I recently reviewed some of the articles written on here, the Alethya website, for updates and links etc. I came across the “How I got here” posts that both Andrea and I wrote a few years ago. It was good to see how wide open my definition of conscious relationships was even back then. My ideas about conscious relationships have done nothing but broaden and open out since. During 2020, I’ve been rendered effectively monogamous by the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s fascinating to me the ease with which I have accepted this shift in my sexual and relationship life. This isn’t to say that I haven’t felt bored and frustrated (I have!) and it doesn’t mean that I’m any less intrinsically non-monogamous, both romantically and sexually, but it is wonderful to notice that all the work on accepting change that comes from external forces has helped me to cope with the current change as well as demanding circumstances of home-school and stretched finances. It feels good to be able to accept the change but also to have some validation of the fact that solo living in a consciously non-monogamous partnership is still the right choice for me.
One question that no-one seems to ask me but which my male partner gets asked all the time (and was asked very recently) is “Will you get married to Anita?” “Will you live together?”. There’s still a lot of expectation that our five year relationship will take a more “conventional” turn at some point. For me, I wonder how much this reflects people’s own anxieties and concerns and, also, I wonder why they think we would change a relationship that so evidently makes us both happy? It also reflects the stubbornness of certain ideas such as the relationship escalator.
The relationship escalator is the idea (captured first, I think, by Amy Gahran) that all romantic / sexual relationships need to move through a certain set of steps over a certain time frame to be “valid”. This usually looks like: date, second date (within a week to ten days), third date with sex, increasing amount of time spent together including weekends away, time spent meeting friends and family, shared holiday(s), moving in together, engagement or wedding plans or expanding family plans (I would definitely include in this the buying of a pet). This schedule is often expected to take place over a year or two. Exceptions are said only to prove the rule. These norms are often very heavily, socially policed within communities. The concept of New Relationship Energy (a.k.a. the honeymoon period) is usually not understood or ignored/disregarded as not applicable. Interestingly, some groups also have the same rigidity about NOT following these rules/patterns even if they would like some, or all, of what they entail. More on this another time.
My conscious relationship needs are still very much about independent living, time to be alone and create as well as time to have a varied social schedule. I’m aware that having lived with someone, and having been married before, I have a lot of privilege and lived experience that has helped shape my understanding of my needs. I’m also aware that needs DO evolve but I also feel so much closer to my needs and self and these current ones feel fairly solid and unlikely to change for a while.
One of the things that the above schedule, as well as our social and cultural (and political) centering of “the pair”, does is to hierarchise relationships so that the romantic pair is at the top, very isolated, like the figures teetering on top of the final tiny tier of a wedding cake. All other relationships come “after” / “second” and are deemed less important. This is problematic for lots of reasons, least of all the (unrealistic and, also, ableist) pressure it puts on one person to be our “all” as well as the imbalance it creates in ones life. It also centres a thing that is literally NOT possible for most of us to achieve or maintain. The fairy tale of a forever, pair bond is, quite literally, all too often exactly that: made up. It also encourages us to view and consume each other as “things” to achieve/fit into a time schedule or slot rather than people, real, flawed, wonderful, complex people, to be in actual relationship with.
Conscious relationships ebb and flow, shift and change. I think so much of the frustration people feel in their lives is that the above idea LIMITS us so much and, whilst those limits can feel appealing and desired in the early, liminal stages of connection, they can also contribute to the all too common staleness and rigidity of relationships. This is not about advocating for non-monogamy, it’s about asking for awareness, for a slowing down and a recognising that there is no one size fits all for people interacting with each other. If we know ourselves a little better, it may be possible to imagine something a little more magical than just happy ever after for ourselves.
Whatever form our relationships take, and however we interact with all the others who are important to us, the crucial ideas of accepting the is-ness and accepting the way things ARE as opposed to how we wish they were is the key to conscious relationships. This is all about accepting and embracing change, our own changes as well as that of others and of the external, but also about learning to live with uncertainty. I understand that it is a privilege to have the space, time and emotional energy to sit with these difficult feelings as well as the capability. This is one of the reasons why we, at Alethya, support and advocate for Universal Basic Income and a four day work week. It’s also why we are a community and support you in meeting and sharing with, on and offline, like minded others. My own experience of c-ptsd and emotional flashbacks, my own tendencies to disassociate or run/flight into work as well as my anxiety are have all become more understandable, and manageable, through the experience of a more conscious relationship with myself as well as through shared stories and community support.
Conscious relationships are about curiosity, kindness, creating community and acceptance. They are about how you interact with and understand yourself, your friends, family, loved ones, all others as well as with work, life and play. It is about learning, slowly and over time, to feel all the feelings and to experience all of life fully without judgement. The longer I’m in this awareness and the more time I invest in bringing awareness to all my interactions, the more content I am, the more able to sit with sadness and uncertainty as well as joy. This is happy ever after for me. In the here and now.
Some more reading here…