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Anita Cassidy TEDx talk – after “happy ever after”, the future of relationships

Anita Cassidy

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My TEDx talk text

by Anita Cassidy, with thanks to Sean Smith and Meg-John Barker for their feedback and support  

Once upon a time, also known as 2006, I walked down the aisle, very much in love, and totally committed to socially and culturally dominant ideas about love. Ideas of “the one”, of happy ever after, that love conquers all problems, that women are naturally monogamous. I believed all the stories I’d been told about how relationships should look.

Five years, and two babies later, the closest I’d got to a fairy tale was sweeping the kitchen floor. And as for happy ever after? In truth, I was numbing ever after with wine and box sets. And so were too many people that I knew. Whether it was work, wine or Candy Crush, they were all just different ways of doing the same thing: tuning out of where we were.

Thinking that it would bring me closer to my husband, I stopped drinking. Instead, everything I thought I knew about us, about myself, all fell away into an abyss.

What was happening to my happy ever after? I’ve NEVER felt so lost.

I spent a long time fumbling around unsure what to do. While writing my first novel, Appetite, I came across Meg John Barker’s Rewriting the Rules. Here, for the first time, I read some different stories. I found ideas about communication and commitment, about sex and desire that challenged everything I’d ever been told. As I turned those pages, it was as if someone was going around my brain, turning on all the lights.

I sat down at the kitchen table with my husband of seven years and said: I can’t do this any more, I want to open up our marriage.

He said: I understand. He said; Yes. He said: let’s figure this out together.

All the stories tend to focus on how love FEELS but, at that moment, and over the next few years, I learnt about what love DOES.

What if, rather than promising happiness and forever we agreed, instead, to act on the values that love inspires: values of honesty, authenticity, respect and kindness?

It was with this kind of love that Marc and I let each other go. Two and half years after that kitchen table conversation, and only days after celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary, we agreed to end our marriage.

I know how lucky I am – there are women all over the world who do not have the same freedom to express their feelings and needs as I have. Every day over 130 women are killed by a partner, ex partner or family member

The stories we tell about ALL relationships, but particularly about sex, love and desire, aren’t just unhelpful, they are, for too many women, deadly.

All these stories also tend to leave out the one thing that we can’t avoid: change.

When my marriage ended I decided to see it not as failing at marriage but succeeding at change. Change is growth and people that are growing, at any pace, are people who are fully alive.  If how you change leaves you within arms reach of the people you love that’s wonderful but if it doesn’t then, please, know that you’re not alone – it’s the stories that are failing, not us, not you.

Change isn’t inherently good or bad – how we BEHAVE when change happens can be. We can’t choose what we need but we can choose what we DO.

Andrea Solza and I created Alethya, a website and community that supports everyone in developing extraordinary conscious relationships, because we believe that now is the time to share new stories about love.

Whether you’re partnered or solo, monogamous or non, co-habiting lovers or friends, whether you’re at work, at school or at home, conscious relationships are about treasuring the present. They’re about the difficult but joy giving work of acknowledging that all living and loving involves change. They are about choosing, every day, to act based on the values that love can inspire.

A life lived based on honesty, authenticity, respect and kindness?

Now *that* sounds like happy ever after to me.

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