I happen to be sitting here writing this on the day of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. As the story goes, their ceremony began late and did not happen until after 9:00 p.m. because “it was such a beautiful summer solstice evening, that the rabbi who married [them] decided to walk to the temple instead of drive.” My parents studied sociology together and became elementary school teachers together. Everyone flipped out because the rent for their first apartment was $108 per month, and no one in the family had ever paid that much before. It was 1969, in Los Angeles CA.
Three years back, I had a proud moment when we were at a family wedding in Dallas, Texas. During the party, the DJ had all of the couples come up to the dance floor, and as they danced, he asked anyone who had been together for five years or more, to stay up there. Then he asked those who had been together for 10 or more, 15 or more, and so on. My parents, at 47 years together, were the last ones standing. I say “proud,” not from a place of being better-than, but from a place of beginning to wrap my head around what it must take to be able to have a relationship work for that long. I was only married for nine years.
I asked my parents what the secret is to have a marriage work for that long, and after my dad’s usual “yes dear” jokes—I inherited his sense of humor—they said:
You have to really want to be together, and you have to learn to let things go.
That was it. So simple and, yet, so many layers. As a 46-year-old man, I grew up in an environment where the expectation was that we were all expected to get married and have kids. When people have asked me if I had always wanted to be a father, I realized that it wasn’t necessarily my desire, but something that occurred to me as being what we do. I did want kids, I am glad I have them, and the reality is that having children was never a question for me.
Along with the societal expectation that people get married, there is also the experience that many women share about men who are “not willing to commit” and are not marriage-minded. In fact, many of the books for women on dating tactics revolve around ways to “make him fall in love with you,” or to become the kind of woman that makes him want to just be with you.
In life after divorce, I discovered that the world is no longer so cut and dry. While I have met women who wanted to start “popping out babies” as soon as possible, I also met women who had no interest in ever getting married or having kids. Along those same lines, I know many men who would like to be in long-term relationships, as well as the men who “don’t want to be tied down.” With half of all marriages ending in divorce, and knowing first-hand how difficult going through a divorce can be, on so many levels, I wonder why there is still so much of an expectation that we walk this particular path.
One benefit of my divorce was that I got to start my life over, in a sense. I started over with three kids in tow, but I also got to explore dating and relationships in ways that I had not before I was married. I got to learn about myself as an adult, I got to explore my sexuality as an adult and I got to approach dating with a sense of wisdom that I did not have in my twenties. I also have had the opportunity to soul search and ask myself if I really am monogamous, if I do or don’t want to ever be married again and what I want the rest of my life to look like, versus what I just figured was the proper way to go.
In my coaching practice, I have had many clients who have gone on similar inner journeys. Some were convinced they were meant to live a poly lifestyle, only to discover their real desire was to share their life with just one person; and they were exploring poly from a place of resignation. On the flip side, I have had clients who felt shame around their fantasies about multiple partners and just needed the permission, and support, in living the kind of life they wanted. Neither was right and neither was wrong; it really just came down to what would serve each individual on their specific path. As with any scenario, as long as it is handled with integrity—which is one of the key areas in which I support my clients—anything is possible.
For me, I love the practice of being with one special person and building that relationship inside of a safe container. I find it to be very nurturing and fulfilling in committing to each other in this way. I also love my friends who are in the poly world and would not want them to live their lives any other way, as it is what excites, motivates, and supports them.
I believe we are at a really wonderful place in time in regards to this issue. For those of us who are consciously searching, asking questions and willing to receive answers, we are getting to define who we are, what we want, and what lifestyle choices best suit us. We are also discovering that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to live our lives, and there really is nothing we are “supposed” to do.
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