary movement will be stealthy, quiet, thoroughly tested and integrated into many facets of life. As a take on that famous Gandhi quote: “Be the revolution you wish to see in the world.” I would add: be consistent, and be quiet about it.

Peace and blessings,

Raven