“We had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.” – Louis de Bernieres.
Frequently, current cultural romantic ideas really drive me up the wall. I just sent a tweet tonight about how the jealousy storylines in the program I am watching make me a bit crazy. Sometimes I listen to modern romantic music and just want to gag at the co-dependency and the way we treat each other like we’re children or possessions and then call it “true love.” This quote does the same thing for me. Why would I want to be “one tree” with someone? Why would I want to lose my identity to merge with someone else? What about my autonomy? Why do we think this is romantic? Now I know this is going to be an unpopular opinion for a lot of people, I mean even the Bible even tells us this is what we should do. So what could be so wrong with it?
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
“In the unique bond of marriage we discover the deeper meaning of becoming one flesh. Obviously to become one flesh means to become united physically and sexually, but it is far more than that! It is a symbol of a man and a woman bound and melted together, heart, body, and soul, in mutual giving and total oneness. When husband and wife become one flesh, they are no longer two, but actually one.” https://www.plough.com/en/topics/life/marriage/they-shall-become-one-flesh
The Struggle is Real
One thing I have struggled with in long-term relationships has been losing myself in the other person, being buried alive in the relationship. In the past, I’ve found it difficult to be my own person because I was so busy helping the other person manage their selves and their lives. Maybe that’s why I react so strongly to this quote. My ex-husband was the kind of person who needed constant company. I couldn’t really do my own thing when I was with him, I could only be doing what he was doing or doing what I was doing in the same room as him. If I hadn’t supported and cajoled he wouldn’t have had a relationship with his kids. I couldn’t be on the phone without him making himself part of the conversation and pouting if I tried to speak in private.
All of those things sound ridiculous now, but then? I was all about “cleaving to my husband and becoming one flesh.” I thought that was how relationships were supposed to go. The wife making life easy for her husband, the woman taking care of the home, and the relationship. Now don’t get me wrong, I actually LOVED being a wife. I loved being a homemaker, making our home comfortable, stylish, and a happy place to be. I loved being there are the end of the day when he came home so we could talk and finish dinner together.
I just don’t know if it can be done without losing yourself. I couldn’t do it.
When I left that relationship and started my life over, I was appalled at the person I had become. I was no longer the strong, independent, interesting person I was when I met him. I was a mid-west housewife whose only friends were part of our couple’s social circle. When I left him, I left those friends for him. To them, I had no identity beyond being his wife and I knew I had real friends I could count on outside of this situation. As I grew and changed post-divorce, I started to gain my confidence and my independence back. I started to travel the world alone or in small groups of people I had only just met the day the trip started. I was dating cross-culturally, sometimes in my second-language. That strong independent interesting person was coming back.
When I discovered polyamory, my mind was blown! I learned I could be in not only one but multiple relationships where I maintained my autonomy. I could be independent and well-loved. I could love and keep me intact. I learned to ask for what I needed, and not just assume it was my responsibility to maintain and grow each relationship. I met people who were willing to be equal partners in our relationships and I learned to stop trying to be and do it all.
I am definitely not saying that polyamory is the cure for co-dependence or that everyone who is polyamorous maintains their ideal level of autonomy. I am sure there are plenty of codependent polyamorous relationships out there. But for me, it was the chance I needed to learn how to be in loving committed stable relationships while maintaining my own personhood, my autonomy and who I am.
This past year I met a great guy who understands who I am and what I need from relationships and enthusiastically entered this relationship with me. A relationship that is not only polyamorous but one in which I maintain a certain level of autonomy; traveling and making my own decisions, etc. He was happy when I was happy, including when I was doing my own thing. He really understands my need for autonomy and accepts it.
Enter a global pandemic. We ended up living together for 7 months when the original plan was a little over 2 months and then travel together for a bit, and then go our separate ways for a few months. We even spent more than the whole month before lockdown in the house together because I had surgery and needed his help to recover. But once the pandemic hit, we had no one else to rely on. Living together, me having no other friends, and lockdown preventing me from meeting new people or leaving the house to do my own thing, meant it was too easy to fall into old habits of relating.
We literally didn’t have anyone else, and as hard as I tried to maintain some distance, some autonomy, it was impossible. I started to resent being in that position. I felt like I was stuck up under him. I was physically stuck with very strict quarantine restrictions, (Colombia’s quarantine restrictions and timelines were extreme) but I couldn’t free myself emotionally either. We both began to rely on each other to make ourselves happy instead of being able to find that someplace else or within ourselves. I hated that.
Both of us feeling stuck and resentful meant we started to drink too much and fight a lot more. I started to lose myself in my relationship with him. I lost it in the fear of a global pandemic. I lost it in booze and the excitement of fighting and making up. The drama held us together for a little while until it made things much worse. But really, the worst of it all was losing a piece of me in a relationship, yet again. He was mad for many of the same reasons, he was struggling too, not working, not being able to do his music and enjoy his friends. We were drowning together and neither one of us had any feeling of being autonomous people.
We managed to start to feel a bit better for a while as restrictions loosened up. He had a new girlfriend and I was on Tinder hoping to make new connections. Remembering our polyamorous roots, being able to spend some time alone for me and for him with his girlfriend, gave us a better sense of ourselves again. But the damage was already done, we had hurt each other because we were hurting and not able to find our own selves separately again. Things eventually escalated to the point where I felt I had to leave. For my own mental health, in order to maintain a sense of me, a sense of who I am without being up under yet another man.
We haven’t broken up, but we are trying to figure out what this love looks like living so far apart. I am back in the US and he is still in Colombia. I love him like mad and I cry just about every day missing him and wondering what comes next for us. We’re trying to figure out where this relationship belongs. How do we navigate? How do we maintain this love long distance? I don’t have any answers to those questions yet. I do know I need my autonomy. I need to be me, not just part of a relationship. Being in different countries certainly helps me with that need.
I also know he loves me the same way he loved me when we met, only now it’s deeper and stronger for having been together more than a year now. That means he loves me even if I live my life autonomously and separately from him. He loves me even if our relationship is off-kilter right now, even if we don’t quite know what it looks like in the long-run yet. He’s figuring out what his life looks like without me and I’m figuring out what mine looks without him. We are making decisions autonomously but we’re still in love.
Autonomy doesn’t negate love. In our case, I am willing to bet, it’s going to make it stronger, even if it looks different forever. I love that. I feel confident in his love, especially because I am not “only” his partner but my own independent strong happy self-fulfilled person again. We don’t need to be two trees who became one. We are stronger for walking side by side towards our goals together but as individuals. Our paths crossed but we still have our separate lanes to drive in. To me, that’s a lot more romantic than losing our leaves and discovering we are one tree!