The American Nightmare
Two different set of words drilled over and over in our subconscious since we were passing out Valentine’s candy in grade school, “The one” and “our person”, PLUS pretty much every movie about love, has programmed us to grab our partners instead of hold.
First, let’s talk about “the one”. Yes, there are a very select few who end up marrying their high school sweetheart and staying together their entire life. And in their case, there was only one. But how many of these relationships are healthy? How many of these couples are truly happy and thriving? And how many are staying in their marriage because of kids, fear, family, shoulds, and not wanting to “fail”? And out of those, how many are actually being honest? With themselves.
“The one” is packaging sold to us from our parents and grandparents from the 20’s and 50’s. A time when the picket fence was painted by firm gender roles. When women made babies and pies and men carried briefcases and brought home the bacon. A time before self-betterment was a thing and when one’s path was a straight line. Education → Good job → Family. A time when we lived a paint by numbers life and if you painted outside the lines, you were shamed. So you stayed inside by keeping your head down and feelings suppressed. Until you felt invisible. So then you stopped making it about you and had children. This keeps systems in check and products selling.
“The one” concept sells homes, appliances, and lots of movie tickets.
The truth is there is no one. There are many ones. There are billions and billions of people in this world. You really think you are only meant to be with one of them for the rest of your life? That’s not romantic. That’s sad and terrifying. It means your growth and evolution will most likely be stunted. Yes, we can grow and evolve together in a relationship but only if the relationship is healthy and how many people have healthy relationships right out of the gate? It’s through our heartbreak and expired relationships that we learn about ourselves. Break ups are what sets us off on our hero’s journey. And through this journey, we rebuild ourselves, create new lenses, definitions, and ultimately choices. This is life’s process.
I’m not saying you won’t be with one person for the rest of your life. I think loyalty and working hard at building a sustainable relationship is one of the most romantic meaningful powerful things in this world. I’m saying you probably won’t be with one person for your entire life.
“The one” is the one you choose to love today.
This releases the old packaging and creates a mindset that encourages, especially on a subconscious level, a sense of ownership and possession which manifest in grabbing behavior. Anything with a sense of permanence puts pressure and constraints. Forever makes us hold on tightly and can slowly suffocate the relationship. “Our person” slowly becomes our prisoner. It may come from love and pure intentions but control is control.
When I was in my early thirties, I believed in “the one”. I got married and thought we were meant to be together for the rest of our lives. We’re in it forever. We stand together. We go down together. We get up together. And I still believe this today. If you’re going to love someone, you love them through thick and thin, all the ups and downs. But my definition of “together” has changed. Back then, “together” came with a layer of shoulds. How we should act. Who we should and shouldn’t hang out with. How much sex we should be having. “Together” meant one life instead of two people with separate lives deciding to share their lives with each other. And when you believe you and your partner come together for one life, the by-product becomes possession, no matter how obvious or subtle. Love then, becomes something you own instead of share and discover. And the threat of that being taken away causes all the destructive stories we hear in Al-Anon meetings.
Today I believe “together” means something different. Together means waking up each day and choosing to love that person. It means love is a choice. Not a contract. It means to champion their story. To walk next to, not ahead or behind. It means to accept them and all their shortcomings. It means you may not like them every day and that’s okay. It means you will find other people attractive and have other connections and that’s okay. It means to be responsible for your own shit. It means you’re doing life with someone, not at or around. It means trust is earned, not given. It means people will change and grow and maybe even drift but also will come back around because they choose to love you. It means there will be triggers and resistance. It means no one belongs to anyone.
I believe the true island, where love is everything you’ve never dreamed of, because most haven’t experienced this kind of love, exists north of possession.
And to get there, I believe we must take down the Norman Rockwell painting. Love is not about ownership and as Americans, we want to own everything. And continue to redefine what love can look like.
At the same time, look inward and be aware of what we are holding on to and why. Be aware of the blueprints we may be tracing that have been passed down or fed. To be aware of the residue created from our parents and upbringing, and work on scraping it.
I still struggle with possessive love.
I still struggle with letting go of shoulds and catch myself grabbing instead of holding.
I still struggle with seeing beauty in the contrast.
But I want the kind of love I’ve never experienced, the kind without labels, judgment, and old definitions. Love that doesn’t fit in a frame. Love that is held and grown into something greater than its parts.
And I will keep swimming until I get there.
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