To me, the title of this post encapsulates the crux of most modern-day existential and relationship dilemma’s. How do we go about balancing this, relatively recent, cultural obsession with personal freedom with the unavoidable reality of interdependence? How do we deconstruct the belief that being “free” means not letting our choices be influenced by the needs and desires of others?
The Holy “I “
I look around me and I see a palpable struggle going on between the ideology of independence and the age-old values of follow-the-herdism. I see, one the one hand, people convinced that in order to have “healthy” long-term relationships they must sacrifice their own paths, callings and desires. On the other, a movement of dissatisfied, disillusioned, headstrong individuals who “need no one” and cling to the dogma of personal advancement as life’s only goal. Okay, so we’re talking extremes. But basically, that’s what’s going on. We are torn between the oppositional forces of believing we either have to “submit” to lives and choices that negate the self OR reject any thought of compromise and go for the gold, leaving everyone else to eat our dust. (again, there are books written and to be written on just this “self vs. other” dynamic but I’m going to leave it there for the moment….).
When it comes to romantic relationships there is an ever-increasing trend towards seeing relationships and thus, people, as disposable. People don’t want to be “tied down” by relationships. They/we want the diversity of limitless choice. We don’t want to have to compromise…anything…at all…ever. I see this as inextricably linked to both our perceived “failure” of previous relationship models (and yes, a lot of things were pretty shitty in the past, especially for women…but this could start a whooole other very long diatribe) as well as to the pressures of consumerist capitalism. Even those of us aware of the push and pull of these dynamics find ourselves in a bind.
I see the majority of people of my generation flailing around in search of something different…We don’t want to repeat the stories of our parents and grandparents…but we’ve inevitably integrated a slough of beliefs and fears based on the relationships we witnessed around us as children. The demons of ancestral history are wont to rear their ugly heads at the most unexpected and inconvenient moments. I find myself spending a huge amount of time reflecting on, discussing and reading about what could be Possible. Perhaps the pendulum has swung as far as it will go and we are coming back to center. Perhaps many of us are ready to believe in the existence of a middle ground? Perhaps we’re ready to really consider how we can live our freedom together?
What Does Being Free Together Look Like?
If you haven’t gathered as much already, as far as I’m concerned, our intimate relationships are where we live out our most fundamental beliefs and fears. The territory of the heart is rich and fertile ground for both paralyzing neurosis and repetition of old patterns and incredible, exponential growth. The growth part is really great but seeing yourself in full light is at times bloody humiliating…(I say from personal experience!).
Any number of “alternative” relationship models have been being explored by adventurous, idealist, curious, revolutionary and, lets be honest, the occasional escapist, individuals since the beginning of…well human life I would hazard. We just didn’t have to name them until someone created social “norms.” We have polyamory, polygamy, polyandry (yup, there’s actually a name for women having multiple male partners…who’d a thunk it, hm?), open relationships, “swingers”…and the list goes on. Basically, think of your ideal formula and there’s some kind of label to put on it if you should so choose. But this, to me, is aside the point.
The point is that no matter WHAT you choose to practice or to name your type of “relationing” the important piece, or rather, the truly “radical,” transformative part of the process (on both an individual and social level) is that of undoing the layers of conditioning, fears and unconscious dynamics that exist within all of our relationships. It’s about bringing our awareness to how our intimate relationships reflect the values and models we’ve been exposed to….and then doing what it takes to shift towards what really reflects who we are (and the reality that who we are is intimately connected to the rest of Life on earth!). It’s about separating our true selves from our learned selves. It’s about establishing our own limits, and then pushing them. It’s about bringing the vulnerability of that true self to the table in all it’s glory and awkwardness and being willing to be the one to ask…”May I have this dance?” To truly engage with Life we have to learn how to welcome uncertainty, play, the illusive quest for balance…and constant, cyclical change. It’s much easier to do this by ourselves in an ashram than it is to continue practicing responsible, interconnected freedom in relationship with others. But I think we’re ready to come out of the proverbial closet and start facing each other, honestly.
Living our freedom together is an ideal, to be sure. But it’s an ideal worth shooting for, one we can practice in our daily lives and in our most intimate relationships. It requires accepting people where they’re at. It’s not always fun.It requires a willingness to wade through the bullshit, to be accountable and to be able to laugh at oneself. But I for one feel ever more strongly that it’s an ideal worth committing to and making a reality. How about you?