“I’m never getting married again,” he said. “It’s too hard to get un-married.”
It was a joke – sort of. It’s something I’ve said too. I’ve heard a lot of people say it, or something like it (so if you think I’m talking about you – you’re probably right, I’m just talking about a couple dozen other people as well).
The problem isn’t marriage, per se. The problem is how hard it is to stop being married.
Thing is, that’s kind of the point.
Interdependence is the sign of how serious a relationship is.
Stick with me here.
First, it’s important to note that I don’t mean codependence.
I mean interdependence.
All the people in the relationship counting on each other and being counted on in turn.
This does not have to look like the “move in, get engaged, get married, have kids” scenario so many rom-coms have drilled into our heads (stupid John Hughes movies). I’m definitely not endorsing the relationship escalator. Your relationship can look like that, but it doesn’t have to.
What it does have to look like is that the people in that relationship are not solo actors. Otherwise you are not in a relationship. They may (and should) retain autonomy, but at the same time, everyone is considering and communicating with the other people in the relationship about what’s going on and things that could impact their lives.
This idea of interdependence as a benchmark of how serious a relationship is runs deep. Even if you intellectually don’t share this idea, you can’t ignore how deep it runs in our culture.
Even rom-coms run with this principle.
Think of the “I’ve accepted a job offer on the other side of the country” storyline. Suddenly the low-key (sometimes even “Will they/won’t they”) relationship is faced with the possibility of having to become much stronger.
There’s two absolutely necessary story beats in order to signal how much stronger the relationship is getting.
First, there’s the (in)consideration of the person taking the offer without talking to the other people in the relationship. This often leads to a lot of gnashing of teeth – and rightly so. A partner pulling this on everyone else without bothering to consult others is a high-stakes and even without the move could trigger an extinction level event.
Then, later, we have a signal (though a somewhat unhealthy one) of the other people in the relationship putting the relationship first and going outside their comfort zones to be with their loved one(s). Whether it’s because they’ve (secretly) boarded the plane, are running back off the plane, are carrying someone out of the factory – that huge public declaration through actions is what signals to the audience that things are now more important.
Rom-coms are problematic as fork. There’s lots of behavior in them that gets codependent and stalkery and is labeled as “love”.
They get this point right.
They understand that relationships are not just individual atoms bouncing off of each other.
That, when a relationship is serious, that there is a degree of interdependence. Maybe it’s shared passwords or joint bank accounts. Maybe it’s living together. Maybe it’s sharing chores, or picking the kids up, or just bothering to ask them what they think of a decision before you make it. What kind of interdependence is important to the people in the relationship is as individual as the relationship(s) themselves.
Double check with the others in your romantic relationships. Make sure the things that signal “serious” for you are the same for them.
Otherwise, you might be taking advantage of them. You might be signaling to them that they’re more important than they really are.
Or worse, no matter what is in your heart, you might be telling those you love they mean nothing to you at all.