Thursday, February 13, 2014

Some pre-Valentine's Day musings on relationships...

Happy Thursday all! I heard a story on NPR's "This American Life" podcast this week that got me to thinking. It's about relationships and marriage, and since Valentine's Day is tomorrow, I thought "perfect timing!" I do have conversations with myself about blog topics. It's just part of what makes me special. ;-0

Anyway, the story in a nutshell was this:  a guy (we'll call him Adam) and his girlfriend met back in college. They hit it off right away, started exclusively dating, and 13 years later were still together. Now 30 years old, they were an established couple amongst their group of friends and obviously very comfortable with each other. The problem? They had never talked about getting married. They just kept dating because both of them wanted to, and neither had felt particularly compelled to talk about marriage.

Adam finally broaches the topic, and is a bit surprised by his girlfriend's response. They had only ever (seriously) dated each other. She thought they should see other people before getting married. And let me be clear (without being vulgar): she specified that she felt they should be intimate with other people prior to marrying each other.

My mouth was hanging open a bit at this point, but I'll continue. :0 They agree that for 30 days, they will not speak, and that they are free to, you know, *see* as many people during that time as they like. Their one rule is that they will not enter into an actual relationship with anyone else. They embark. Adam regales us with some tales of his 30 days. At the end of the month, both Adam and Girlfriend agree that one month wasn't long enough. So they continue on in this fashion for a total of three months.

During this time, Adam finds that he is struggling a bit with his feelings. He found a few women that he became emotionally attached to, and had to abruptly stop seeing them lest he break his promise to his girlfriend. Towards the end of the three months, things are looking dire. He has fallen in love with another woman. His girlfriend? Reports no such phenomena. She said that she had no trouble keeping her feelings out of their experiment.

So, when the three months are over, Adam and his girlfriend get together to talk. The result is completely unsurprising, in my opinion. They decide to break up. They both enjoyed meeting other people and felt that the reason they felt compelled to conduct such an experiment showed that neither was completely happy in their relationship anymore. They went their separate ways.

We now cut to Adam talking to the host of the show, Ira Glass. Adam tells Ira that as a result of all of this, he thinks that when he does get married, he wants it to be for only seven years. At the end of seven years, they can choose to either break up or get remarried. But this way, things won't get stale and you won't take the other person for granted, at least in his estimation. Ira took issue with this a bit, and said that he felt one of the huge benefits to marriage is the security of knowing that you both vowed to stick with it for life, not just for a short duration. If something goes wrong in the short term, you don't have to fear the person leaving you for easier pastures just because you're nearing a seven year time stamp.

I thought about this story for a long time after listening to it. I'm sure you would be unsurprised to learn that I think the very premise of this couple's "experiment" was an absolutely terrible idea. Of *course* they were going to break up after that! The whole thing was a sabotage of their relationship.

I suppose the deeper issue is - what really *is* compatibility and happiness with your spouse within marriage? It's not any one thing, of course. We could add things onto the list of answers to this question all day. But to me, a real essential part of this equation is a decision. I made a decision to vow to be faithful to my husband and live out the rest of my life with him. Are there other men out there that I could have decided to marry instead? Well, sure. I'm not saying I in particular had all of these options :0 because I did not. What I mean is that anybody could look around and say "oh, I also find him attractive. He's (fill in the blank with shared interest or key part of your background) and also (ditto). Hum...

But we don't do that, or at least recognize that we shouldn't. One could always perceive the grass to be greener somewhere else. Marriages that are successful involve two people who are able to put those thoughts aside and direct their romantic energy onto their spouse. We choose a partner for a reason, many of them in fact, compelling ones. Over the course of ten, twenty, thirty plus years, people change. Our circumstances in life change. But our marriage vow does not. And in my opinion, if you keep your romantic focus on your spouse, despite those changes, you will remain happy in your relationship.You bring other people into the equation, and suddenly you are distracted. You damage your emotional bond with your spouse. The fibers of your relationship start to crumble.

Mike and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary next January. There have been some tough times, but I have always been, and remain, happily married. And listening to this story made me appreciate my husband anew. We're both in this for the long haul. My husband may not be perfect, nor is he married to a perfect woman. But we are committed to each other. I know that he loves and cherishes me, not only because he tells me so, but because I know that he is committed to being there for me and our children. And that speaks volumes.

What do you all think? Did anyone else hear "This American Life" this week? Is it possible to be happy with just one person for the rest of your life? Thoughts in the comments, please! :)


  1. Oh, that is so sad.

    If you look at marriage from only one point of view, it's never going to make sense. Like the people who say, "Surely you don't expect me to stay in a marriage where I'm not happy!" If you look at it from the other point of view, wouldn't you say instead, "Surely my spouse doesn't deserve to be made unhappy by my leaving them!"

    And being sure you'll stay together -- or as sure as it's possible to be -- is what makes it make sense to make all the sacrifices we do for marriage. It makes me really sad to hear women say, "Staying home with your kids is a terrible risk, if your husband divorces you, you'll have no resume to find a job." Yes, that would be tragic. So it's only when you have the sense that it's permanent that you're going to be willing to do stuff like that -- stuff that is good for the family as a whole while not being the smart thing if you're looking out for yourself.

    I'm glad divorce is legal, because sometimes there's abuse and it really would be cruel not to let people separate. Even the knowledge that I *could* get divorced makes me think, "Since I don't want that to happen, I should put forth some effort." But I am committed to this -- I mean this to last a lifetime, and because of that I'm not hedging my bets.

  2. I didn't hear it, but I just looked it up so I know who it is. (Kind of funny but sometimes weird.) I'm not married but Lord knows I know a lot of married people, and I do get the sense it's more of a decision than a feeling. You get up every day and make choices. And my one professor in college always said love ultimately is sacrifice. I do believe that.

    I had the misfortune of being the first long-term relationship for someone, and when I pressed for a commitment, he freaked out and dumped me, saying he needed to date other people. He married a mutual friend--former friend to me, I should say--who pounced on him and didn't ask difficult things of him. I'm glad I didn't marry him but it was dumb of me to stay around so long when it was obvious he didn't want to do hard things (and also was afraid to have children--although oddly enough he has two now).

  3. That must be hard. Have you seen When Harry Met Sally? She dates this guy for years who won't commit and never wants kids. Finally she dumps him, and he immediately finds someone else, marries her, and has kids. I just don't understand guys like that. Did they grow up in the intervening time, or was the fear of commitment founded on something that was missing in the original relationship?

    I don't even know, but it sounds very painful. Hugs.

    On the marriage being a choice thing ... it definitely is. Every kind of love has to be. It may be hard to be nice to someone when you feel annoyed at them .... but we all love to have someone that we KNOW will be there for us. And if you want to receive that kind of love, you have to give it.

  4. Aw, thanks, Sheila. I saw that movie so long ago I couldn't even tell you that much about it, so I definitely didn't remember that happening.

    I just don't want to be a dating instructor anymore; I can't seem to meet any men who are seeking to be married and actually know how to date and be boyfriends.


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