This is a topic close to my heart. I don't have all the answers yet of course, and your feedback is always welcome. Please note this entry has a lot of quotations from A Course in Miracles, so if that's not your cup of tea, you may want to wait for the next blog entry ;-)
The Quest for the Perfect Relationship
I hear a lot of people who are frustrated and get down on themselves because they haven't figured out how to have "a good relationship." By good relationship, I mean a relationship that is happy and enduring.
This quest for the perfect relationship fuels an entire relationship industry, and yet when I look around, I'm just not seeing much of the "perfect relationship" ... anywhere.
A Course in Miracles talks a lot about the "special relationship." I used to be a participant in special relationships, a few years ago they seemed very natural to me, but now I am mostly a spectator. I watch friends cycle in and out of them. The beginning is always blissful, then things get boring or conflict-ridden, and then one of two things almost invariably happens: either the couple breaks up or they stay together but the relationship is essentially dead and passionless. For the people who break up, some people have a three month pattern, some a one year pattern, some a two and a half year pattern. It doesn't really matter, it's the same cycle played out, and all too often they break up and no longer have an amicable relationship.
And then after it's all over, the rationalizations why this relationship didn't work out but the next one is bound to -- "oh, she/he just wasn't ready" "she/he just wasn't the right person" "we just wanted different things" etc. etc. etc. Always questioning the worth or maturity or compatibility of the other person rather than questioning the whole structure of special relationships.
To which ACIM says:
The special love relationship is an attempt to limit the destructive effects of hate by finding a haven in the storm of guilt. It makes no attempt to rise above the storm, into the sunlight. On the contrary, it emphasizes the guilt outside the haven by attempting to build barricades against it, and keep within them. The special love relationship is not perceived as a value in itself, but as a place of safety from which hatred is split off and kept apart. The special love partner is acceptable only as long as he serves this purpose. Hatred can enter, and indeed is welcome in some aspects of the relationship, but it is still held together by the illusion of love. If the illusion goes, the relationship is broken or becomes unsatisfying on the grounds of disillusionment.
Love is not an illusion. It is a fact. Where disillusionment is possible, there was not love but hate. For hate is an illusion, and what can change was never love.
What ACIM has to say about special relationships
ACIM has a lot to say about the special love relationship, and what it has to say is not very flattering. Of course, the special relationship is one of the cornerstones of our culture, right? romantic comedies, Hallmark, Valentine's Day, etc.
I don't have room to quote all of ACIM's wisdom in this entry, but here are some highlights:
In looking at the special relationship, it is necessary first to realize that it involves a great amount of pain. Anxiety, despair, guilt and attack all enter into it, broken into by periods in which they seem to be gone. All these must be understood for what they are. Whatever form they take, they are always an attack on the self to make the other guilty. I have spoken of this before, but there are some aspects of what is really being attempted that have not been touched upon. ...
The special love relationship is the ego's most boasted gift, and one which has the most appeal to those unwilling to relinquish guilt. The "dynamics" of the ego are clearest here, for counting on the attraction of this offering, the fantasies that center around it are often quite overt. Here they are usually judged to be acceptable and even natural. No one considers it bizarre to love and hate together, and even those who believe that hate is sin merely feel guilty, but do not correct it. This is the "natural" condition of the separation, and those who learn that it is not natural at all seem to be the unnatural ones. For this world is the opposite of Heaven, being made to be its opposite, and everything here takes a direction exactly opposite of what is true. In Heaven, where the meaning of love is known, love is the same as union. Here, where the illusion of love is accepted in love's place, love is perceived as separation and exclusion.
It is in the special relationship, born of the hidden wish for special love from God, that the ego's hatred triumphs. For the special relationship is the renunciation of the Love of God, and the attempt to secure for the self the specialness that He denied. It is essential to the preservation of the ego that you believe this specialness is not hell, but Heaven. For the ego would never have you see that separation could only be loss, being the one condition in which Heaven could not be.
The idea here is that there is a fundamental error in seeking a "special" partner. And that no matter how hard we try to dress up the "special" relationship with Hallmark cards and flowers, it always ends in pain.
When I read this passage carefully, I do not see ANY way for an exclusive romantic relationship to be anything other than of the ego. That is why I've become so intrigued by polyamory ... but more on that below.
What's so great about marriage, anyway?
I had a hilarious incident last ski season. A guy who's been in my life for about four years (we'll call him Cuddle Guy) and I were in the same ski house. There weren't always enough bedrooms to go around, so he and I got in the affectionate habit of sharing a room and a bed and cuddling at night. That's it though, clothes on, very innocent.
Well, one night a female friend of his came over, and she immediately assumed that Cuddle Guy and I were sleeping together. When I disabused her of that assumption, she said, "Oh good, Cuddle Guy goes through women like water. If you're not sleeping with him yet, you might be able to GET him."
(Mind you, she's talking extremely fast during this entire conversation such that I can barely even get a word in edgewise, so in my head I'm thinking "get him" -- what the hell does that mean and why on earth would I want to do that?)
She went on to tell me how happy she was not to be single anymore, and then proceeded to describe how her husband of a few years and she now sleep in separate bedrooms. Well, that certainly made marriage sound like a dream come true!! It made me appreciate my innocent, agenda-less cuddling all the more.
Marshall Rosenberg has said: "You may have heard me say that it is harder to relate within a marriage than outside because of all the crazy things we are taught as to what 'marriage' means. I find I enjoy the person I'm living with much more if I don't think of her as 'my wife,' because in the culture I grew up in, when someone says 'my wife,' they start to think of her as some kind of property."
Relinquishing the Search for "Special" Love
Specialness creates fear. It must be defended and upheld and constantly guarded, and I personally have no interest any longer in living in fear. ACIM makes it clear that the search for special love is doomed to failure.
So what is the alternative? ACIM speaks a great deal about the holy relationship. It sounds really awesome in theory, but it's not always clear how one gets there. A few things seem obvious though:
No special love:
You cannot enter into real relationships with any of God's Sons unless you love them all and equally. Love is not special. If you single out part of the Sonship for your love, you are imposing guilt on all your relationships and making them unreal. You can love only as God loves. Seek not to love unlike him, for there is no love apart from his. Until you recognize that this is true, you will have no idea what love is like.
It is sure that those who select certain ones as partners in any aspect of living, and use them for any purpose which they would not share with others, are trying to live with guilt rather than die of it. This is the choice they see. And love, to them, is only an escape from death. They seek it desperately, but not in the peace in which it would gladly come quietly to them. And when they find the fear of death is still upon them, the love relationship loses the illusion that it is what it is not. When the barricades against it are broken, fear rushes in and hatred triumphs.
I'll be honest, this is a tough one for me because I have -- for example -- never had non-monogamous sex. But I don't see any way to reconcile monogamy, or any other form of exclusive "ownership" for that matter, with this passage.
No "conquest" mentality in relationships
There are no triumphs of love. Only hate is at all concerned with the "triumph of love.
No seeking solace through separation (exclusive relationships, private thoughts, etc.)
Love is freedom. To look for it by placing yourself in bondage is to separate yourself from it. For the Love of God, no longer seek for union in separation, nor for freedom in bondage! As you release, so will you be released. Forget this not, or Love will be unable to find you and comfort you.
Holy Relationships and Polyamory?
As usual, ACIM speaks in paradoxes. Because in the midst of letting us know that everyone is equal and the same, the book still makes it seem as if everyone has a designated "holy relationship" partner. For example:
There is no gift the Father asks of you but that you see in all creation but the shining glory of His gift to you. Behold His Son, His perfect gift, in whom his Father shines forever, and to whom is all creation given as his own. Because he has it is it given you, and where it lies in him behold your peace. The quiet that surrounds you dwells in him, and from this quiet come the happy dreams in which your hands are joined in innocence. These are not hands that grasp in dreams of pain. They hold no sword, for they have left their hold on every vain illusion of the world. And being empty they receive, instead, a brother's hand in which completion lies.
Given all that I mentioned above, however, I don't see how the holy relationship could possibly be an exclusive relationship ... in any way, shape, or form.
A New View of Intimacy -- In This New World, There is No Exclusion, and All Are Equally Welcome All the Time
So am I ready for intimacy? Yes, actually, I believe so. But it's not going to look like the conventional Hallmark view of intimacy. It's going to look like something completely different. It won't be exclusive, it'll be offered to everyone alike. Which suggests some form of polyamory. It won't be conditional. I don't know yet what it will look like. All I can do is take one step at a time, as I'm guided to do.
I must admit, it sounds pretty good though:
Love, too, would set a feast before you, on a table covered with a spotless cloth, set in a quiet garden where no sound but singing and a softly joyous whispering is ever heard. This is a feast that honors your holy relationship, and at which everyone is welcomed as an honored guest. And in a holy instant grace is said by everyone together, as they join in gentleness before the table of communion. And I will join you there, as long ago I promised and promise still. For in your new relationship am I made welcome. And where I am made welcome, there I am.
I am made welcome in the state of grace, which means you have at last forgiven me. For I became the symbol of your sin, and so I had to die instead of you. To the ego sin means death, and so atonement is achieved through murder. Salvation is looked upon as a way by which the Son of God was killed instead of you. Yet no one can die for anyone, and death does not atone for sin. But you can live to show it is not real. The body does appear to be the symbol of sin while you believe that it can get you what you want. While you believe that it can give you pleasure, you will also believe that it can bring you pain. To think you could be satisfied and happy with so little is to hurt yourself, and to limit the happiness that you would have calls upon pain to fill your meager store and make your life complete. This is completion as the ego sees it. For guilt creeps in where happiness has been removed, and substitutes for it. Communion is another kind of completion, which goes beyond guilt, because it goes beyond the body.