Lisa’s husband was a narcissist. He cheated on her incessantly and their relationship was full of psychological and emotional abuse. She stayed with him for seven years.
Mary’s boyfriend abused her. He beat her up so badly that one day she locked herself in the bathroom and called the cops because she thought he was really going to kill her. She stayed with him for 5 years.
Beth’s husband was a nice man. They had a sexless marriage. They led separate lives and had no connection. She stayed with him for 12 years.
These are some of the stories of some of the women that have come to Renew Breakup Bootcamp. Some of their relationships were toxic, some so disconnected it was as if they were not in a relationship at all. But each woman was devastated about the separation, even though they were unhappy, even miserable in their relationships. Why?
Regardless of the situation, age, or background of the women who come to Renew, each person had one thing in common: they all had a plan, and each one of those plans were mirror copies of each other. The plan consisted of a linear progression of a relationship model that looked like this: date, get married, have kids, stay together forever. That plan indicated “success” – at least, success in the eyes of mainstream society. They would do anything possible to keep that plan intact – even if that meant enduring abuse and sacrificing their needs.
After more exploration with the participants at Renew, it became apparent that much of the pain from the separation was not about the ex, or the relationship – it was the crumbling of a plan that they held so tightly on to. Staying on plan prevailed over their own happiness and emotional well-being.
I was no different. Heck, I’d been ‘dating to marry’ since I was a teen! Any guy I liked I would analyze to see if they could be a potential boyfriend/husband/father. In conquest mode, I was never fully present because I was always anxious about the next step and the progression of my plan. I would “fall in love” quickly before I even knew someone (I’d later learn that is textbook infatuation, not love). I would fit the person into the plan I had in my mind and the guy had no clue. Half the time I didn’t even really like the guy, I liked the idea of them. Fantasy can really fuck with you.
Seven years ago, when the relationship I thought was going to be my happily ever after fell apart, I felt devastated and broken to the point of destruction. Was it because I lost my Prince Charming? Or was it because I made my identity revolve around the relationship and vehemently held on to the plan I had set for myself? Looking back, I’m certain it was the latter.
So who’s plan was it anyway? The more I ask questions with curiosity, the more I realize that the plan was not one I came up with. It was absorbed through osmosis by witnessing my parents (who by the way, stay together miserably to this day), by media’s representation of what relationships should look like, through socialization, and cultural norms. But maybe my future isn’t meant to end up in a nuclear family, maybe it is. I don’t know. Maybe I will decide to adopt, or be in an open relationship, or be monogamous to one person, or maybe my legacy will not be having children but devoting my love to helping others. Or growing a garden.
The lesson here is, I don’t know. You don’t know. The plan can change, and if we don’t have buoyancy to flow with the ups and downs, we can break. It’s important to question the beliefs we desperately hold on to, reflect where the root of that belief came from, and ask if that belief is one that serves us.
When you have a one plan fits all mindset, that can make aging extremely angst ridden, especially when you’re in your thirties and not even close to having children. I feel tremendous gratitude to the people out there who share their different paths that have ultimately helped expand my perspective of what’s possible. From the woman who used a donor egg and got pregnant at 44, to the woman who chose to adopt five children, to the woman who married a man 12 years younger than her, to the woman who chose to not marry or have any children and has lovers in multiple cities, to the woman who realized after having children she was a lesbian…. The list goes on. Unfortunately, these stories of alternative paths are still not in mainstream media, nor are they shared with as much pervasiveness as the regular model many of us grew up with.
In no way am I opposed to a traditional relationship/family model, however, for the first time in my life, I recognize it’s not the only path. That’s liberating. With curiosity and without shame, I am exploring what model fits for me. I may conclude that the model I believed most of my life is the one I want for my future, but at least I will know I consciously chose that myself, and did not arrive there because a default belief system was passed on to me.
Photo by Aaron Burden