22 July 2011

On relationships, marriage & my fear of divorce

Five and a half years ago, two of my best friends got married to each other at what I considered a beautiful (albeit expensive) wedding. The day marked the beginning of a very important chapter in my life and holds a very special meaning not only in terms of my friendship to the new couple, but also in a personal sense. In fact, it was right after their wedding that I was invited to a party that gave me the opportunity to ask Ashley out on our first date after having my courage boosted by the groom.
Having met in a drama class they shared, they had been together since high school and seemed to work together very well despite some of their personality conflicts. For those who knew them like I did back then, it seemed very likely that they would get married and live a happy life together.
Shortly after their wedding, my best friend shipped out to basic training to begin his 4 year tour in the Navy. She stayed behind, living the life of a "military wife." After some time, he was stationed in Virginia where they both got an apartment and lived for a few years. When his 4-year enlistment term was over, they moved back to California, where they lived with their parents for a short period before getting another apartment. He returned to college to get his degree and she went back to work. For most who saw them when they returned to California, they probably imagined that nothing was out-of-the-ordinary for them. But when I saw them after their long absence, I noticed that there were subtle differences in their character and demeanor, and despite the fact they appeared fine, I felt otherwise.
Flash forward to a few months ago. My best friend invited me over to hang out with him, which I was happy to - after all, being as busy as I have been, we didn't get to hang out together very often and it was rare that he called me to come over. Upon arriving, he asked me to go on a short walk with him as he wanted to talk. Surprised at the request, we walked out to talk, a serious and sullen look on his face. Something was wrong and he didn't want to say what he had to say but knew he had to. Shortly after walking out of their apartment, he told me - they were getting a divorce. They were planning to completely split and go their separate ways at the end of their apartment lease. The word of this jarring shift hit me with a collection of depressing emotions - it was so surreal and took a while for me to fully understand what it was that I was just told. I wanted to help them, but knew that a) there was nothing I could do, and more importantly, b) it was not my place despite my strong, innate desire to help those I think are in need.
The reason I write about this here is because this whole ordeal scared me into re-examining the situation of my own relationships at all levels. Though I had my suspicions that something wasn't quite right, their resolution to split seemed all too sudden and final for me to accept, and made me realize that it was very possible for it to happen to me as well. You see, I am afraid to lose the relationships I have because something was wrong and I ignored it, whether the relationship is a friendship, between my family members, or an acquaintance. But the relationship I revere highest - my relationship with Ashley - I fear the sudden collapse of greatest, mainly because I know that it would be my fault for its demise and she would walk away for good reason. Some would ask why I would automatically default to blaming myself, to which I would answer "Because it almost happened several times before and it was my fault each of those times."
In a technical sense, relationships are aggregate, where every configuration of a future events are entirely influenced and shaped through the culmination of the outcomes of prior events. Relationships, therefore, are very intricate constructs and extremely sensitive to change. Over time I've come to appreciate this fact, even more so in the past year, and have actively worked to help situations of conflict rather than impose totalitarian decisions. I've grown to appreciate the bonds that are formed or strengthened with peaceful coordination and find that all parties involved are typically happier when a conflict is handled with the delicate precision of democracy. I understand that not all conflicts can be met with compromise - one side or another may have to surrender in order to reach a resolution - and am starting to realize that surrendering is not a sign of defeat, but a point at which to learn from - not only in terms of absolute factoids but also in how it is to understand and respect your fellow.
Recently, there has been a growing number of people that have been unhappy with the false promises and dreams implied by television shows, movies, books, magazines, and various other entertainment mediums. From as young as small children we have been taught that relationships are nearly effortless after marriage, and that once married, riches find you at every corner. As teenagers and adults, we have been taught what should be expected of our partners, and have been brainwashed into believing that the only thing that is important in a partner is their wallet or their looks. Sometimes, even, we've been hoodwinked into thinking that our own relationships are destined to fail because they aren't as lavish, dramatic or spontaneous as what is depicted. Celebrities, the least qualified people to be viewed as role models, have been deemed the de facto standard, and their relationships are often emulated. All these things (and more!) have bred entire generations who have been lead into believing their relationships are sub-par. And because of their comparisons to what is popularly considered to be the "gold standard" for a romantic relationship, they have become unhappy, and with that, a huge number of self-destructive tendencies manifest, leaving broken, stressed and deeply-unhappy individuals. Ashley & I believe we have been rapidly manipulated into selfish people with unrealistic and unattainable metrics for happiness, thanks to well-intentioned-but-altogether-flawed upbringings and the frequent use of emotion by the media to make entertaining stories affect our judgements intentionally or otherwise. (The use of emotion in media is not a new tactic, but is a sneaky way to drive people to a cause - in their case, to support their product - because it acts on a part of us humans that is easily manipulated and is rarely put in check by logic and reason. It is easier to "entertain the fantasy," than to critically think, and this leaves our emotions vulnerable to manipulation. Unfortunately, emotion is an extremely powerful but extremely malleable force that can drastically affect our outlook on the world, and thus inadvertently alter our decision-making processes in subtle but incredibly profound ways.) But, alas, there is nothing we can do but watch relationships around us falter and crumble as divorce rates continue to climb and the general "happiness index" continue to decline. We, however, are not complete cynics. We do, in fact, hope that a few who enter a relationship and marriage serve as the elite role models for the people around them and show that happiness is something that takes time, effort, compromise, and ultimately, unprecedented respect and trust.
As of last week, my best friends do not have the apartment they had for the past year any longer, and they have gone their separate ways. I wish them well on their individual endeavors and hope they find what they were looking for but couldn't find before.

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