Once upon a time I grew up knowing I would find 'The One'. I planned my life around it. In my head I saw the wedding day, the nice neat house I could call my own, the children that looked like me, the photo albums, the happiness and the certainty of commitment to just one other person for the rest of my life. I would lie awake in my teenage years and wonder who my soul mate could be, what they would look like, when they would arrive. I knew many stories of broken marriages, my own parents included, but I swore I could do better, I would listen more, take holidays at least once a year and keep tabs on my relationship like my parents never did.
Then I grew up and the fairytale ended, I no longer expected perfection. I witnessed the unfairness of not being the one to be picked, the feeling of shame & rejection, the exclusion of being the outcast, the one with a hidden defect, the one that was no longer invited to dinner parties because I was not part of a couple. I became a threat more than a friend. Instead I found my own group, gathered my strength with others who rebelled against the conformity of a relationship. Yes, we resented losing our friends to the smugness couple life. Yes, we found a way to feel secure by swapping romantic dinners for all night parties, love making for one night stands. We told ourselves that we didn't need another person to tell us we belonged, didn't need them to pick us from the crowd, to tell us we were the one. We became cynics looking for a new type of love and we vowed to never change.
No-one was more surprised than I when suddenly, out of the cinders on the dusty cellar floor came my dashing knight, armed with an eye that only saw me and brandishing all the similarities and personality traits needed to sweep me cleanly off my feet. For a while I made the effort to go out with my single friends, I promised not to turn into one of 'them'. But I did. Now I am no longer 'single', I am a partnership and feel the need to be progressing toward the happy ever after. Suddenly I want wedding rings, suddenly I am fearful of all night parties with friends, I feel us trying to reign each other in and all of a sudden I find myself subscribed to a very neat boxed-in life.
Alone on my veranda, looking out toward lush green bush, I feel the wind tickling my body. I am reminded of the endless possibilities of being a kid again, the idea of the perfect man, the perfect relationship – one where I feel free and can have everything I want. When did this fairytale become a story of sacrifice and compromise? And what happened to the lessons I learnt in my single, cynical days – my vision of modern love? Could it still be possible to have everything? Do we have the power to engineer our lives that way? Indeed, is it our responsibility to do so?
Everyday we are exposed to alternatives to conventional love. It used to be hidden in religious or cultural differences, but it now has a voice that is spoken out loud in our multi-cultural vision of the world. It says gay couples have the same co-habitation rights as heterosexuals. It proudly states the Prime minister of Australia can live in a de-facto relationship with her long-term partner and her step-child. It yells from the rooftops that women can also date younger men, branding her 'The Alpha Feline' and her toy-boy a 'cub'. Previously marginalised groups are becoming accepted and at the same time previously established groups are being questioned. Is marriage really a suitable way to live today? Can people really be expected to remain faithful? Never change? Always keep the promises they made when they were twenty? Or is it just another unrealistic demand of society? Another restriction? Is it just another structure set-up to make us feel guilty? What if traditional relationship structures have become out-dated in the modern age?
How have traditional relationships become dis-functional? How many parents stay together when the love is gone from their marriage– just for the children's sake? Do they really believe it is better that way? How many people suffer affairs silently? Alternatively how many people run-away from marriages fearful of the expectations of a life-time of commitment? The thought that it is forever or nothing, not something people work at and nurture everyday. These are all reactions from pressure and the result of beliefs formed from a common history. They are external influences that create an internal dialogue of rules to live by. When people sign divorce papers many report the feeling of failure while others feel successful in long-lasting and love-less marriages. Could it be time demolish these external definitions of success and failure that dominate our lives, and by extension, control who we are as a person – our identity?
What makes us lose track of our individual voice in a relationship? I believe it happens slowly by small sacrifices we make along the way – we let our partners design a lounge-room we do not like, we go on camping holidays when we would have preferred a spa retreat and we let our children dictate what we watch on T.V. All of a sudden the small pieces of the person we are fragment and become lost in keeping the bigger picture happy. The bigger picture is our collective identity, the 'I' becomes a 'we' and we call ourselves the 'Smith Family'. We believe we are protecting our love when really we have lost the ability to be ourselves. We are providing the structure we believe the relationship needs but because it is formed by personal sacrifice it will never be enough. Instead it breeds resentment. It changes the dynamics in relationships, it creates role-plays, manipulation and power struggles. It leaves you both wondering what happened to the person you once loved.
Why is it important to live the right kind of love? What is the right kind of love? I believe it is important for us all to look deep inside and identify what shape our love takes – how we, as individuals would like to manifest our love in the real world. With this awareness we will be able to authentically share it with others, only then can we find a lover that understands us, encourages rather than squashes who we are.
Love permeates into every essence of our lives and we can choose to carry it as a blessing or a vice, a gift or a restriction. The attitude our love projects transcends sexuality, it seeps into our family, our friends and the world around us. It frames the opportunities we have in life, it shapes how others treat us and how we treat them. I believe it is our responsibility to express our love authentically, for only then can we give and receive to our full potential. I believe this could happen with two important criteria: freedom from social constraints and expectations; asserting our individuality without feeling vulnerable to rejection.
As many people are aware the human race is evolving in a new way at the moment. A shift is occurring. A new belief system is emerging. People no longer commit to the process, or try to fulfil their social obligations of education, career, marriage, children above personal goals. Capitalism has been replaced by consciousness. Consumerism has been exposed. The new wealth is in contentment, the accumulation of happy years. Success is an individual thing, millionaires swap material possessions for inner peace and careers are being built on passion rather than prestige. What does this mean for modern relationships? Does it mean we can re-define the way we express love too? Have all previous doctrines reached an age of uncertainty? An age of personal choice? Is realising our inner desires now more important than conforming to our outer image? If so, How does a modern relationship reflect this change?
One of the biggest alterations affecting the structure of relationships is gender equality. These days men add their wives last name to their own and a woman's career can be as important as a man's when deciding to have a family. The 'Spinster' is being replaced by the 'Batchelorette' and women are now not the only one's considered a slut if they play around a bit too much. Men and women are no longer seen as dominant and submissive, in fact many love to experience it the other way round. A lot of men have out-grown the pressures of male responsibility and detest their role of bread-winner, similarly, many women have out-grown the powerlessness of being a house-wife, both genders are enjoying an era of equal opportunity. Equal responsibility. These changes make the idea of the passive house-wife watching helplessly as her husband throws his car keys into the central bowl an unlikely scenario. Today relationship structure is created by both men and women. This changes previous values and empowers both sexes to seek out exactly what they want. These days women can be a mother and a minx, men can feel masculine and show their sensitive side. Couples that have been married for twenty years can go swinging on the weekend because it is their choice. Their right.
It has become a person's right to design their lives the way they want to. Capitalism has given us the means and this new social up-rising has given us permission. We can now tailor-make our lives. New wives chat to old wives. An uncle can be the same age as his nephew. Women nip down the clinic to get pregnant, and men can become a father at seventy if they want to. The Tiger Woods style of relationship is scorned. It screams of the obedience to tradition and the belief people can do anything they want as long as they don't get caught. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie prove an unconventional relationship can work. And despite being met with criticism their unusual family set-up has become accepted. People can see a modern style that works. And with Tiger Woods, people are beginning to see how his love for sex was not the biggest problem. The biggest problem was his choice to lie, it was the lie that shattered his marriage. What if his wife had known about and permitted his other lovers? Would that have made a difference in their lives?
Could it be our responsibility to find someone who wants or at least understands the parameters of the relationship we want? I believe the foundation to a modern relationship is individual freedom and personal responsibility. There is power in creating a relationship where both parties share the same understanding of the structure and values, the shape and parameters with which their love takes. Imagine a couple who knew each others deepest sexual desires. They are able to tell each other everything without fear of rejection. They have no need for role-plays or power struggles. Instead they encourage each others goals and admire individual achievements. This idea sheds us all of labels, we are free and without restriction and this fills us with new risks and pressures. The pressure to discover our inner-nature and the risk of what that may uncover. I believe this is a smart risk to take, for this is the opportunity to express ourselves, discover personal tastes and see the same transparency in our lover. It also means relinquishing control and opening ourselves to the secrets we may uncover. It is a brave choice, can a modern relationship be accepting of anything? What would happen if anything goes?
Will Smith & Jada Pinkett are famously 'out' and 'open' celebrities. Demi Moore and Aston Krutcher are rumoured to have had sex with another girl on more than one occasion.
Open marriages are unusual but accepted. Could this mean that swinging is back? Are we now free from the structure set to hold us neatly in peace, yet still able to find peace without it? Has this new inner system of measurement actually created the right climate in the right amount of people to make the notion of 'free love' a reality? Could love, sex and relationships be a series of experiences, a personal journey toward self discovery?
Swinging is a sub-culture still rooted in stereotype, it conjures up mental images of naked orgies, gang-bangs and lesbian kisses – all indulgences we normally associate with provocative & lewd behaviour. It is something other people do. The thought of another person having sex with you and your lover is perverse, it is an invasion, it just seems wrong. But can I ask – who says that? Who's voice are you speaking in? Is it in fact formed by a society that values monogamy, marriage and traditional expression of love? Are we now ready to see through this programmed response? Can we now perceive swinging as more than a way to authorise extra-marital sex?
I see swinging as one of the many forms of modern love, a relationship style born out of a society that no longer needs to conform. Swinging takes many different shapes such as partner-swapping, same room sex, voyeurism, exhibitionism and many more. The essence of it however describes individuals which have crawled into the depths of who they are and brought out the bold light of their own desire, the barbaric expression, the animalistic tendencies of their true nature which society has told us to hide. In a relationship this can create a greater understanding of our sexuality, a way of being totally accepting of each other - a way to love unconditionally, a way to acknowledge the deepest desires and validate them in ourselves and others. It encourages a love that transcends gender, is not possessed solely by one other person and is a way we can share and connect as human beings. This form of modern love encourages us to share, connect and appreciate other people. This is in contrast to our conventional past which taught us to set boundaries, restrict and compete for perfection with people.
Relationships have taken a modern twist. They have evolved. The fairytale has been exposed for its unrealistic magic, instead we are beginning to question our ideals which centre on marriage, career and conformity. People are no longer satisfied with a fake marriage and they no longer feel that they have failed others if they get divorced. These days what matters is that they have failed themselves. People no longer want to game-play, manipulate or fight for power in their relationship. Instead they want to feel good, feel encouraged, and they are looking for ways to do that. What hinders us most is a past which is fear based, afraid of what true desires may be uncovered if we open ourselves up to a different style of relationship.
People are no longer at the mercy of their gender. People no longer need to conform as much as they once did. People want a love that helps define them, an expression of love that they can use to fuel other aspects of their life, a love that empowers them and helps create and identity they are proud of, not one that is a bi-product of the sacrifices they made and the expectations others had on them.
The pressure to conform is fading and a new pressure emerges, one that asks us to explore our sexual depths, one that tells us by accepting others we will be accepted ourselves. We can now forge a new relationship where we can do anything and everything we want, it frees us, threatens us, but ultimately empowers us. A relationship today is about choice, how we, as individuals choose to express our love. We have the ability to design our relationship to suit our exact needs and this trend has seen the emergence of sub-groups such as open marriages and swinging. People are beginning to value transparency, personal expression and authenticity. Failure is conforming. Success can be found in awareness. Relationships are becoming more about a mutual understanding, it is now our responsibility to be open about the style of relationship we want. We must confidently assert what we want.
Social acceptance of all the different expressions of modern love and modern relationship styles illustrates a new human awareness that is emerging. The acceptance of peoples quirks and differences is a way of connecting the human race, uniting us, allowing us to share in our uniqueness. For now a relationship is no longer about how we manifest love in our lives, but how we are able to feel unique inside, and at the same time feel a deep connection and oneness with the world outside.
"A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. They know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it"
(Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea)
On a global level this is slowly becoming unity through the acceptance of others. Are we become a species of endless possibility?