The one… Girl meets boy, dates happen, a relationship is formed, it gets serious and exclusive, and a commitment is made, promises, a house is shared, perhaps kids… they live happily ever after, til death do them part.
That is the script.
It’s everywhere – from the fairytales of childhood to the TV soap, almost every movie and almost every love song, Valentine’s Day, Christmas Day, holidays and every day. True love – whether you’re seeking it or you’ve found it or you’ve lost it. It’s just what you do.
OK so sometimes it goes wrong, but the script is still there – you break up, your friends pick a side, you share out the wedding gifts, dry your tears and start looking again – maybe this time you’ll find the one, a true love that forsaking all others will last forever. You settle for a good person who ticks the boxes. Or you fall in love, for the first time… for the last time. You work at it. You keep the love alive. You go on date nights. You celebrate anniversaries. You build a place of belonging, together.
According to the script, those who don’t have this kind of love in their lives are missing something – lonely, broken-hearted, dried up…And those who have too much are a cheat, a slut, a philanderer.
BUT WHAT IF THE SCRIPT ISN’T THE TRUTH? What if there are other choices you could make?
In the global history of human relationships this script, whilst it has become ‘traditional’ in most cultures, is relatively new. Here’s a useful and simple read about how monogamy became the social default position: https://thenib.com/the-invention-of-monogamy
Monogamy is a choice. It didn’t occur to me until I was over 40 years old that there might be other, consensual, ethical ways to conduct my romantic relationships.
None of us has any real difficulty with the notion that it’s possible to love more than one person – yourself, your dear friends (and you are allowed several of these), your siblings/parents/kids/family (and you are allowed several of these), and your lover (and… stop, wait a minute, you’re only allowed one of these…)
What is it about romantic love that makes it impossible to feel it for more than one person at a time?
I’ve got two children. When the second was born, I didn’t have to divide my love between them. A whole lot of magical new love happened. It more than doubled, because not only do I love my son and my daughter, but I also love their love for each other – it magnifies and grows and it feels like it is infinite and eternal. And I see no reason whatsoever why the same can’t be true of romantic love.
Of course, whilst love may be infinite, time is not – and sometimes I have to prioritise the needs of one of my kids, or pay attention, or take one somewhere the other finds boring. I have to take care to balance their needs and consider their sibling rivalry. But I can, and I do, because I love them both, equally but differently, responding to their unique personalities and needs and enjoying their company in different ways. And I see no reason whatsoever why the same can’t be true of romantic love.
And whether you have (by choice or by circumstance) no children, one child, two or more children… it’s no reflection on your ability to love and be loved.* And I see no reason whatsoever why the same can’t be true of romantic love.
(*I’m just noting there are a lot of other social scripts and constraints around parenthood and gender, which are important – but I am simplifying here to stay relevant to the point I’m making about love).
And what is it that is so special about sex that means you’re only allowed to have it with one person, ideally someone you love?
Sex is great and it’s enjoyable (or it should be), as long as all involved are consenting adults. Some people like sex more than others do. Some people don’t like it at all, and that’s OK too – and it’s no reflection on those people’s ability to love and be loved. Sex is a normal and natural thing that most humans do – it’s not inherently any more special than dancing or playing with a ball or going for a walk in the countryside – all things that can be more enjoyable if you do them with someone you like doing them with, or extra special when you do them with someone you love, but you can do them with anyone you want to do them with, as long as they want to do them too.
And you can choose to only talk about a certain subject with one person, or have only one dance partner, or one tennis opponent, or one walking buddy. And they can all be the same person. And you can both agree on that, and stick to it forever. But you don’t have to. If you’ve promised to only dance with your dance partner, and you find you want to dance with someone else, you could talk about it, and agree whether it was cool for you to do that. If you want to start playing doubles at tennis, and your opponent does too – yay! If you want to go for a walk in the countryside by yourself, or join a rambling society, then you can discuss whether your walking buddy is happy about that. Nobody is entitled to dance, play ball, or go walking with anyone else – they’re things you have to want to do together – you negotiate consent. Ongoing, communicated, enthusiastic consent.
And consent is the bottom line. Choice. Agreement. A decision.
By all means choose the script if it’s right for you. Choose to find and invest in one special person to love and share your life with if you want to. Yay! I’m so happy for you both. Really.
But if it’s not right, if it’s not what you want (and what they want) then consider what else will work for you.
Going ‘off script’ is a way to a myriad of amazing opportunities, to find a way to love that fits you in all your uniqueness. But it presents a lot of challenges – because it’s a script we all know, even if we’ve chosen to reject it. It’s a script our friends and families and work colleagues know. And when you reject it, or question it, or choose to do relationships differently, then you have to find your way without it… It can feel like there are no words, no stage directions, no actors to play opposite. And when it gets difficult (as relationships almost inevitably do) there is a world full of people who will tell you it’s because you’re not following the script.
And that’s the reason for this blog, I guess. It’s a way for me to share some of the things I’ve learned since I went ‘off script’. I don’t have the answers, or a new script for you. But wherever I go from here I will choose, not just follow the script. Love will find a way.
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