My parents met on a blind date arranged through the mail. It was 1945. Two New York City kids stationed in Fort Benning, Ga. -- my father a paratrooper, my mother a dietician in the Nursing Corp. Wartime can provoke extreme actions: they eloped eight days later. And the marriage thrived for 49 years, producing my two older brothers and me. We were raised in the thrall of a love story!
A couple of weeks ago, a charming man on Facebook suggested that we meet for a drink, and I accepted. That drink turned into a fantasy first date; his insistence on immediate monogamy (even though we did not consummate the relationship that night, or subsequently, for that matter) grabbed the secret place in me that loves romance and love stories. It was as if we were in an instant committed relationship. Why am I surprised that now we are discussing what went awry?
Almost a decade ago, one of my closest friends and I met men in the same week. My guy was wary, so we moved slowly and developed a working relationship outside conventional forms: we lived separately, were non-monogamous, and we always communicated and told the truth. We did some fruitful counseling together at a couple of difficult junctures and developed a deep and abiding respect to support our affection. My friend and his guy dove in: they moved in together within weeks. They were vehemently monogamous, and they had a formal wedding ceremony for over 100 friends and family on an early anniversary.
Both relationships ended in the same year. My ex and I remain close and trusted friends. My friend and his ex parted ways swiftly and dramatically and have not seen each other since the day one left. As this dear friend and I both adjusted to our changed status, we had some really powerful conversations about out parallel relationships. My friend admitted that he had never taken my boyfriend and me seriously, as we had not lived together or been exclusive. But now, he saw that we had learned to work through difficulties and issues and that as a result, we had an amicable divorce leading to an intimate friendship. He had newfound respect for us. From my perspective, I was able to frame his relationship as a "love story" -- which meant that without the tools and communication elements that can come from hard work as a couple, it was almost destined to implode.
I often counsel clients to avoid the "love story trap." Meeting cute and happy endings are part of the Hollywood legacy filling our unconscious with unrealistic visions of easy romance and living happily ever after. I am aware of this -- and yet I fell right into it. Choosing to deny what I know, I followed the fantasy of instant intimacy. I could be like my parents and it could work! Not.
Healer, heal thyself!
Unshockingly, it only took a week to see that I didn't know this man (a good and talented man, by the way) and that what I was seeing was indicating irreconcilable differences. The "love story" is over, and we choose to pursue another form of friendship.
I do not regret any of it. The part of me that can wrap my mind around the idea of monogamy is out of the closet. After all, in order to learn new lessons, a new classroom or context can be extremely motivating. I find myself open to surprising possibilities. And I need to stay awake!
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