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Bad Good Romance

July 23, 2010
text from Ryan

From my partner, after a week-and-a-half without seeing each other

For a variety of reasons, I often feel shy about celebrating this relationship. Given all the bullshit, grief, and even trauma that most of us young people endure in our love lives (and I’ve had my share, with more to come in the future, no doubt), it feels weirdly rude or dissonant when somebody speaks in detail about a marvelous partnership.  Cute couple-y photos, fine; wedding or baby announcements, ok.  But in general, no news is good news.  Conversations are for commiserating over heartache, analyzing a transgression, or dishing about a new lover.

Besides, it’s a little difficult to even define what I mean by a “marvelous partnership.” I don’t mean pleasurable, necessarily, though it certainly is that. But for me, the relationship’s best attributes aren’t your typical high highs — the dizzy, heady, mind-blowing, earth-shaking, dare I say passionate feelings.

Instead, there’s deep comfort. Profound mutual respect and care. Trust. Confidence. Generosity. Wonder. Humor. Steadiness. Openness — which means both closeness and spaciousness. And the kind of love that radiates outward, illuminating not only the partnership itself but our engagement with others, too.

Culturally, many of us young people are quite savvy and adept at analyzing relationship dysfunction. (Avoiding the dysfunction is another story.) But when it comes to flourishing romance, the best we can do, it seems, is chalk it up to luck, destiny, or maybe hard work. (“Relationships take work,” I’ve often heard — with little elaboration on what that work entails, save for some intimations about compromise, gift-giving, ‘communication,’ and remembering anniversaries.)

Another reason I’m loathe to laud my situation is that I don’t want to reinforce pernicious myths about the supremacy of monogamy.  We’re taught that qualities like trust and love come from monogamous relationships (and monogamous relationships only), rather than being brought to them.

I’m no relationship expert, but I do have eyes.  And from what I’ve seen, very few people in our culture can develop healthy monogamous partnerships.  Especially not without the benefit of some ethical, non-grasping, non-monogamous loving experience, or at least openness to that framework for intimacy.  Not to mention some genuine comfort with being alone.  Personally, I probably strengthened my relationship skills the most during the year when I was single and celibate, traveling solo and studying dhamma (including Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings On Love, on loan from my friend Erin).

See?  There I go again, gettin’ all squirrelly writing this post about ‘my relationship WIN.’  Well it’s not a win, it’s just what’s happening, and there’s patience and enthusiasm and true love involved, and those are pretty great things.

Have a wonderful weekend, friends!  See you Monday.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2010 3:55 pm

    I hear you on this – I’m also in a marvelous partnership and feeling ill-equipped to talk about it with friends. I only know how to gripe!

  2. ashley permalink
    July 23, 2010 4:04 pm

    I don’t know, but I unless I’m really in the depths of despair I always enjoy hearing about others’ happiness in relationships. It makes me feel really good for those people, glad that they are being recognized and appreciated for the wonderful people they are and sharing their own beauty with others, increasing our collective happiness. And, I always feel like I gain something of value from those talks– insights into what I should maybe be looking for, or a new perspective. Hope. Just from our conversation the other day (and this blog post), I’ve thought a little bit more about what it means to be with someone simply because you want to, not because you need them to fill some personal void. Or because you need some kind of ownership– you over the other person, that person over you. I was interested by your thoughts on the benefits of non-monogamous relationships, honestly because I rarely think about them as something I want. They have tended to scare me, unsettle some latent fears I have about self-worth. But, interpreted differently, they may be one way of achieving a better sense of self-worth…a confidence in oneself that allows you to be wholly you and a better, less selfish or needy partner to another.

    This is me just thinking aloud for myself, not really adding to the conversation except to say 1) Yay for you! Truly :) and 2) keep sharing and teaching.

  3. Cat permalink
    July 26, 2010 1:33 pm

    Okay. You got me, dos veces. I, too, rarely talk about my own relationship for much of the same reasons as you state. I, too, say to others that a good relationship is “a lot of hard work.”

    Part of that taciturn explanation lies in the fact that what makes love sustaining is incredibly personal and private. Vulnerable. For me, I can talk about my various internal states any time of the day, but going into the relationship’s internal state means that I’m also broaching my partner’s privacy as well. It is this fact that makes me hesitate…that causes me to sum it up into a single sparse sentence. My love is no longer mine and it’s this respect for its delicacy that puts me on the quiet side. And when ever am I ever quiet? Haha, I think you get my point.

    In general, I don’t think most romantic relationships in our culture can be both healthy and long-term, whether they are monogamous, polygamous or polyamorous. That’s the skeptic in me. I would love to see more positive examples of healthy and long-term partnerships in this culture and others.

  4. July 28, 2010 10:10 am

    @RK: Hey there! So glad for you. Yeah, we gotta develop a new, non-griping vocab, huh?

    @ashley: A-number-1, it was so nice talking with you the other week. B-number-two, it’s good to hear that the celebration element doesn’t always weird people out. C-number-three, yes, I think the relationship-as-personal-void-filler is one of the more common downfalls of loving partnership in our voluntary dating culture, with different permutations for different individuals and groups (i.e. women are raised with this narrative much more than men; queer folks might seek queer partnership as a way of resisting heterosexism). D-number-four, you are lovely — I really enjoyed our biannual visit. :)

    @Cat: you and I will keep our eyes peeled for “examples of healthy and long-term partnerships in this culture and others.” Fun project. But yeah, I partly share your skepticism about long-term relationships (I’m thinking quarter-centuries, here), if only because both people will inevitably change. And that doesn’t make the relationship a failure, it just means its positivity was impermanent.

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