One life, one love, one man?

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30.05.2018 2355

According to fairy tales somewhere out there, there’s one right person for each and every one of us, a lid for every pot, a prince for every princess. We learned, that we should make it our goal to find that person and do whatever it takes to make them ours. Fairy tales also taught us that it’s the princess’ role to look beautiful while waiting patiently to be rescued from life as a single woman and it’s the prince’s job to actively search his princess and combat rose thorns and dragons on the way. Oh, and just in case the prince isn’t already perfect in every single way - let’s say cause he’s a beast or a frog - the princess’ love is able to change him into the perfect husband


That “the one” is out there somewhere isn’t the only thing to be learned from fairy tales. They also taught us, that once we’ve found the love of our life, we should live “ ...happily ever after” alongside them as passionate lovers, best friends and committed soul mates. Sex with them should feel like our bodies were made for each other, they should always understand us and there should rarely ever be a conflict, beyond a mere disagreement. If it’s truly the right one, we should never feel the urge to look elsewhere. Have you ever wondered if the princesses and princes just die right on the spot after their wedding? I mean how else would they manage to stay happy and avoid all struggles and arguments that naturally arise with every attempt to live close to another human being, if it wasn’t for the fact that their life together is just really really short?

Or think about the story of Romeo and Juliet: they met a handful of times, fell for each other and died deeply in love with each other. They never shared an apartment, didn’t raise kids, never had to assemble a Ikea furniture together and never had to pay off mortgage. We’ve heard and seen so many of these stories, we’ve started to strive for this kind of love in our life: love that is deep and passionate and stays that way until we die - even though we live much longer than Romeo and Juliet.

Let’s think about the pressure the idea of life-long-love puts on us for a moment: If you want to choose a partner for life and you live the average life of average couples, you choose your date for about 15000 dinners, a co-parent and someone who will deeply influence your children, your travel-partner for about 100 vacations, someone who you’ll sleep next to for about 144000 hours, your career-coach, and someone whose day you will hear about 18000 times. That’s intense!  

Not only does this idea put us under a huge amount of pressure during our young adulthood, these unrealistic expectations are also bound to end in disappointment and pain for too many of us. As humans we often prefer to go down the road that’s most familiar to us (because they’ve seen it displayed over and over again in fairy tales and rom coms) instead of choosing the path that’s best for us and our happiness. I’ve worked with countless people, who stayed in their relationship out of a feeling of obligation, even though they and their partners had clearly grown apart.

On the other side, couples who do choose to part after a couple of shared years are looked upon as broken, incomplete people with failed lifes. Going through difficult phases in our relationship or deciding to go separate ways at a certain point do not fit into that fairy tale idea. We equate good relationships with life-long relationships. It’s almost impossible for us to see the ending of a relationship as something other than a problem that is someone’s fault. If it’s the right partner, it must be the partner for life.

“So if it doesn’t even really work a lot of the time, where does this idea come from?”, you wonder. “There must be a good reason why people started to get married and chose to stay with one and the same person for their entire life”. You’re absolutely right.

The institution of marriage started as a way of forming an alliance between two families and had more to do with property transaction or obtaining rights to land and goods than anything else. It was also great for securing the division of labour between two parents, to accomplish the healthy upbringing of their offspring. People only turned 30 or 40 and there was no effective birth control, so trying to provide for kids was pretty much what people did until they died. Both parties depended on the other to do fulfill their role and a life-long marriage contract was an effective system to keep everyone in check.

So much has changed since then: there’s birth control, fertility treatments, women can work outside the home and provide for themselves, we can hire people to clean our house, look after our kids and have our groceries delivered to our door. On top of that, the average life expectancy now lies in the 70s and is on a steady increase. The current generation of people in their 50ths still has about 20 more years of considerably active, interesting life ahead of them. We don’t have to choose between kids and a career, between an education and travelling - we have enough time to do it all! We now live long enough to have 2 or 3 or 4 different stages of life.

Throughout these stages, the way we feel, the way we think, our goals and our needs transform. We change, we grow, we develop. It’s a miracle if one and the same person aligns with us and our lifestyle throughout all these stages, and it’s actually very likely that we resonate with different people at different stages of our life.

Instead of getting caught up with ideas from fairy-tales that set us up for disappointments, let’s change the image we have of successful relationships! Our life is long and diverse enough to have more than one love of our life, so let’s not limit ourselves by condemning every form of relationship that doesn’t last the entire 50+ years of our adult life.

Just as our priorities and expectations of life change (studying, career, settling down, raising kids, travelling) and different sides of ourselves emerge, our priorities and expectations in relationships change as well. While we prefer a very intimate and romantic relationship at one point, we might be better off in a more practical partnership at another. The crazy, passionate love affair might not be the right relationship for settling down and having kids, just as the father of your children might not be the person who shares your interests during retirement. At some stages of our lives we’re completely happy laying in the arms of our attractive lover, while at other times we long for a best friend - someone, who knows the depths of our soul. And, of course, there are times when we just need to keep to ourselves, be independent, prioritize our self-growth, our friends or our career.

In other areas of life we’re already very good at realizing that something isn’t automatically bad, just because it doesn’t last forever. Over the course of our lifetime, most of us will have different jobs, for example and live in several different houses. When our needs change and we move out, we’re not feeling like we’re disloyal to the house. We don’t consider having moved into the house a regrettable mistake. Most of us even have several best friends throughout the years and acknowledge that going separate ways at a certain point isn’t a disaster or anyone’s fault, but a natural side effect of progress and life’s turns.

“But what if it hurts?”, you wonder. Yes, it usually hurts when relationships end - that’s completely normal. It’s okay to be sad about the breakup and to acknowledge that your own and your partner’s imperfections might have played a role in it. However, fear of hurt and loneliness shouldn’t be the reason to stay in a dead relationship instead of moving on to different, more suitable things.

Now, just to be very clear: I’m not saying everyone should dump their partner every x years. Some people do choose to stay in one and the same relationship for their entire life and are very happy. As long as that’s what they truly want, that’s perfect - it’s just not the only successful form of relationship. I want to challenge the way we think love should look like. I want to encourage couples to reevaluate the reasons why they’re together. I want them to re-choose each other if their relationship is still what they want, instead of sticking it out “till death do us part” by default, just because of societal expectations. I want to inspire unhappy couples to move on to the life they desire, instead of breeding resentment towards each other for another twenty or thirty years. I want couples to be proud, when they decide to go into different directions after ten years. I want them to celebrate the time they’ve had with each other instead of thinking they failed or deeming the whole x years they shared a waste of time. I want us to be open to love that comes in forms and durations different to what we’ve seen in fairy tales. After all, that’s the only way we can find our own, personal happily ever after.

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