When it comes to love, it is clear that society as a whole sees longevity as the ultimate goal in a relationship. Endurance and even stubborn tenacity are viewed as the signs of “success” or indicators of a quality partnership. In fact, for those of us who have had several long-term relationships throughout our adult lives, they have named us perpetrators of “serial monogamy.” It sounds like a crime or mortal sin, punishable by a lifetime of assumptions about instability and emotional baggage.
But what if those of us who have “tried, tried again” when it comes to love, know something special because of our ability to get back on that horse and chase after a different setting sun?
I have given this a lot of thought, as a person who survived two 4-year engagements and 1 clusterfuck of an 18-month rebound. Now, I recognize that I’m 36 years old and able to stand back and say, “You know, that was pretty ugly at times, but I’m grateful.” I look at my current fiancee and challenge myself about this rare feeling I have: It feels alien-like really… to envision an actual, sustainable, no-nonsense, adventurous, and aligned future with someone who doesn’t see me as a stepping stone to their healing, an obstacle to their goals, or a season in their ever-changing personal journey.
Can you see that so-called “baggage” coming through my words already? Go ahead… ask yourselves this: “Why was I ever with someone who saw me as a stepping stone, obstacle or season?”
The truth is, for those of us who are serial monogamists, we know the answer, but we’re afraid to tell you. If we tell you “why” we are susceptible to being a chapter in someone else’s love story, we may become victim to attracting a changing tide instead of the whole ocean of possibility that healthy love can offer.
But I’ll take the risk, on behalf of us all… and I will tell you why we allow for this… after I walk you through the 3 Reasons we are learning to be grateful for these seasons of love that others call “failed” relationships:
Grateful Reason # 1: Resilience is our Middle Name
It takes a lot to start dating again after a woman tells you that you are the love of her life and she has never met anyone who knows her the way you do… then she leaves you a week before your wedding invitations arrive from the print shop. It takes a lot to believe in love again after a lover tells you that you are the person who completes her and she cannot imagine her life without you… then she calls off her proposal of marriage. It takes a lot to believe in the goodness of relationships after a girlfriend tells you that your friendship means the world to her and she would never jeopardize it… then she cheats on you.
What women can do, to women, to men… to anyone – seems criminal. I can’t even begin to imagine being bisexual and feeling like both sexes are available for these emotional lawbreaking activities. Men equally do this to women – I have no doubt.
But ask the serial monogamist if they still believe in love and somewhere inside of their broken hearts lie this regenerating caterpillar who still expects that love can remain hidden in a safe cocoon and emerge into this magnificent butterfly or moth. We can be shaken but we are built to last. We are the Energizer Bunnies of intimacy and we have no intention of letting someone ruin us for the one who matters… if you are lucky enough to fall in love with us, we are piece of coal that is living under the pressure of failed relationships and a judgmental society until you prove yourself worthy of our trust… then the shine begins to make its way to the surface.
We cannot be broken.
And we know how to handle the pressure of disappointment better than those who have had love delivered to their doorsteps on silver platters of good timing and cosmic arrangements.
Grateful Reason # 2: Time is on our Side
Some of my favorite memories of time spent with my wife-to-be are the conversations around moonlight or candlelight, when I could tell she was falling in love with me but I was cautiously sitting back and waiting… not playing games, not sending mixed messages, but with a patience I was sure I had failed to execute before, with such precision, I waited for the dust of infatuation to settle. Meeting new people is like shaking up a snow globe of romance and at first, there is nothing but a flurry of meetings we call dates or hang-out encounters where we attempt to interview for the position of girlfriend, partner or lover. There is a real treasure in being with someone who will feel their fire of passion for you but not show it right away… because when the critic of romance sees that you are still there, still smitten and not nearly as naive as you let on, the critic becomes the biggest fan of dreaming. Idealism erupts like a geyser and not only has the foundation for trust been laid, there is once again, the belief that this “thing” called love, is going somewhere. We who have “failed” may not rush nearly as much… not because “this time, we want to be sure” (because duh, we always say that), but because there’s nowhere we need to be other than right here in the moment. It’s all we know to trust anymore and in life, not only is that resilient, is refreshing to be around, isn’t it? First dates with serial monogamists may not include sky-diving or sex-capades, but you’re going to be in the kind of experience that can lead to bricks and mortar-style intimacy. We know we are going to put in our time… and we are okay with that, most of the time. 😉
Grateful Reason # 3: There are no Eggs, There is no Basket.
The art of detachment is one which comes with many heartbreaks. It doesn’t mean we can’t commit and it doesn’t mean that with time and trust, we can’t show up for the joyful surrender that love can be in a committed partnership. (again) I admit that having been in 8+ years of relationships has left me with scars. I thank two partners and one girlfriend for those scars though… because now I do not put all my eggs in one basket, as they say. I do not expect my wife to “complete” any part of me that I cannot already heal on my own. I do not look to her to do for me what I cannot do for myself. I do not expect her to handle me with special care or do anything even similar to a parent or even a confidant. She is not my playmate and she will not become my pacifier. She is my… friend. My very dear, beautiful, sexy, mindful, brilliant… friend.
Rather than saying that “there’s no one like her,” or fill my or her head with platitudes of “meant to be,” I found myself agreeing with my mom who said, after meeting her, “I can see why you want her as a friend… for the rest of your life.”
And this, my lovelies, is how we learn to re-frame the past in order to find a new sound, a new wave, and maybe even a new heart. It helps that when this lover says she loves me, she says it in Spanish sometimes… because the words, “I love you,” are well beyond over-used…
In the end, our baggage is our baggage, but we are grateful because we aren’t committed to our expectations anymore. (Well, except that expectation of loss that creeps in when we are too happy, but that’s why there are counselors 😉 ) By now, we have dated/married or committed to people of various incomes, education, spiritual background, ethnicity, sexual expression or even gender identity. The serial monogamist has seen it all! (And believe me, if you want to really learn something, ask the polyamorous!) I know that couples who married someone at 20 years old and stayed together until their 70’s know things we don’t know, but it’s time we stop selling ourselves short for “failing.”
In fact, isn’t that why we fail?
Let’s get to that point, as promised…
What about our “baggage” and this “pattern” of being in relationships that don’t work out? What is the achilles heel of the man or woman who seems to attracts lessons out of lovers?
The answer is that we are a vulnerable hot mess. The reason that we were willing to be with people who see us as stepping stones, obstacles, or seasons is because we have been unable/unwilling to truly love ourselves and the outcomes we seek.
Shit, it’s out there now, isn’t it?
The problem is we love our lovers more than our goals.
We love our partners even, more than our problems.
We love our would-be-spouses more than the self in the mirror.
But together, as we learn to see the value in these “failed” relationships, we begin to apply principles of self-love and eventually I believe we will attract the type of person we actually can spend more than four years with as a couple…
I’m banking on it, actually.
Because if 8+ years of “failed relationships” provided me with anything, it’s success at being myself. This is a priceless gift that many never figure out…
Succeed at being you.
Mr. or Ms. Right may do better than sweep you off your feet… this person will beautifully support you in keeping both feet on the ground when you need it or walk patiently through the muddy and sometimes unfamiliar path of partnership. Be grateful for their past as they are ever-so grateful for you, in their present.
Namaste, my friends… and to my lovely wife-to-be… please continue to mirror that beautiful hope that I remember so well, the first and second times around… third time is more than my lucky charm. It’s the pot of gold at the end of a double rainbow filled with butterflies, endless cliches, and so much pink glitter, we can hardly stand it. Te amo…
Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.