Traditionally, people follow certain steps when it comes to moving forward in romanic relationships. Many people meet, date for a year, move in together, get engaged, get married, adopt a puppy and/or kitten, then after a few years of traveling and "experiencing the world," they try for a baby... and then nine months later the journey of a family begins. This is typically how things have gone for the past however many years, especially in America. Despite the divorce rates, this traditional "order" of things continues to be the "normal" way of life. And instead of looking outside the box, or outside the comfort zone of what's accepted and expected, most people conform to this way of life whether they agree with it or not because it might just feel like way too much of an effort to do it any other way and embrace the unknown.
I grew up in an unconventional family. Sure, my parents started out married, but that ended before I made it to first grade. My mother had a daughter (my sister) from a previous marriage and so right from the beginning, we were a "blended" family. Although this is fairly common these days, in the 1980s it wasn't all that typical and because of that, I always felt a little different than other kids who had "normal" families. And although I spent a lot of my childhood wishing I had married parents, siblings from the same parents and a house with a picket fence, as an adult I wouldn't trade my childhood for anything because it has allowed me the opportunity to be an adult who is more than comfortable living "outside of the box." I don't agree with the traditional way of living, mostly because I didn't have that as an example while I was growing up but also because I have seen so many instances of it not working. I might be biased or possibly even cynical, and as I have mentioned in previous articles, I am sure there are couples out there who are happily married and love each other very much. But as I am getting older and finding out various "secrets" to personal fulfillment and happiness, I can see that the relationship I have with myself and the relationship I have with my partner, combined with the way I view and live life has far more to do with the success of my relationship than any traditional "order" of events based on something that (clearly) does not even work for the majority of people.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the future. As a practice, I tend to do my best to live in the moment and enjoy things as they come. I usually prefer to have fun and focus on what is right in front of me instead of creating potential/hypothetical instances and events that may or may not happen in the future. But lately, things have shifted a bit for me and I find myself wondering what my life might look like a year from now or three years or even 10 years from now. I find myself wondering if I will have kids or be married or just be a different, more evolved and experienced version of who I am now. I wonder if I will be happy and fulfilled and living my passions and enjoying my career and hobbies and relationship with myself and others. And in thinking about all of this, I have realized that I don't actually have a "plan" or even an expectation for how things will unfold. In fact, for the first time in my life I actually feel as though I am surrendering to the various opportunities and events that could pave the path for the years to come. I have an idea of things I want and things that might feel nice or be a positive addition to my life, but I am also open and willing to accept surprises along the way and even changes of direction, as I trust that however things unfold, it will all be in my best interest. And in a lot of ways, this keeps the excitement and passion for life alive in my body and mind and takes my breath away because yes, life can be THAT beautiful and interesting.
The bottom line is that at 30 years old, I thought I would be in a different place than I am not, but instead, it's been completely different than I ever imagined. My life has taken twists and turns and detours that I never anticipated but would never trade anything in the world for because it has all helped me to be where I am in this moment -- and this moment is beautiful. And it really makes me realize that another "secret" to experiencing life (not just living, but experiencing) is just accepting that what comes next is perfectly fine, no matter what "order" it comes in. When it comes to the progression of a relationship, I can't imagine that having a baby first and then moving in together and then maybe some day getting married would result in an unfulfilling life just because it didn't happen in the same sequential steps that it happens in for most people. I don't think it's fair to say that everything has to be "together" in order to start a family with someone or move forward in other ways. I write a lot of articles about relationships and how enjoying each step is crucial to happiness and success in healthy relationships. And maybe -- the surprise of not really knowing what's going to happen next is something that keeps both people on their toes. Perhaps the easiest and most effective way to truly enjoy every step is to not fully know which step is going to come next. Sometimes, people get so focused on what's going to happen next (because it's been planned for), that they forget to just be where they are in the moment. And truthfully, if I have no idea what is going to come next, there isn't anywhere else for me to be except present because trying to hold onto something that is potential or hypothetical really doesn't work because it isn't real. If I have the rest of my life "planned" out in a way that doesn't leave room for surprises, I am already a pretty big step away from the kind of life I want to be living.
On the other side of this, I do believe in being responsible for myself and making sure that I am taking care of myself and doing the things that I need to do. Just because I believe in an unconventional and nontraditional relationship does not mean that I have a completely alternative outlook on life in general. I still want to be a considerate and respectful person and an integrated part of society, I just might want to do things a little different than most people, at the very least, to see if the outcome is any different. It's true that I could go about my life and relationship with this perspective, and the outcome could potentially be the same and could end the way many marriages/relationships in this country end. Or maybe, just maybe, keeping this kind of flexibility and surprise alive in a relationship is just the thing to make it just a tiny bit different from typical situations. Maybe doing everything "out of order" is truly enough to actually change the course of the life of a relationship. Maybe not knowing when exactly I might have a baby or get married or buy a house or move in with someone is leaving just enough room to keep everything interesting and continuously moving forward, despite the fact that the order of it all seems "backwards."
I firmly believe that everything works differently for different people. I do not judge others for how they do things and in return, I hope that others do not judge me. Some people are very happy and successful doing things a certain way and that same way does not work for other people. My main goal in life is to live, with my arms and heart wide open, experiencing all that I can and taking on all that life has to offer me. Maybe I'm just a free spirit or maybe it's the fact that I am the youngest child of three and have seen the way my older siblings have done things -- and as a result have learned from it. But since I can remember, I have always wanted to experience "more." I always wanted to do it different and see just how much I could have fun and enjoy the process. And as a child this was easy, but as an adult, it's translating in a slightly different tone. In some ways, I want it all. Maybe all 30-year-olds say that because they feel young and invincible and like the world is at their fingertips. For me, I need to know I have made the biggest effort I can make. I need to know that I am living and breathing into every moment that exists instead of going into "autopilot" and walking through life with my face (and heart) hidden. I need to give this life all I have -- if for no one else, than for myself and I am pretty much willing to follow that path, whatever it looks like. Sure, not planning ahead for things like a family and a house may make things for challenging. But perhaps it's the challenges that make life what it is and keep everything moving fast enough to keep things interesting but slow enough that every moment can still be savored.
For more by Robin Hoffman, click here.
For more on love and relationships, click here.