In November 2010, I was nervous walking into the banquet hall for my great aunt and uncle's anniversary party. It might have been because it was a family function and much of my family I've not seen in years. As I sat down at a table with my cousins, I listened to the light roasting and storytelling that took place to celebrate this 60-year union. Stories of retaliation or passionate tempers that include all night jaunts, my aunt locking my uncle in the cellar during one argument to gain the upper hand, and perhaps many other tales that I don't know anything about.
I was tickled yet amazed at the fact that three grown children, and several grand and great grandkids later, these two people seemed to still have a love and appreciation for each other. In one example of coupledom that I recall from a Valentine's Day issue of O Magazine, I read about a marriage that was several decades old having survived separation, preoccupations with career, children and so many other things. I have also been involved in many late night conversations filled with lots of hushed whispers and innuendos about how "well" individuals are surviving or settling within their union. These long-term unions, and many others that I have known of, are not without tales of infidelity, secret mongering, and/or a hodgepodge of relationship shenanigans.
It is almost as if everyone is doing time at prison monogamy and doing what they can just to get by day by day. Should
There is also the epilogue that closes these saucy stories that encompasses the messiness that occurs as these relationships dissolve -- yet these vignettes are all among love's tapestry. While I don't want to adapt any of these relationship models into my own life, in many ways I already have. On some level I, and many I know, have a collection of non-fictional accounts that would make eyes bulge from disbelief and jaws drop from speechlessness.
Thus, do all romantic relationships operate at a level of accepted dysfunction?
Exhibit A would include my parents at the top of that list of partnerships operating at a level of dysfunction. Within the next couple of years, my parents will have been together for about 40 years! My mother met my father when she was 16-years-old and they have been together ever since -- but not in a fairy tale sort of way. I have witnessed many Saturday night fights and a regular dance that took place between them in which my father seemed to accept all of the craziness or physical havoc that my mother seemed to cause throughout the house at any given moment.
No, theirs is not a union I want to duplicate and in fact, there are many examples of unionship that would drive me absolutely insane. However, I have often marveled at how individuals like my father have seemed to accept their partners or the situation of the relationship regardless of the extremes that it carries with it. Given these realities that exist in partnership, is love difficult, arduous and should we accept the many painful stories as the standard for relationship? My immediate knee-jerk reaction is no, I don't believe that being in partnership has to be so difficult and in many ways, I believe we have made it excessively complicated. However, thinking that relationships with each other would not include some level of strife or challenge might be unrealistic.
Relationships, especially marriage, based on love is roughly 200-years-old at best. As a rule, unions formed among nomadic tribes of early man through the 17th -18th centuries, were created to strengthen political/familial ties and/or out of necessity rather than love. Partnering based on love is in its toddlerhood at best and perhaps all of the dysfunction we are encountering with it may just be humanity's growing pains. Additionally, there is also the fabled nature of romantic love that was presented by Plato in the Symposium. Plato outlines a conversation that Socrates is having with a friend about love in which he states that Love is the offspring of Poverty and Plenty. Thus, because of its very nature, love waxes and wanes between not ever having enough or starved to being plump from content.
Was Plato accurate with his portrayal of love in this story? In our relationships with each other, are we just acting out the fact that love is an emotion full of extremes as it is perpetually malnourished yet abundant all at the same time? Within our romantic explorations with each other, we might be uncovering the painfully soothing, beautifully ugly, and seeking yet content realities of the emotion we call love. Layered within all of this is also the unmistakable biology of how our bodies react upon attempting to create partnership with each other. A tango of hormones and chemicals ensue as we attempt coupling up -- dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and adrenaline -- to encourage the pair bonding.
All of these concurrent realities exist within a culture in which love is a phoenix bird encountering many rebirths in regards to partnership and in fact gives many amnesia from their past relationship woes. Like a woman who has given birth but has somehow forgotten the depth of the pain so that she may birth again, there are many with past broken/damaged hearts who have experienced temporary amnesia so that they may hop aboard the relationship rollercoaster time and time again. In discussing all of this, there is that quote that comes to mind which states that we are all flawed and just trying the best we can. If we are already operating at our own level of dysfunction within our flawed states of self, why wouldn't we bring our mess into relationship? Not just romantic relationship, but the interactions we have with friends, or family are all filled with their own stories of drama, misunderstanding and dysfunction that all co-exist with love.
Maybe it is some sort of masochism that we willfully endure because we inevitably crave partnership.
We are all rubbing each other's wounds sometimes intentionally and unintentionally during this dance of human relationship. Perhaps we should accept that we all encompass and operate within dysfunction -- but we can possibly choose the acceptable levels of dysfunction we share/exchange/and breed within our personal relationships.
Shanta Crowley writes from Brattleboro. Follow her writing at www.Reformer802.com/realtalk.