Tuesday, April 21, 2009

happiness in relationship uncertainty

If there's one thing that points out that life is uncertain, it's relationships; polyamorous relationships especially.

I have recently been taking a hard look at my relationship with May (I'm not in any other romantic relationships right now) and also her relationship with her boyfriend, Don, from the perspective of, "what if?" Where are May and I going? Where are Don and her going? What will happen when I do meet someone and a relationship develops? What if? Will I be able to handle it?

These are unsettling questions, because possible answers include some scary things happening, like May and my relationship ending, May and Don's relationship ending, and taking down our relationship with it, me falling in love with someone, and getting deranged with new relationship energy (it wouldn't be the first time, lol). It also contains possibilities like being hurt, or hurting the ones we love. Of course, it also contains the possibilities that things will continue to go basically well, that we ride out the rough patches, learn and grow together, and do what I hope will happen: grow old together with our poly family.

I think many relationships, especially traditional "marriage" type ones, have a flimsy facade of certainty, of security. Marriage is forever, isn't it? Once you find "the one", you'll live happily ever after, won't you? Or at least our society says so, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When I was monogamous, I held that same unexamined belief, despite a plethora of examples to prove it wrong, including my own parent's divorce. But mine, like many people's I suspect, was a most superficial faith, a thin covering hiding my true but impossible-to admit-to-myself insecurities about the permanence of relationships. I avoided facing the reality at all costs, because the implication was just too hard to look at: that ultimately we are alone in this world.

The awkward reality is that the future of relationships are completely uncertain. Any, or all of the above predictions, or none of them, may happen, and we have no way of knowing what will come to pass.

I have been meditating on how to be happy while living with this understanding. Faced with the reality of uncertainty, I believe we have two choices in how we approach our life:

1. Run away and avoid any situation where there is not complete, total, absolute guarantees about the outcome (when you find that, can you let me know?). I have been there, done that quite a bit.

2. Accept the fact that things change, and take some appropriate risks in going after what you want.

Since I became polyamorous, I've had to confront head-on a lot of the fears that I had when I was monogamous. I think I've also come to see and begun to accept the uncertain reality of relationships and also life in general.

When you're married and monogamous, many people I believe don't think they need to consider questions relating to the permanence of their relationships, so it's convenient to avoid doing so. In meeting and getting to know other polyamorous people, I've noticed that a lot of them live their lives the opposite way: they throw themselves right in the middle of all of the possibilities that life and relationships offer, both joyful and heartbreaking, confront head on the fears that life's uncertainties create, and go for it anyway. They choose option #2.

It's been a scary but also empowering process working towards living my life with more acceptance that there are no guarantees, and that by pushing the boundaries I will get bit on the ass more than if I stayed in a cozy, stable, yet ultimately unfulfilling life. In doing so a few approaches have helped me to feel certain within myself that no matter what comes my way, I can handle it. For many of these ideas I must thank Susan Jeffers, whose book, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway," has been pivotal in these changes.

1. Build a "whole life"

Build a life that is rich and diverse. If you build your life focused on just your romantic relationships, and one or more starts to fall apart, you will feel like you have been left with nothing. If you create diversity and committment to many different areas of your life, including friends, family, work, spiritual practice, hobbies and so on, if a piece is removed, there is still a great deal there.

2. Have "high intention, low attachment"

When you want something, create a vivid, real picture of what you want, and put it out into the universe. Intend for it to happen; but then, let it go. Accept that it may or may not happen, or it's unknown how long it will take. Be open to the fact that you might get what you want, but in a way that is different that what you intended or expected.

3. When there are two or more possible ways something in your life could turn out, consider that each of the possibilities is a win

If you seek growth, deep experiences in this world, and self-knowledge, then recognize that, while some possible outcomes will be happy ones and others sad or challenging ones, that each outcome will bring you new understanding, growth, and new things to your life. Looked at this way, there isn't really a "bad" outcome and a "good" outcome, but rather simply outcomes which will give us different experiences and teach us new things. The challenging outcomes will make us stronger people; the happy outcomes will bring us new joy. Either way, we are getting something out of it.

4. Live in the now, taking nothing for granted

Appreciate what you have today, because it may not be the same tomorrow, or may not be there at all. Give 100% commitment to what you do have in your life right now: your relationships, your work, your children, your friends, your family, your self.

5. Look for the good in the change

Things changing or ending always creates spaces in our lives for new things to come into existence. Without those changes, those spaces would not exist. They free us up to begin another relationship with someone who we've always been interested in but never had time to pursue, move to a new city that we've always wanted to live in, or spend time working on ourselves, reading, studying, and meditating.

I find it intriguing that uncertainty exists not only in the human experience but is woven into the very fabric of the laws that govern our universe. At the subatomic level, quantum mechanics describes the behaviour of particles, and fundamental to these laws is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

This principle states that a particle's position and momentum cannot be both known at the same time. But more interestingly, until the particle is actually observed in some way, the position and momentum do not exist in a definite state: they exist only as a fuzzy cloud of probabilities, and the best we can say about the particle before we actually probe it and it figures out what it is going to do is, "it's somewhat likely that when we observe the particle that it will be in this position and traveling at this velocity, it's slightly likely it will be here and going this speed, and it's very likely it will be there and going this fast."

At a very real physical level, until a definite state, or situation if you will, is solidified, only uncertainty, along with the probability of certain situations becoming reality, exists.

It's time to embrace that uncertainty is fundamental to living, find happiness within it, and even celebrate it, as we celebrate other laws of nature.


  1. Very well written and thought out. I came looking for something like this due to my own musings and found something to help clarify my own thoughts. Just wanted to say that I appreciate it.

  2. I really love this piece. Thank you :D