Communities or Relationships

You may be thinking: “Wait, what does that mean? No romance, no butterflies, finally finding true love? That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun!” You may be right and I get you. But let’s step back for a moment..

These days the headlines could really have you concerned: political unrest, international provocations, and still no globally binding commitment to limit CO2 emissions. Every day, there seem to be reports of extreme climates, terrorist attacks, refugee crises. It’s scary out there and what could possibly be better than having a strong partner by our side to hug us when we feel scared and warm us on a lonely night? Well, actually, there may be something…

Think about it: finding a great romantic relationship can create a lot of pressure (dare I say, fire!). These days we’ll try all sorts of apps, venues, events, just to meet somebody (not to mention the even crazier stuff we do to make it last!). Apart from the fact that we are going extreme distances to find proximity, why are we putting all our eggs in one person’s basket? Not only is it unfair to the other person to project all of our expectations onto them. It’s also a little bit, um, I want to say insane.

We don’t apply to just one college. We don’t have just one friend (hopefully). We don’t read the same author over and over again. Yet here we are, pledging lifelong allegiance to just one person. He or she will make all our pain go away, our troubles seem small and all our fears disappear. That seems like risky business to me. Actually, speaking from my personal life, it has been risky business. The rebuilding that had to take place after my two major relationships failed was so painful, I didn’t think I could reside in this body for much longer. My grief seemed so plastic and permanent that I thought it had taken on a body of its own-inside mine. With the loss of my respective partners, I had lost my one true confidant, my lover, business advisor, my family, in one case the father of my child, future dreams and hopes, comfort, shared vacations, my home, my identity in some ways. Besides having to overcome pain, deceit, anger and fear, my whole life had been turned upside down. Whom do you turn to, when all these people–rolled into one partner–are gone? If you have one, you guessed it: your tribe.

During these times of self-loathing, lack of confidence and the complete inability to imagine a life without my partner, my friendships deepened and grew more meaningful than at any other time in my life. I no longer just spent an hour in-between with them, I spent 3, or 5, or more. We had meals together, worked alongside each other in coffee shops, shared the books we read, called each other late at night or just stayed over all together. The bond between my friends and I became so strong that I couldn’t imagine how I had voluntarily lived any other way for so long. Suddenly, I realized, I had treated my friends and my family like auxiliaries to my relationship! Someone you meet when you’ve got time in between or when your spouse is out of town. Here was this whole community of people united in their love for me and I had all but ignored it. Once I became aware of it and steeped in their love and care, I started to think of communities in a larger way. Communities unified by a political or social cause, religious or secular, a shared identity, national, global,…There are literally no limits.

What if we all thought of ourselves, not only as individuals but as human beings who–when we examine our true nature– are willing, able and highly capable of making connections among each other. I want to go further and say we need these connections, physically, spiritually and cognitively. Here we all are, swiping left and right, mangling ourselves through first dates and wondering where on earth this soulmate is hiding, when actually there are all these friends, causes and groups we may very well connect with sans the whole dating dance.

Why did advertising and the digital universe catch on years ago and start re-purposing the word community? Because it is heartwarming? Yes, very likely. But also, because it is a way to organize our lives, to create synergies, find jobs, create a sense of belonging and safety, home and purpose-all with a personal touch. Communities last long after some of our partners have come and gone, after our children have moved out, our parents have passed on. They can become a network of lifelines when life delivers the unexpected pain and joy!

In the field of neuroplasticity it has now become known that we rebuild and rewire our brains well into adulthood and old age. We are absolutely able to continue learning and reinventing ourselves. I believe the same is true for our relationships. If we keep using our natural ability to bond, the bonding keeps happening. There are bonds that break, of course but when we have a community of people, there is strength in numbers, much more than there is in the number two that makes a couple.

In Berlin, where I live, I have been hearing a lot about polymorphous relationships, where the couple as such is also “coupling” with others. Personally, I’m not sure I can imagine it (I’m a little lazy about the logistics, I’m guessing!). There are also now several models, where different generations of neighbors arrange to live in the same house with each other, thereby, creating an extended family you actually want to spend Thanksgiving with! Whichever model we choose, there are countless roads to building sustainable relationships outside the box of the romantic two.

And you know what the funny thing is? Those trusted communities might be the best place to find romantic love when you’re not even looking (or swiping). After all, who knows you better than your tribe and so, can introduce you! Added bonus: there’s also been research stating that couples who cultivate friendships outside their immediate relationship last longer-less pressure for the relationship to provide all the answers maybe. Of course, none of this is historically new. This is how we used to live and thrive. So, perhaps it’s time to return to our tribes…now that I think about it, it might make for less scary headlines too. Just a thought. Let me know yours in the comments below!