|Natural Life Spans
||[Jul. 17th, 2012|04:05 pm]
Yeah, I know, no posts and then....see I have this whole backlog of posts that are just waiting for editing. And today I got a couple of nagging projects finished, so my reward for completion is getting to spend a half hour editing. Like a biscuit for the creature that resulted in some horrible transporter experiment involving Shakespeare and a golden retriever.|
So here’s my theory: the natural lifespan of a pair bonding relationship for humans is about 12-15 years. Not that there aren’t exceptions – everything’s on a scale and someone has to hold down each end, my piglets – but they are indeed exceptions. Let’s face it, for most of the time that humans have been humans, that’s as long as it could go anyway. The odds of BOTH of you living any longer than that were extraordinarily slim. And despite notable exceptions – usually based on some dynastic, wealthy class or polygynous religious beliefs – since marriage became an institution, the average age of marriage in most cultures that track it has been 20-24, back to the seventh century. (Puberty was also much later, although that gets hard to track pre-1800’s.)
So, this whole idea of people staying together for 30, 40, 50 years or more? Really, really recent. And I would argue that we are NOT wired for it.
Am I saying that everyone should just plan on giving up after 15 years? That marriages should be all Logan’s Run, 15 years and your relationship expires? (And if you don’t break up, we will find you and…so run Logan, run!) No. But I think we should stop beating ourselves up – feeling like failed or flawed individuals – if that’s what happens.
Certainly, a relationship can last the current lifespan of two individuals! And not just because those are the exceptions, holding down the end of the scale opposite the Kardashians. For the record, I’m talking about relationships that last and that both partners are GLAD it lasted. Staying with someone for a lifetime because society expects it, or because you feel trapped – I don’t think that’s a healthy way to spend your life. For a short time – let’s get the kids through school, or some other goal, absolutely, I do believe that subjugating your needs for others, for some defined time period, can be a reasonable choice.
But in order to keep a relationship going past its natural lifespan, there needs to be some kind of paradigm shift (I think that word’s fallen out of favor in corporateland and is now safe to use again, right?) in the relationship – something that essentially restarts the clock, making it not exactly the same relationship with the same parameters as before.
It could be something deceptively simple, like changing jobs, going back to school, living apart because of a job – something that requires a shift in how you relate to each other and the roles that you each have had up to now. Something that requires some kind of negotiation and purposeful re-commitment. Could be a commitment to therapy or some life choice or joint hobby, or even serious illness, that again requires self-examination and some amount of readjusting expectations and again, purposeful re-commitment – something that really makes the relationship different from before.
It could be a breaking open of the relationship – via adultery, mid-life crisis or a joint decision (guess which one I’d give the better odds to working out long term…) whether it means simply giving each other space to explore hobbies and interests separately, or additional physical or intellectual relationships – or together. In this case, again, reaching the solution together is the game changer. One partner forcing it on the other? In order for THAT to work long term, either your relationship is an exception (see anti-Kardashian referenced above) or one of you is exceptionally tolerant and can find his/her way to embracing the change even though he/she didn’t drive it OR has calculated a risk-benefit scenario where hanging around anyway is likely to deliver more long-term happiness than dumping his/her partner’s selfish ass. But either you both have to be devoted to making it work or one of you has to be very skilled at dealing and being comfortable carving out what you need from whatever’s on the table.
It could be any menu combination of the above. But to think that with no special effort, you’re just going to roll through your 15th-17th anniversary, and everything will continue on as before, for the rest of your lives? Not expletive likely. And it mostly requires BOTH of you to want and to be able to bridge that gap, make those changes, rebuild the parameters. Again, the odds of one person being there are X. The odds of two, especially at the same time? X MINUS something. So if you get there, yay, you! Really. But you were also lucky. Because the odds were really NOT in your favor.
Let’s face it, our spines are not built for walking upright, thus the prevalence of back and spinal pains and injuries we live with. And we’ve been walking upright a lot longer than we’ve been getting married. Certainly a species that just started living past the age of 35 only in the last couple of centuries and has been getting married at all only a little bit longer than that, and has started celebrating silver and golden anniversaries really just in the last 300 years, and precious few of those until the 100 years – well, it’s a bit ridiculous to feel badly because you didn’t or are struggling to hit that mark.
Anyway, that’s just my opinion. I’ll be over here, in the corner, dreaming of a world where having periodic and successive monogamous and polyamorous relationships are as supported and celebrated as much as lifetime monogamy is now…and where kids are taught the skills they need to navigate, develop and amicably dissolve relationships with the same fervor they’re taught to navigate technology that I’m now too old to easily understand.