August 15, 2016

Co-creating a New Era of Romance.


For most of the first year after my divorce, I ranted about the social construct of marriage.

I realize now that this is not a topic that makes for good first date conversation, but at the time I didn’t care. Something big was dawning on me and I needed to bring it to light. Not surprisingly, it became typical that halfway into my spiel, the person with whom I was speaking would interject, “What do you mean by marriage construct?”

I would think, “How could you not know?” before launching into an explanation that included cobbled together stats, research, and a brief anthropological review from the scientific study of human partnership that has been brought to light in recent years by The Gottman Institute, Esther Perel, and Helen Fisher. I have since refined my understanding. This is the marriage construct as I understand it:

The social construct of marriage is an invention used to control people and property. It assumes monogamy, fidelity, and a lifelong commitment to remain in partnership with one person.

In some ways the construct is helpful. It organizes relationships, creates legal rights to property, and creates a measure of security in regard to companionship and resources for involved parties. I can see why we’ve embraced it, even to the current point of fanatical attachment. We’re a mostly terrified species looking for reasons to be less scared, so we create things like the marriage construct to help us feel safe.

Problem is, the construct ignores key facts about human nature. It’s imposed on us, becoming a relationship facade that covers the truth of our biology and what has been borne out anthropologically over the course of human history.

Our mating instinct is pretty simple. Both sexes want to mate with partners that offer physical health and durability. In modern society this extends to include social and financial well-being. We’re looking for someone who has good genes to mix with our own. If a woman conceives a child, she wants her man to stick around, protect, and provide for her and the child for a period of time. After about two years, her biological need for the father and the support he offers dwindles. It’s commonly accepted that men are driven to spread their seed, but what’s less talked about is that women are not terribly driven to attach to a single male partner. We also seek variety. Both sexes are wired to want a variety of romantic partners, though women are less likely to roam for social reasons.

All of this hard wiring makes living the marriage construct difficult. Millions of years of human evolution urges us in one direction, while social expectations compel us in another. Trying to adhere to the construct ensures our struggle, and many of us will essentially bail, feeling like defeated failures when, in fact, we are simply humans trying to live in a way that is counter to our nature.

As hard as it is to stay in one lifelong, monogamous relationship, it’s also hard to stay out of one. Love, like hunger, is scientifically classified as a drive, not an emotion. We are driven to connect and attach to another in a loving and romantic way while also being evolutionary wired to seek a certain amount of variety of experience and stimuli.

The construct is held up as the normative ideal, yet it will fail us in some way, and it’s time to get real about that fact.

Our world is quickly changing. A 30-year career at one place of employment is no longer the expectation. Professionals work from home, on contract, and easily transition from job to job. We are globally connected through vast networks and can share and disseminate information and knowledge in an instant. Life is moving quickly. Humanity is evolving to achieve a new level of awareness, compassion, and equanimity.

It only makes sense that how we are in relationship changes, too. I’m not suggesting the end of marriage or monogamy, but I am suggesting a wider view of how to be in, move through, and create relationship. Just as we are learning to better recognize a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations, we are also learning to see relationships as more fluid and ever changing.

None of this would have come to my attention had I not applied mindfulness to the experience of having a long and difficult marriage that ended in divorce. Stopping to notice, to be with, to fully feel the experience repeatedly brought me to my knees. It helped me see the construct as clearly as I see the walls of the room in which I now sit. Just as I can walk out of this room, this building, this city, so too can I, we, you, exit the construct.

Perhaps you’re monogamous like me, and will have more than one long-term committed relationship in this lifetime, maybe you’re polyamorous and will have two or more partners at a time, or maybe there will be phases in life when one model works better than another. Whatever the case, own it. Love is our birthright; how we experience it is our choice.




Author: Angela Meredith

Image: Pixoto

Editor: Travis May

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Angela Meredith