Questioning Relationship Model Assumptions
By Cherie L. Ve Ard
June 2004
RD042006

The more I talk with people, the more I read, the more media I expose myself to, the more I realize that I have a different perspective on relationships than the mainstream.

The mainstream seems to go along with the meme that successful relationships are committed for life. That you're to find your ONE who best completes/complements you, and stick with them, usually in the form of marriage in our society. Even among the local poly community, there's an overwhelming number of couple-centric pairings - people who enter into new relationships vowing that their existing relationship will ALWAYS have primacy. And to the outside observer, Fritz and I probably look like we fit that mold - simply because it's the filter that most folks see relationships through.

I've never really approached relationships that way. My only monogamous relationship was in high school, and even then, I had a closer-than-friendship relationship with his best friend. My 10 year relationship with Tim was about as close to couplehood as I got - after all, we did literally spend 24 hrs a day together for most of that 10 years, living together and running a business together. The other relationships we had were definitely at a secondary level, and our's primary - until we entered into "the quad", of course. But I never strongly identified our relationship by couplehood. Yes, we did fall into some couple-centric patterns, as any dyad would do. But even our wedding vows were open ended, nothing about "to death do us part". And our marriage was one of convenience to begin with - very separate from our relationship. Heck, the couple we were dating at the time and our boyfriend were in our wedding party!

I just don't think in those terms. And while it wasn't conscious then... it sure is now. I got away with fitting in with that mindset because I was unaware of how my thoughts differed. I now specifically make a point of letting my potential dating-mates/partner(s) know that I don't think in those terms. Sure... a person may very well be in my life for a long long time - perhaps even to the point of one of our deaths - but that's not my intention in relationship.

I guess I tend to look at people close in my life as pathmates. I'm walking along my path... and as I journey, other people's paths may intersect with mine. We may walk along the same path for a short while or a long while, but when our paths diverge, I appreciate the time we had together instead of mourn the time we won't have in the future. Because that time in the future wasn't an expectation for me. And heck, our paths may stay close for a while, they may intersect again... or they may go in totally different ways. Thus far, this has enabled me to let go of relationships without resentments and still appreciate these people in my life at different levels. Since I've adopted this mindset about relationships, all of my ex's I still consider to be very good friends. People who will remain a pleasant part of my life, whether in person or memory, until the day I die. So in essence, these people are in my life forever... more so than when I was unconsciously getting by, following the default meme of "to death do us part".

I also don't think in terms of having a preset ideal of what a relationship needs to looks like. When talking with a lot of folks, even in the poly community, there's seems to be measuring stick that is held up to relationships. If a relationship falls short, it's missing something. I once had a friend tell me that our relationship had a strong intellectual and spiritual component, but was missing the physical. That threw me for a loop! From my perspective, we had a good thing going. Sure, a physical component would have been nice... but I didn't see it as necessary to appreciate the other aspects of our friendship. I wasn't trying to build up to anything. I tend to let relationships grow in their own ways and try to be realistic about what they are and aren't - there are no goals or boundaries when I start out. Whereas many around me tend to start with a jar with a few beans, call its contents a "Relationship" and try to fill that jar until it's full. If the jar remains partially empty for a period of time, then it's lacking, and now you have to empty the contents. If the beans exceed the jar, then boundaries are stepped on, causing all sorts of containment problems.

Of course I have "standards" and preferences for relationships. For instance, I don't call someone Partner (ie. someone with whom I create substantial interdependencies with) without the components of what I perceive that type of relationship to be. I don't buy a house with someone unless I have a pretty good idea that our paths will remain together for a while, and that when they diverge that we can work it out. I consciously consider decisions that create more interdependency, and explore how those commitments can be best broken in the future. And because of stupid STDs, I don't become sexual with someone unless there are other elements of a relationship present that make the risk worth the while for me. But I don't consider a Relationship to be lacking if it's not a full "Partnership". It just simply isn't a partnership... it's what it is. And that may change too. Just because I use the label Partner now, doesn't mean that defines our relationship for the future. Labels are descriptions, not prescriptions.

It seems that people need the security that a life long committed relationships gives them. But to me, it's a false sense of security. People are always changing and growing - and that growth may not be in ways that allows a relationship to stay on its intended course. With a divorce rate of over 50%, I know that I'm not far off in my thinking about this false sense of security. It seems that with life long commitments, you either accept an element of failure, or you limit your own personal growth for the sake of the commitment.

Overall, I feel extremely secure. That security comes from an internal security that I'm not afraid to try and make it on my own - I no longer fear being alone. In fact, it's kinda appealing at times. It comes from knowing that my partner will not be on my path forever, and not to count on it. To find ways to be self-sufficient, and very carefully consider actions/decisions that create a level of interdependency between us.

So... there you have my personal views on relationships in my life. I do not consider relationships a failure if they don't last forever. And I don't prebuild a set of expectations when relationships are just starting. I will never again consciously get involved with people who don't share similar views on relationships. It's just not fair to someone seeking security in me.