One night The New Boyfriend called and I told him about a piece I was working on. (Procrastinating the crap out if actually) “Hey you know, I have an idea for an article. . .” He went on to explain his idea and the loosely quoted paraphrased conversation was this: “Those ‘Ten best ways to keep your marriage alive’ articles annoy me. How could someone who has been married three times know how to keep a marriage alive? “What about people like us? we have a relationship and it’s not a traditional one but where do we fit in? What does forever look like, anyhow? Where’s the articles about people dating who are in love with each other and why do we [rhetorical] need to make a commitment to each other?” I agreed with him there is a distasteful element to many articles written about how wonderful that writer’s 30 year marriage is and so they must have ALL the right answers. I loathe how the subtext of the articles always seems to me: “BIG FAILURE FACE LOSER IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN MARRIED FOR DECADES. YOU FAIL AT RELATIONSHIPS.” But a successful marriage shouldn’t be judged for the number of years people are together. I carry a very pungent memory of my parents feeding off of one another their last decade together. Everyone thought they had such a great marriage . Maybe they did in the early years but their last twenty years together was painful to witness. Sometimes longevity in a relationship isn’t a gift but a big rock around the neck.
In response to his “commitment” question, I launched into my non monogamy diatribe about the unit (be it two or more) is always best served by creating their own definition of commitment. Why not our own definition of what commitment looks like just for us? Who says it has to be the script other’s set for us?
After my speech he has heard about a hundred times, he complimented me on my lack of convention. But something was resting on my heart and needed to be said. It was scarier than admitting I was going to run away this fall. I told him the most important commitment I hold between us is the one I made to myself: I’m committed to loving him the way I want to be loved; treating him the way I want to be treated; honoring, respecting his space and his feelings. But I went further off a cliff:
“I know you love me and I love you. I might even love you forever. But my forever ends if we start feeding off one another; when the whole thing is too much work or big bags of drama. That’s when I walk away.”
This was the second most fearless conversation I’ve ever had with someone. Not only was it fearless, it was singly the most intimate conversation I’ve ever had with a partner and we’ve been involved for less than a year. I was married for ten years and never able to speak my truth like that. If our relationship ends tomorrow that conversation alone would be a measure of success for me.
Being that vulnerable should have frightened me to the point of retraction or retreat. But I felt empowered by the thread of emotional intimacy existing between the two of us. Vulnerability is becoming my new watch word. Perhaps it’s what was missing in my multiple marriages. It made me wonder if I was the one wholly at fault for this arms length approach to intimacy. I didn’t trust myself enough to be completely present with another person? Or was it more nuanced? I didn’t love myself to be completely present with another? Bingo. I perpetuated this approach to intimacy by choosing people who were either shut down emotionally, unreliable with their intimacy or terrified of vulnerability. Those people helped me cement my opinion of myself.
My oldest friend articulated exactly what was happening to me over the last few months. Perhaps shared vulnerability is the root causality of success in a relationship whether it is sixty years or six months.
Being really open and vulnerable leads to having more of a voice too, because if [you] are not afraid of the deep water, then you can disclose more of yourself, your fears, your truth, all of it. True intimacy is holding the heart open.
Such deep water, isn’t it fortunate I’m floating on the surface?