To be 23…

As is often the case a blog crossed my Facebook feed and sparked inspiration into my caffeine-fueled writing gland. The post (23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged) is filled with a glorious rant about how today’s generation approaches long-term relationships and a fun little list of alternatives. While I’m not much of a list maker I am a strong advocate of people forgoing lifelong commitments until they know themselves as individuals first.

So, here is a quick rundown of my past so you know where I am coming from…

  • I’m 32 years old (I know! I’m old, but damn I still look good)
  • I walked into an Army recruiter office on September 11, 2001 and became a paratrooper. I was 19 years old.
  • I was stationed in North Carolina, served for four years, and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan
  • During my enlistment I got engaged to a girl from South Carolina
  • I started college in 2005 and my engagement broke up in 2006
  • I received a BS in Economics in 2009 from the College of Charleston in South Carolina
  • Moved to DC and worked at a couple of non-profits for three years
  • Got sick of DC, sold everything I owned and rode my bicycle across the country to Los Angeles
  • While in LA I got into a relationship with my current partner
  • After two years in LA my partner and I are going to start a 2-year bicycle ride around the continent

I provided that list because I want people to recognize how much different my life would have been if I got married in 2006 like I originally thought. At that time I was 25 and still didn’t really know who I was. My religion was different, my view on family and life, I was aligned different politically… I had not experienced enough life to find me. I needed time to be independent and have adventures, explore the world, and challenge myself to find happiness.

Human brains are not fully developed even into the early 20’s, the idea that we are mature or ready to commit to a lifetime with someone when we don’t know ourselves is insane. Sure, it works out sometimes (I think mostly due to social and religious pressure than happiness) but as the article pointed out, the divorce rate among those who marry young is twice the average rate.

Previous generations had very good reasons to marry young. That type of support was necessary for security and to provide for a family. But we are not the previous generation. We live at a time when the economy is based on entertainment, service, and information. The internet has allowed us to earn an income from anywhere, survival goods are cheaper, and women do not need a man to provide. Instead, for maybe the first time in human history, the average person can travel, explore, and find their passion.

Now, I have been called selfish for not wanting kids, usually by people who have kids. Aside from the collectivist mentality that I owe an overpopulated society a genetic reproduction (this world has enough people with blue eyes, big booties, poor eyesight, and average height), it is hypocritical for people with kids to call me selfish. Nearly half a million kids in the US alone need adoptive parents, until that is taken care I think the selfish ones are those that somehow think the universe needs more of their DNA floating around. Want a kid? Adopt one.

I agree with the author… get out there and explore while your health and freedom allows you to. While riding across the country I met hundreds of people and by far the most common thing I heard was, “Wow, that’s awesome. I would love to do that, if only I was younger.” The body degrades, obligations increase with marriage (and particularly kids), the time to discover yourself, your boundaries, and your love is now.

Are you with someone you love now? Is your relationship great? That is fucking awesome. I have that same thing and I wouldn’t have it if I got married when I was younger. Your life partner should be someone that you adventure with as mature adults. It is crazy to make a lifelong decision based on 3% of your adult life when you have not fully developed. The odds are that you or your partner will change and the big three things necessary for a long term relationship (agreement on marriage, the amount of children, and lifestyle) will change. You can only be made better by new experiences, and that means you will be a better individual and partner. As the article author puts it:

“If your love is truly eternal, what’s the rush? If it’s real, that person will continue to be committed to you 2 months from now, 2 years from now, and 2 decades from now. Grow, learn, travel, party, cuddle, read, explore. Do. Freaking. Something… other than “settle down” at 23 with a white picket fence.’

 

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“Marriage Isn’t For You”

On Friday my partner brought my attention to an article that has been floating around the internet titled “Marriage Isn’t For You”… I realize this was a week ago (which is an eternity in today’s world) but because love and relationships are something I have strong opinions on I wanted to share my thoughts. When I first read this article it made me really uncomfortable but I couldn’t really put my finger on it. After reading this response, posting it on my wall (where as of now every “like” is by a female), and talking it over with my partner and roommate I think I found the source of some of my discomfort.

I am not against love, monogamy, or marriage. I have performed two weddings, been best man in four weddings, groomsman in another half dozen, and an usher in two. I support my friends in love and I am always honored to be a part of the celebration of that love and their desire to love eternally. I recognize that all relationships require compromise, understanding, and often some form of sacrifice. I think Smith has moved beyond what is reasonable though, he is not suggesting reasonable sacrifice but is instead recommending people give up core parts of their beliefs to fall in line with social norms. If one part of a relationship isn’t comfortable with marriage there is something wrong with them in Smith’s mind and they need to just suck it up and do it because it will make another person happy.

We live in a modern era where love is free to express itself in many forms. Research continues to show that humans are not as naturally monogamous as earlier preached, and lifelong pair-bonding may not be for everybody. I am firm believer that there are a few certain things that partners need to have in common in order for their relationship to be fair, balanced, and healthy… marriage, kids, and lifestyle are those few certain things. For one partner to just get married to make the other person happy or to have kids or to change their lifestyle seems like it can only result in future resentment and probably a broken relationship.

Marriage is not necessary for financial security or even stability for children. Marriage is a beautiful thing, but it isn’t for everyone and to pressure people to commit their lives to something they don’t want to make a spouse happy cannot lead to happiness for either person. If one person wants to get married and the other doesn’t the one pushing for marriage is being more selfish, more stubborn, and will eventually cause more harm to the relationship. There is no honor in sacrificing your future in an attempt to make another person happy and there is no honor in accepting someone’s entire future as a sacrifice in hopes it will make you happy. Happiness can only be determined by the individual and a healthy relationship requires two people who can be healthy alone.

I love my married friends, I love those who have decided that they are on the same page with regards to their future and want to be partners for life, but there is nothing to love if the build-up to marriage causes “my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.” That is a sign that one party is not ready for marriage (and may never be) and to just cave in, put a ring on it, and hope for the best is a recipe for disaster.

For generations we have been fed fairytales where the end of the movie is a wedding between a hopeless romantic and a reluctant partner, but we never see what happens after the wedding. The most important part of married couples relationship is after the churchbells have faded and they are with their partner for life, if they don’t go into that on equal ground I can’t imagine it can end well. True lifetime love deserves the honesty and respect that comes from two equals who get married for both of their happiness, not to please another person or society.

On Marriage And Longterm Commitment

For the last 8 years or so I have been pretty vocally against marriage for myself. I didn’t see the point and I found it to be an archaic ceremony with disgusting historical roots in the idea that one person can (and should) own another person. Many times when I vocalize my opposition to marriage people assume that I am also against commitment, particularly lifelong commitment. While that may have been true throughout most of my adult life my views on both are evolving a bit, as I think they shoud with new experiences.

Maybe it is some fault of my own that I didn’t just accept social norms when it came to relationships, I am starting to think I have a problem when it comes to falling in line. There is a pattern in my life where I see what society offers, experiment on the extreme other end, and then find myself more in a middle ground. I rejected monogamy for hardcore polyamory and now find myself in a monogamish relationship (but still available for Ke$ha 100%). I rejected religion for absolute atheism and now find myself interested and open to spiritual ideas. I rejected neo-con big government policies for complete anarchy and find myself… well, I still find myself being a complete anarchist…. maybe not everything becomes more moderate with time.

Anyway, my evolution on marriage comes from social and political realities. The political reality is that there are financial incentives in place to encourage signing a stupid piece of paper and giving it to some bureaucratic leech. I need to decide if my desire to remove all government controls outweigh the benefits of marriage through reduced coercive taxation. It is a conundrum, less taxes is better for me and helps starve Leviathan (and save the lives of people the government often murders in jails and with bombs). There is also the social pressure, which I am admittedly embarrassed that I feel strongly from time-to-time. Unfortunately, people treat married couples with a greater legitimacy. Two people can be in a 40-year relationship but if they haven’t had a wedding and all that other bullshit they are seen by society as less legitimate than two people who met on craigslist, drove to Vegas, and got hitched all in a 24 hour period. Part of me very much wants people to recognize my love as legitimate and some people require a title to do that. To be honest, I also like the little bit of the fanfare that comes from an engagement and a wedding… not a lot of fanfare, I’m still a minimalist, but I can see the joy and celebration that would occur if I proposed at Burning Man or something.

I have also reevaluated my views on long-term (even lifelong) commitments. This change comes from my increasingly healthy personal romantic life and the examples I’ve seen in others. When I was growing up I interpreted the relationships around me as filled with sacrifice. Sacrificing new experiences, sacrificing individuality, sacrificing life for others. While that may seem noble on paper, in reality that sacrifice came off as controlling and frightening. It certainly didn’t help to have a very unhealthy engagement in my early 20’s. I am now in a very healthy (hopefully long-term) relationship with a partner who doesn’t ask for sacrifice. Instead we grow, learn, have adventures, and plan our future together. That is why I call her my partner, because that is how I see her… as my life-partner. Phrases like girlfriend, boyfriend, etc. come off as possessive to me. In the past those phrases have also represented myself defining my own existence and personality by my relationship status, something I don’t want to do again. In addition, I also have several examples of healthy relationships in my life where adventures and creativity happen, and ideas like “you shouldn’t lust, love, care about, or be attracted to other people” are seen as unrealistic and instead new intimacy is shared together.

Of course, this is just how I feel at this time. My life is an everchanging perception of reality depending on time, place, and experience. Regardless, I am very happy now and happy with the way my views are evolving. I know there may be some people out there who are tempted to say “I told you so”. These are people who said “you just have to meet the right girl”, “give it time”, “you’ll change your mind”, or “It’s just a phase”. If you are one of those people please don’t throw this in my face… seriously, there are only three or so people whose friendship I would keep if they did that. Doing so would tell me you discourage personal journeys, exploration, and investigation. If someone is heading down a path that is different than yours, especially when your path is “normal”, you are an asshole if you tell them that they will eventually come around. It comes off pretentious and degrading. If you want people to live life the way you do then live your life the best you can and show them why and how you are happy. I am happy now, but I don’t think I  would be if I blindly embraced any of my views without winding my way down a relatively unpaved road to get there.

Marriage

I had the incredible honor and pleasure of officiating the wedding of two dear friends of mine in New Jersey this weekend. It was a beautiful event filled with fun, laughter, joyous tears, and a whole lot of dancing. Truth be told, I love weddings… a lot. They are a blast, but my excitement over two people celebrating their love and hope for the future seems to surprise a lot of people. I guess it comes as a shock that a polyamorous, libertine, burner, pansexual, nomadic person like myself would enjoy a traditional celebration that I have no intention of ever doing myself.

That simply isn’t the case though. I enjoy the diverse forms that love and relationships can take. If two (or more) people love each other and wish to have an event to celebrate that then I am all over it. Just because I don’t want something similar at this point in my life doesn’t mean I won’t congratulate and help my loved ones who do. I also don’t want kids but I find joy in my nieces and nephews, as well as the relationships they represent between children and parents.

As humankind loosens the chains of societal norms and begins to express the incredible diversity of tastes and preferences I believe we will all appreciate and embrace love in all its forms. Monogamy works for many but not for all, but that does not make one expression of love “right” or “wrong”, it just means that we are complex social creatures who find love through many paths… and I think that is a good thing. This world needs more paths to acceptance, love, joy, intimacy, sex, and happiness. Love is not a zero-sum game, love you experience does not take away the love I experience, in fact, I think it is quite the opposite. The more love the world experiences and the more ways we find it, the better off the world will be.