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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.

[User Picture]From: sestree
2012-07-17 08:15 pm (UTC)
I"d go probably more 15-18 years with the last 3 being unhealthy hanging on to a dream bit. Then again what do I know --- I'm on my 3rd. I will say the time has gone much faster since it's been crisis to crisis instead of the 12+ years with the ex just being mean everyday. That got boring after a while.

As for the poly and mono and other amorous relationships: I figure the best we can do is support our kids and teach them to question everything. Why Not? was Robert's first phrase. He still goes through life wondering why not ... which is how I'm friends with his partner and HER husband both on facebook.

...which leads to some real interesting ummmm Mom may be reading moments.......
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2012-07-18 12:54 pm (UTC)
Those last three -- you may still be IN the relationship, but "unhealthy hanging on to a dream" is exactly it -- you're beyond the natural lifespan and haven't seen your way to changing the relationship paradigm.

Most people just cling to the notion that there's only one way to go about this -- and that form, a lifelong monogamous pair bond, no matter how long you live, while a lovely and wonderful option, needs to be just that, one option among several. Kudos to you for making the sound and loving choice and supporting your son. As long as everyone is happy and safe....right?
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2012-07-20 02:42 pm (UTC)
Yep happy and safe and nobody bitches when I accidentally flirt with his girlfriend. Because you know I literally flirt with everyone.

I don't get the hangups. What works for me in a spiritual, sexual, and emotional level doesn't necessarily work for someone else. We don't expect friendship to last forever -- why in the hell do we expect something so much harder to?

I need a drink.
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[User Picture]From: sweetpea86
2012-07-18 03:23 am (UTC)
Sounds about right to me. Except I've yet to make it past That Itchy Year with any of mine. OTOH, man, I have dodged some shotgun sized relationship bullets.

Also, what I needed at 37 is somewhat different than what I need at 47.
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2012-07-18 12:59 pm (UTC)
Exactly! There are plenty of reasons why a relationship wouldn't make it even that long -- relationships are HARD, and there are so many ways for it to go wrong -- especially in our modern age where frankly we expect a LOT more from them, than historically has been true. But even if you are as perfectly matched as two imperfect beings can be matched...all of us grow and change, and not at the same pace, or the same way and to expect the relationship to fit the same way at 40 as it did at 25? Sometimes you can just let out a seam, or lower the hem, put in clever darting; sometimes you need to donate that expletive to Goodwill and just bite the bullet and get a new suit.
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[User Picture]From: kitteblue
2012-07-18 12:54 pm (UTC)
Future Shock has a fantastic explanation on the stages of realtionships in the modern world (written in the 70s, but amazingly on track even now.) : http://www.amazon.com/Future-Shock-Alvin-Toffler/dp/0553277375
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From: kudrasslipper
2012-07-18 01:42 pm (UTC)
I think we talked about the book "Sex at Dawn" before - but for all of your readers who haven't - it's a GREAT read, and kind of along these lines. I highly recommend it for entertainment value - if not for the evolutionary biology, science is FUN! value.

As a person who hasn't seen a relationship (at least a relationship with a primary partner) last beyond 3 or 4 years.... oh, well, let's face it - everyone knows *I* agree with this. Especially the part about not beating ourselves up about the "failing" part. It's all in the unrealistic expectations, nay, DEMANDS of society. And it's all just arbitrary bullshit. Do what's best for you - take responsibility for it - and take care of your kids. Why it's not that simple is beyond me.

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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2012-07-18 07:37 pm (UTC)
Sex at Dawn is pretty flawed, but a fun read and lots of good stuff to put in your ponder pouch.

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[User Picture]From: russell_moore
2012-07-18 05:46 pm (UTC)
I thought my relationship was for life ... and as many others have discovered, the expectations of 1 member do not always coincide with the other

so I guess my thinking and hopes was kind of archaic ... too old school for my own good

and just this past Christmas I got a couple of interesting holiday cards from an aunt and uncle ... who would have been celebrating 40 years of marriage ... instead their divorce was finalized not long after Thanksgiving, and they both wanted to let me know

I don't understand what the deal is with relationships these days or why the expectations have so changed ... I attribute it to too many people lacking the patience required to nurture a long term relationship ... makes me sad in a way because I really don't want to learn a new relationship strategy ... if being a faithful reliable partner isn't enough for the modern era, then I guess I will die with my cats ... they love me for who I am ... yeah ok, the who I am to them is the litter box changer, food bowl filler ... but that ties directly back to that faithful and reliable thing which seems to fall short of modern human expectations

I have no idea where I was going with this, so I'll just shut up now
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[User Picture]From: sestree
2012-07-20 02:45 pm (UTC)
Sometimes yes the other person's expectations change. Or sometimes it's something as simple as I just don't want to be married anymore. My ex-step-daughter went through that. One day she literally realized she'd been actively avoiding her husband for near to a year and wished he'd find a girlfriend and JUST LEAVE.

I loaned her $50.00 for the filing fee that day.

It's not archaic. I still believe in happily ever afters even after 3 marriages.
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