Friday, April 04, 2008

superrelationships, monogamy, and please stop asking.

A few years back, the Utne Reader had a cover article about SuperRelationships.  I found the article compelling because it explored the question of whether we expect too much from relationships.  This is a question to which I keep returning.  Is it realistic to expect so much from one person?  Can we expect that one person will "get" every aspect of us?
In October, I was at a wedding and catching up with a friend I hadn't seen in some time.  I was telling my friend about my recently acquired boyfriend.  I felt compelled to explain that I wasn't sure that he was the love of my life, because even though he was my boyfriend, I feared that people would infer too much from it.  I then began confessing that as much as I adored my boyfriend, I also felt drawn to a coworker with whom I got along very well and who shared a similar sense of humor and approached work much in the same way I do.  I was confused by what seemed to be conflicting feelings - how can I feel that way towards one if I feel the way I feel towards another?  My friend shared something that I thought was so insightful and intelligent that I reflect back upon it often, particularly when the issue of relationships come up in conversation. 
What my friend shared with me was her belief that perhaps our society is so wildly monogamous that we cannot accept that there might be one person, not our significant other, who gets one part of us so much better than anyone else, and we feel guilty when that happens.
Over the holidays, I again found myself in a discussion about my current relationship status.  When asked whether it was serious, I responded that I couldn't tell.  I knew I cared very deeply for my boyfriend, and I felt that his laid-back, upbeat approach to life balanced out my high-anxiety, intense, sometimes moody self.  I liked spending time with him, but liked that we both kept separate spheres, and were able to join or not join the other when we felt like it.  What I didn't feel, however, was that firecracker emotion, that tingle in the back of my neck, the excitement that comes when you meet someone who sparks some dormant or quiet part of you.  I wasn't sure that he really "got" me, and that we didn't have enough in common for that to ever realistically happen.  So things were good, they were really good, but I wasn't sure they were great, but I also wasn't sure that any relationship ever has that capacity.  My friends shared their stories, of friends who were together but then broke up, no reason other than it just wasn't The One.  It was good, but it wasn't great, and good isn't good enough.  And here we are, embracing or about to embrace our 30s, and still no answers or discoveries with respect to The One.
It came up again last week.  A friend who was considering some of her own relationships started asking whether I saw myself marrying my current boyfriend.  She asked if I was happy, or just content, and was being just "content" settling for something less than love that we each deserve?
I don't have answers.  I do sometimes wonder about my relationship, and it pains me to admit that.  But for as much as the questioning around me increases, my own questions subside.  The longer I'm in this relationship, the more I see that he gets me much more than I gave him credit for.  He might not debate my socio-political philosophies with me, and we may never be capable of having such esoteric discussions.  But there are other people with whom I can have those discussions, and I don't know anyone else who can calm me or keep me company in the day to day drudgery of life the way that he can.
If we expect the superrelationship, then we are looking for one person who gets every part of us, to the exclusion of the people around us who are very capable of providing those connections.  I have seen couples who are good examples of superrelationships, but I am not sure it's for everyone.  And it's not that I don't wish the best for myself or others who haven't found a superrelationship, and I'm not even sure whether I think there is a superrelationship for everyone or not.  But I think it's ok to be in a committed, long-term relationship with someone who gets most of you, and respects that the rest of the parts of you will continue to explore and develop, sometimes or even oftentimes with other people in your life.
So am I going to marry the boyfriend?  I don't know.  I'm not anywhere near that place.  The question makes me uncomfortable.  Would I be, if I were in a superrelationship?  Maybe.  There's no way to tell.  I'm not in a rush to resolve the question.  There's so much more fun to be had first.  I know we're good together right now, and right now I think that's enough.
What do you think?  Are we expecting superrelationships and supermonogamy?  Are we expecting too much?  Or are we discarding a formerly economic and social contractual approach to marriage and relationships in favor of a true, deep, one-of-a-kind bond approach to marriage?


Jen said...

I wish people would stop assuming that because you're in a relationship longer than 1 year that you're suddenly going to get engaged at any moment.

sumognat said...

I totally understand your feelings on this issue--whether or not it's reasonable to expect total fulfillment from one person. I've considered this issue before and concluded that (for me at least) that it's impossible and impractical to get everything you need and want from your interactions with just one person (namely, your SO). Moreover, to hold such a view is to diminish the importance that other relationships have in your life. I am particularly close with some of my female friends and can have meaningful discussions with them that I could never really have with my SO, such as frank discussions about sex, relationships, family issues, and other matters than are interesting to explore from a shared perspective. While I really value my female friends in this respect, this does not entail that I value my SO any less. My SO and I share a love for travel and new experiences, and this shared interest is often hard to accommodate with friends who are more likely to enjoy pontificating than being active; he also has DIY fix-it skills that I admire and are mostly lacking in all my other “intellectual” friends, but all of the above doesn’t make me value my friends any less either.

The way you describe your relationship with your current SO seems to parallel my own relationship. He’s more social than me, a bit more laid back than me, and not nearly anywhere as analytical as I am. I can’t discuss philosophical ideas with him and expect the same analytical rigor I might expect/desire with my other friends who are academics; however, because I do not have such expectations of him, I am not often disappointed by him in this respect. Sometimes, I am, but I when that happens, I remind myself that we are two different people with different personalities—but don’t take that to mean that I turn down every opportunity to challenge him on an issue where I feel he could have a better understanding. :)

As to whether or not it’s better to be with someone you’re content with or “raises the hair on the back of your neck,” when I find myself involved with the latter, these are often people who are not good for long-term relationships, although they tend to be very bright and enjoy discussing esoteric topics. For some reason, I have always found that my best relationships have been with people who it took me awhile to come to appreciate or “grow into” (I am definitely someone who does not rush to the altar). If what you want is a long-term relationship, then you should list those qualities that a long-term partner should have and are necessary for the kind of relationship you want to have. I guess you could think of dating as an activity where we get to figure out what qualities stay on the list and what ones get dropped. And, if you’re not interested in having long-term relationships, then that list doesn’t have to play a predominant role in your love-interest decisions.

And, since I certainly don’t believe in the “one true love” mantra, I feel it’s natural and to be expected that you might bump up against someone who sparks your interest. In those instances, I feel it’s best to re-examine just what it is that you love about your SO and remember that no one person can satisfy you in every way. If your current SO is not matching up to that aforementioned list, then perhaps it is time to move on, but if they are, what would make you think you’d be happier with the other person, when you have no idea as to what qualities this person may lack but happen to be on your list? Of course, not everyone’s built for monogamy and long-term committed relationships and it’s important for those people to be honest with themselves and others when discussing the future of a relationship, so as not to lead to any inadvertent misunderstandings.

I apologize if I come across like I’m lecturing you, I just thought I’d take an opportunity to discuss this issue since I often think about it. :)