I spent yesterday with two generations of a lovely family. The grandparents met and married aged 16, 45 years ago, and the parents have also been known each other since they were 16. I envy their sons who are being brought up in such loving environment, but also for the role models of relationship they are just inhaling, as part of their daily life.
This was not my experience. My parents divorced. My sister and I are both divorced. The research shows that children whose parents are divorced are more likely to do so themselves. So what does this mean for my children?
When my parents divorced, I actively went looking for role models of other marriages which were successful and learned from them. I watched and asked questions about they dealt with disagreements, money, sex and child-rearing and I learned. Not enough to prevent my divorce but as those of you who have read Into The Woods will know, there were other factors operating in that relationship which I was not prepared for.
I remember a friend asking me years ago, how committed I was to the relationship I was in at the time. I can’t remember the exact figure but it was above 50% and below 80%. When I thought about the question though, I couldn’t imagine every giving 100% commitment and maybe that it one of the differences between my experience and the family I spent yesterday with; divorce and splitting up are options for me. I have seen that there is life after a relationship and that single parenting is possible, so that option is always available to me. Maybe that means that I walk out on things the long term married stick at.
Or I sometimes feel like I just don’t know what a relationship is, or how it works. I sometimes feel like I am playing a game where everyone knows the rules but me and I keep getting things wrong because I just haven’t learned how to play properly.
Maybe this is my legacy to my sons, a life of serial monogamy, or poly, or whatever rules they make up for themselves. Maybe this is their curse, and mine.
But could it be a gift too? I look at some relationships (not yesterday’s) and see people stuck in roles that no longer fit, with habits which have stunted their growth. I have sensed not just elephants but mammoths in the room which such the joy from the air and slump the residents back into chairs in front of screens. I have met partners trapped and frustrated by each other’s needs, I have listened to platitudes and pleasantries wondering if there is tenderness and intimacy. And of course, whatever the truth, I can never know for I only ever see things from my point of view, from the other side of the door.
One friend says we meet people for a reason, a season or a life and this has been my experience. Maybe, in these days where we don’t all die at 40 of in childbirth, the idea of ‘married for life’ is for most of us not a failure, but simply an outdated trope. How many of those idealised marriages of yore were bound by social pressure and money, where women needed men to pay to help them raise the kids? This idea of ‘the one’ seems such a modern thing, so idealised and commercialised, it is packaged and sold to us, surely full of unrealistic expectations which leave us always wanting more.
Or maybe I really am just completely envious of the family I was with yesterday; which of course is true. I would love to have what they have, but this had not been my path.
But nor has it been my curse to not live that way. I am grateful to the relationships I have had, the part they played and the chapters they were of my life, each changing my plot line and character, my setting and my themes. But ultimately this is my book to write and what I hope and believe, is that my sons will take from me and my relationships what they find of use, and then watch other couples and families and then write the book of relationships each for themselves with people they love and who love them in return.