I’m sure you all remember when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced their divorce, describing it as conscious uncoupling. (If you don’t remember this, you should take a look at the emotional investment you make in celebrity relationships — it doesn’t seem to be high enough!) You can also read about what it is on Goop — the best/worst lifestyle website in the world.
I reread and summarized it for you: the basic idea is that we’ve evolved to live longer, but marriage hasn’t evolved with us, because the way we look at marriage as all-or-nothing causes divorces to be messy, shame-filled affairs. Now, welcome conscious uncoupling: the alternative to the nasty divorce! Here you’re hyper aware of your marriage falling apart — except that you don’t think of it as falling apart.
God bless you, Gwyneth Paltrow and your team of psychologists/sociologists/anthropologists, but this is annoying as all get out.
Now, look. I’m all for helping people think of their relationships and marriages more realistically, for continuing to lessen the shame of divorce, and for accepting the reality that not all marriages can or will last forever (and often that’s for the better). But instead of looking at the way people change in a marriage and saying, “collect these instances as part of your drifting away from each other,” why don’t we encourage people to work together on their relationship on the front end?
I think the alternative to this conscious uncoupling nonsense is obviously conscious coupling.
My boyfriend Warren and I have been together on and off for almost five years and officially back for two years. (Side note — at some point soon, I’m going to write an avid defense of on-again, off-again relationships because, obviously.) When we got back together for good, we were living together within two months with a five-month-old puppy, Ella. In between cleaning up Ella accidents in our building’s stairwell and arguments over refrigerator magnets, I started to look at committed long-term relationships as an act of conscious coupling.
This is not to say that being with Warren is a struggle, or that we have to make efforts to be happy, or that I don’t believe there’s a bit of magic/fate/destiny in our ending up together. I’ve been calling him my Big since 2011 — and damn if I wasn’t right! We’d get over our bullshit eventually and be happy together because no one else would do. (Pretend you never saw the second SATC movie. You won’t miss it in your brain, I promise.) Warren of course hates this, because he thinks Aidan is better and that Carrie was stupid. But let me tell you — there are two types of women in this world (okay obviously, there are millions, I’m not putting women in a box, calm down scary internet feminists): the type who wants a Big and the type who wants an Aidan. When you finally get your Big (if he’s worth having, you’ll be able to), he’ll be 100 times better than Aidan.
But only if you both stop your nonsense and commit to some serious conscious coupling.
First, don’t get your life all messy and intertwined if you’re not on the same page about what the future looks like. This means putting the mush and the magic in the corner for a second and hashing out what you both want. It’s unfortunate to ignore all of the giddiness and comfort and joy for a second, but let’s get logical — you have to.
Now that you both know what to expect and have a plan, you still need to focus on conscious coupling! We all have valid and ridiculous expectations for every relationship. Sometimes, you’re going to be wrong to care so much about something so stupid and sometimes you aren’t. But making two people successful for a long period of time involves changing in little and big ways.
I think we’re all too set on finding someone who is absolutely perfect for us, who fills 100 different roles for us, who gives us absolutely everything we need. We think having to put in effort to keep a relationship healthy means it’s not as magical. And that’s just nonsense!
You can still believe you’re soul mates while you have a month-long fight about how his work shelves make the living room look messy. You can still be annoyingly smitten when he hates your snooze alarm habits. You can still have a goofy, whimsical rapport while having depressing budget conversations.
Real, successful relationships require effort. They’re going to grow and change just like you’re each going to grow and change. But if you accept this, acknowledge that you’re going to have to care a little less about dumb stuff (like where y’all store the vacuum he’s in love with or how many coffee table books she buys for the tiny, overcrowded table) and more about the required stuff (like having honest conversations about expectations, frustrations, and desires), you can grow and change together.
Just accept that you are both two imperfect people, determine that your future together is your most significant commitment, and figure the rest out. Magic still requires work! Harry Potter still had to go to Wizardry School. You are no different.