Marriage, Re-marriage, and how I’ve never been afraid of commitment

During that strange period between when my former partner and I had decided that we would be getting divorced and when we actually separated, I (obviously?) had a lot of conversations about marriage and divorce with various friends and relations.

In the midst of one rather long and freewheeling conversation, I had one friend mention that – while they liked the idea of marriage in some ways – they didn’t understand how people could ever make the decision to do it. Because, after all, how do you know it’s going to work out?

I didn’t manage to articulate an answer at the time, but at it’s heart, this question always seems to miss the point for me. Because, um, of course you don’t know for sure it’s going to work out. Whether or not it works out isn’t ever going to be entirely in your own control even, since there’s another person involved, plus just the unpredictability of life in general. And anyway, in my case even if I had thought I knew for sure when I got married, I was proven wrong in the end.

But I never thought that in the first place. I actually went in with a very clear awareness that we might not be married forever, that getting married was just one of many choices we were going to be making throughout our lives about our relationship and what togetherness looked like for us.

I went into that marriage not knowing where it would lead us. But I also went in knowing a whole lot of other, much more important things.

I knew it was what I wanted.

I knew that the idea of us being together for the rest of our lives, as married people, made me happy.

I knew I liked the idea of sharing our lives and growing old together.

In short, I knew that if it did work out, it would be great.

I knew that based on the information I had available at the time, I was making a good decision.

I knew that if I didn’t at least try to have this thing with this person, I would regret it.

And because of all of that, I also knew that if for some reason it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t regret having made the decision to try.

And even now, I know that it was the right decision.

I know because, when we were married, I never doubted that it was what I wanted. Every day, I knew I wanted to be with this person, for the rest of my life.

And, nevertheless, it didn’t work out. I still have feelings about that, because of course I do, it’s an emotional sort of thing. I spent a lot of years planning for and make decisions around building a life that is no longer an option, and that will never come to be.

That really sucks. It just really, really sucks.

But, all of this also means that now, more than ever, I trust myself to make good decisions about who I want to marry.

So, while experiences of divorce – whether it’s our parents’ or our own – most often make people more reluctant to make that leap again (or at all), everything that has gotten me to where I am now, planning my second marriage, just makes me more sure that I’m doing the right thing, for me.

Because I know what I’m getting myself into, and I know that it’s what I want.

I know I want to try to have this thing, with this person.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Relationship anarchy and me: November 2016 Carnival of Aces Submission

[This post is in response to the November 2016 Carnival of Aces, hosted by It’s An Ace Thing on the topic of Relationship Anarchy]

Oh boy, do I have thoughts about this month’s theme! I suspect this post will be a bit of a rambly mess, but at least some of y’all seem to enjoy my rambly messes, so I guess this one’s for you!

Before I dive in, though, a quick(ish) definition: relationship anarchy is best described as the attitude that the only rules governing the function and form of your relationships with others are the rules set by the people in those relationships. In practice, this means consciously relinquishing (though not necessarily going against the tide of) societal rules and definitions for what relationships (of whatever kind) should look like, what they should mean, and how they should be valued.

The relationships a relationship anarchist participates in could look like anything: they may make monogamous sexual and/or romantic commitments, or they may not; they may prioritize biological family, or romantic partnerships over other relationships, or they may not. The point in relationship anarchy is not to fit  or to defy any particular relationship models, but simply to try to build relationships without any regard for those models in the first place.

Hopefully that makes sense?

Now, me!

I have long felt a great deal of affinity with relationship anarchy – because a lot of societal norms around relationships don’t work for me anyway (I’m not straight; I am demi*; I’m … um, just don’t ever tell me bio-family relationships are inherently valuable, mmkay?), I’ve naturally gravitated toward trying to finding my own path through the wilderness of human relationships.

I’ve also been thinking about this stuff a lot, because I’ve been dealing with a lot of disruption in my romantic/sexual (the two very much go hand-in-hand for me – at this point, I feel it safe to say that I don’t experience sexual attraction unless I am falling in love with – or already in love with – someone) entanglements over the last 1-2 years, and I’ve been actively trying to figure out what sorts of relationship structures I want to have in my life.

I haven’t had an exclusive sexual or romantic commitment in more than a decade, but at the same time I don’t take ‘polyamorous’ as one of my identities, particularly. Polyamory is something I’ve been practicing for some time, but it’s not fundamental for me; it’s the way my relationships have been built over the last while, for a complicated bunch of reasons, none of which are as cut-and-dried as they once were. For the first time in a long while, basically, it’s something that’s at least open to negotiation for me.

Weirdly, I started writing this post thinking I was going to get around to the reasons that I don’t really identify with relationship anarchy when it gets right down to it, but I actually think it’s a perfect fit for at least the way I try to approach all my relationships. While I’ve definitely internalized some of the messages I’ve been raised with about what various kinds relationships ‘should’ look like, and that impacts my own approach and desires within relationships, but ultimately my relationships are reasonably collaborative efforts, and I’m not bothered when they don’t look like the norm.

I also kind of suspect that this is true for most people when you get right down to it. Even those that feel the pressure of norms very often flout them when it is convenient; some people are more likely to hide the non-normative aspects of their relationships than others, I guess, but I’m not sure that’s a relevant distinction here.

What this says to me is that relationship anarchy is more important as a concept than an identity (at least for me). I think it is important to actively talk about how it’s ok and probably even important to let your relationships deviate from norms, because trying to use a one-size-fits-all model is a recipe for disaster in most cases. Relationship anarchy is a great model because it centres mutual consent and active communication rather than assumptions around relationship questions like sexual and romantic exclusivity, what does and does not constitute a breaking of any such commitments (since there is often a great deal of disagreement about this), and many other things.

I also think that the principles of relationship anarchy is particularly important and potentially useful for ace and aro people, simply because it is a model that inherently creates space for whatever kinds of intimate/interdependent relationships people want to build. The idea of making a lifelong commitment to someone that doesn’t involve sex and/or romance is still strangely revolutionary/unthinkable to many people, for instance, despite that fact that it may very be an ideal for many ace and/or aro people.

So, I guess I’m very happy to have this as a topic for the Carnival, and I look forward to reading everyone else’s submissions!

*er, ok, some kinds of relationship norms actually fit better with demisexuality than allosexuality (wait before having sex! Don’t do it with lots of people! or whatever), but nevertheless, within the (largely non-religious) dating eco-system where I find myself, it’s more of a problem than not.

My Theory of Love

One of the things I find really tricky in talking about romantic relationships is defining what exactly it is that differentiates them from friendships, or from any other kind of non-romantic love relationship. It’s a very difficult thing to put ones finger on, though I have some ideas.

Ain’t it romantic?

The big thing, is, of course, romantic love. Which, as I understand it, (and because I feel compelled to put this in the most unromantic way possible) is largely a chemical process in the brain that can be compared to addiction. When we are romantically in love with a person, our brain feeds us happy-making chemicals when we are around them, and that makes us want to be around them.

This, though, is obviously a bit of an over-simplification. I have no idea, for instance, what causes this kind of feedback loop to start – what makes us fall in love with some people and not others? For me, the only definite necessary elements are about me; I fall in love when I am in a mental state that allows me to be open with another person. In short, I fall in love with people that I feel comfortable being vulnerable with, and to be perfectly honest, my vulnerability may not be directly related to the person in the moment. It may have more to do with he greater context of my life and mental state related to things that have nothing to do with the person, but I do need to be in a particular mental place to fall in love. Though there’s obviously more to it than that. I suppose the other person has to be responsive to my openness an vulnerability, because otherwise the experience could be quite a negative one for me.

For me, there’s also this squishy period during the falling in love process, where I’m quite certain I could choose to shut down and abort, and not become emotionally entangled. I’m not sure, because I’ve never done this, but I’ve definitely been in a hazy place of “this is a person I could conceivably fall in love with” and made a conscious choice to lean into that possibility, and that’s how falling in love has historically worked for me. I’ve even been able to hold myself in the fuzzy, squishy potential-filled status period with some people. For these people, I don’t feel like it’s accurate to say I ever fell in love with them, just that I definitely could have.

So, for me, the ultimate difference between a really good, meaningful platonic relationship, and a romantic one, is a question of how I choose to approach it (and, of course, the other person’s inclinations). Of course, while this sounds like a really minor difference, it still has huge implications for the substance of the relationship. Being in love is exactly like how all the stupid love stories in movies and on the radio make it out to be, and all the shit that you assumed was schlocky exaggeration when you’d never been in love is suddenly so totally 100% exactly how you feel, and really, it’s not even close actually, and real love is so much bigger and better than any of those media have ever been able t communicate, you know?

It feels life-changing. And it’s wonderful and powerful and valuable, to the people who experience it. But substantially, I’m not sure how important it is. And I mean it. This kind of love, the one I’ve been trying to describe, is what I tend to think of as “Big Love”. It’s something I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have experienced more than once in my life, and to have with my husband now, but at the same time, it’s not necessarily what I value most in my relationship with him.

The thing about Big Love, is that’s it’s volatile. And it’s actually not something that’s totally sustainable over the long-term; I believe I’ve read that the brain can only sustain it for a couple of years at most. And we’ve been together significantly longer than that now, so it’s fair to say we haven’t felt the Big Love for each other throughout the entire course of our relationship. And in fact, I can tell you truthfully that I haven’t; that at times, I have loved him no more or less than other important people in my life; an that at times, I realized that I could choose to not love him anymore, and that it would be relatively painless on my part to do so. I’ve always chosen to lean back in and fall back in love, and the Big Love has always reignited, easily and comfortably.

I mean, relationships? They do take work. But love, itself? That part, for me, is easy. It kind of always has been. And as long as I continue to choose to love him, our marriage will continue to be worth the work required to keep it going. Which looks like a weird feedback loop, where the marriage is the reason I choose to stay in love, and being in love is the reason I value the marriage, but it’s not that, really. I value the marriage because it’s something we both chose – it’s a project we have undertaken together, as partners, and as friends, and loving each other is itself one aspect of that project.

Really, at the bottom, a strong friendship is the reason our romance stays strong. So, the difference between a truly loving friendship and a romance? As far as I’m concerned, it’s what you choose, together, to make of it.

And all of this, this is why I’m able to be happy an comfortable in a poly relationship. I think that so often, when people have debilitating jealousy issues, or respond to the idea of their partner caring about someone else, it’s because we frame love as a force of nature. It’s something that just happens; it strikes without warning, and more importantly, it’s an unstoppable force. And if we believe this narrative, it’s only natural to want to prevent our partners from being exposed to people that they might accidentally fall in love with.

I mean, I used to just wonder at how little some people trust the people they supposedly love, and I never understood why people would make formal commitments to be faithful if neither one really believed the other. But I think I understand now that for many people, it’s not about whether they trust their partner. It’s simply that we’re tricked into believing that they have no control in the matter – that even if we trust their intention enough to accept their promise of fidelity, when it comes right down to it, they don’t get to choose whether they will fall in love with someone else and break our hearts.

But, I know that I chose to love the man that I do, and I know that he chose to love me. And the only thing I need to trust in is that he will continue to make the same choice throughout the years, for that is the real commitment that we have made to one another. Luck’s got nothing to do with it.

It really is as simple as this.

And of course, I know that there are other factors, both internal and external, that may change how we feel about our relationship to one other. And we may not spend the rest of our lives together; few people do. But the thing that I do know, for sure, is that if we choose to part ways, it won’t be because the magical, uncontrollable spirit of love abandons us. It will be because our relationship no longer represents the practical, mutually beneficial arrangement for us that it currently does. It will have run its course, and I suspect that I will judge it to have been successful, no matter when it ends, for having improved both of our lives for its duration.

And honestly, I really hope we’re smart enough to end it if that ever ceases to be the case. I think that’s part of what real love and actually caring about each other is about.

And as of this writing, I totally intend to keep on loving this man with all my heart for decades to come.

UPDATE: there was a bunch of stuff I couldn’t fit into this post, so there’s a part 2 here