Thinking outside the square.

Anytime something’s not working in our lives, there’s a message from the universe: “Elevate your game.” – Marianne Williamson

I alone have the right and responsibility of creating a life for myself that is as I envision it. No one can or will do it for me. – Me

So, I am talking to a friend the other day about many and varied things as women are wont to do, and we find ourselves talking about the institution of marriage and the interesting experiment that the human race has engaged in, namely putting a man and a woman in a house together, throwing in some kids and telling them to go ahead, lead a meaningful and happy life together. And don’t forget to love each other until the day you die. 

Now I say experiment, although that is a little glib, because it is something that we humans have been working on for some time (a few thousand years or so), with somewhat mixed results. Over the millennia, we have had various versions of family structures – matriarchal, patriarchal, tribal, polygamous, extended, nuclear, monogamous, open, closed, heterosexual, homosexual, single parent, living together apart (LTA)…oh there are probably more, but you get the picture.

For as many different humans there are, there are as many different ways to have relationships and build family structures. I am totally cool with that, and appreciate the diversity that is the human race. What I do not appreciate is our wonderful variety being squeezed into one or two socially sanctioned family structures.

According to Gretchen Rubin‘s 4 different personality types I am without a doubt a Questioner (questions rules and accepts them only if sensible. They may choose to follow rules, or not, according to their judgment. Self-generated rules have special validity). I cannot do anything unless I know why I am doing it. As soon as I know why, I am docile and obedient (sort of). If I don’t know why, or if I do know why but that reason seems nonsensical or outdated, I am stubborn and recalcitrant beyond belief. It hurts me to do something that I don’t believe in or don’t understand.

So, currently (er, for the last 10 years or so), I have been questioning this idea of a man and a woman getting married, living together, raising a family and living happily ever after. I remember the first time it occurred to me that it could be done differently – I was in my early 20s and a friend was describing to me the living arrangements between her and her last partner. He was an artist and lived in small studio behind the main house, where she lived. They would have sleep overs and dinner dates – and every 12 months they would re-affirm their vows, and the conditions under which their vows were made. It seemed a romantic, exotic, yet sensible way to conduct a relationship.

Nearly 10 years ago we bought a house, or rather, we bought two tiny houses on one acre – the main house where we live is marginally bigger and in better condition than the other dwelling which we call the Cottage. Over the years the Cottage has been put to many uses – for the first couple of years we had tenants in there. After the last tenants disappeared leaving us with piles of garbage and all of their possessions that did not fit into their tiny car, we decided to keep it for ourselves, and set it up as a place for guests, and as our children got bigger, a rumpus room. Later, I converted a room into my yoga space.

The size of our house means that whatever one person is doing, everyone else is doing it as well. If the television is on, the only way to avoid it is to go into your bedroom, close the door and put headphones on, or go outside. This causes problems as you can probably imagine, especially considering I don’t much like the tv and would much rather read, write, do yoga or listen to music.

There are many other and varied problems and challenges with men and women sharing a house, some of which you may even experience in your own life:

  1. Different approaches to and priority levels of house cleaning.
  2. Arguments over media: television, music, movie taste, social media etc.
  3. One partner snoring (in our case, me).
  4. Different sleep habits.
  5. Different decoration ideas.
  6. Different ideas on appropriate manners…
  7. Different sexual appetites.
  8. Different social needs.
  9. Men being men and women being women and all that is implied from that!

Over the last few years I have been eyeing off the cottage as a way to increase space and the quality of our relationship – but not for me, for the Bear. I can’t move over there I think to myself. The children are too little, they need me at night still; it’s not fair that I should have to go, because the children would come with me and there is not enough room for us all, and the kitchen and bathroom are very basic and need work done on them. You should go, Bear. But he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t feel the the chafing, cramping claustrophobia that I do. Or if he does, he handles it better.

Or maybe it’s just that every Dragon* needs a cave. Who knows?

So as I was saying, I am talking to my friend the other day, and I hear myself (again) talking about the crapness that is men and women living together, and whose crap idea was it anyway etc…and I suddenly thought – when are you going to do something about this? Whose life is this anyway? When are you going to stop blaming other people for your life not being the way you want it, and do something about it? When are you going to grow a backbone and free yourself?

I don’t know if it is the 40 days of yoga, a carry on from the ‘living with integrity’ vibe of last year or a combination of the two, but I have developed a zero tolerance for my own bullshit, as well as that of others. I suddenly realised with blinding clarity that I don’t have to put up with unsatisfying situations any more – and if I do choose to do so, it is just that – my choice.

Now, my Bear and I love each other (as well as being in complete mystified frustration with each other), and we have made a commitment to each other and our family. We are building a life together, and it is a good one. But. Get this – we can do that any way we choose. We** do not have to conform to archaic social customs if they don’t work for us (don’t get me started on women changing their names when they get married I beg you!).

So, I am moving to the cottage. It’s not far – I can easily throw a stone from the main house and hit the cottage roof. I will still be found at the main house – kitchen, laundry, bathroom, phone etc. I will still cook, clean and wash like I normally do. But I will have a space that is mine, where I will sleep, listen to music, do yoga, study and read in peace. There’s room for the kids to sleep over if they want, and Bear as well. And there’s no TV.

Yippee!

It’s going to take a while to put into place, so I will tell you how I am going with it, and maybe post some photos :).

What do you think? What is your experience of men and women living together? Have you ever wondered if there is a better way? Have you tried something different with your living arrangements?

* I was born in the year of the fire dragon, 1976.

**I should clarify here that the Bear is a reluctant participant, and that this scheme is my idea. This is definitely a trial to see if doing things a bit differently will make a positive difference to our lives. I could be wrong…but I don’t want to die not knowing, right?

23 comments

  1. Sara, if this works for you and your partner, then why not? You won’t know until you try. If I need some me time, I’ve got a small space for that. I’ve always wanted a separate little “cottage” to escape to that’s nearby so you’re very lucky that way! Good luck and look forward to your experiences and photos.

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    • I am well aware that I am very lucky. It would be beyond the means of most people to maintain two separate dwellings for the sake of harmony (or a whim as my partner would say), and we would certainly be in that category of most people. Still, I do have the opportunity, so here goes! Thank you for the good luck wish 🙂

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    • Well, I wrote and re-wrote this three times before it was fit for publishing, and that does not include editing (shhhh! don’t tell anyone :)). So it’s complicated, and quite a big deal to finally be acting on something that I have been talking about for years. I feel excited and happy and nervous and sad and worried in turn, and on some confused occasions all at the same time. Living on the edge isn’t really my style; oh actually, who am I kidding, it is – but it feels really edgy now. Interesting times 🙂

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  2. I love this. I’ve always questioned the way we organise ourselves socially, marriage or committed relationship included. Good on you for having the courage to take an unconventional step, and to share it with us on your blog.

    I’ve often thought the ideal relationship would allow for two separate dwellings on one spacious piece of land. (Your place or mine darling?) Can’t wait to hear more.

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    • That’s it in one Kara-Leah – two dwellings on one acre. I think it’s ideal, the Bear not so much, but he never likes new ideas ;). I am interested (as well as lots of other things) to see how this goes too. In fact, everyone’s asleep, I’m going there now 🙂

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  3. Ahhh brave new world. Sometimes it’s not the words of others but hearing our own voice that spurs us into action- go forth Dragon woman! I’m a big believer in doing whatever feels right and I think that’s the key- just FEEL it out and try not to over THINK it…can’t wait to hear of your great unravelling… 🙂 PS and it IS living on the edge if that’s how it feels for you right now- yehar!!

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    • That’s definitely one of the strongest messages I am getting at the moment Lizzy (stop thinking and just go with what feels right) – that and open my heart and let go :). Also, go slowly and let things evolve. I do believe i am learning :).

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  4. Bravo! I think it’s a fantastic idea… but what I really embrace is the idea that you are listening to your own inner voice, no t putting it on others, and moving in a direction that feels right. I have been married for 26 years, together for 30 and I’ve struggled with all of this (the entire square) for nearly every day of that time. Here I am, still struggling. Some days it all turns in on myself, and I sink so low (as some recent posts have suggested), and other days it feels ok. It has never really felt “right.” Like you, I struggled with my role as mother vs my need for space and independence… I think you’re doing the right thing. I think you may be glad that you, not Bear, moved to the cottage. It’s too easy to begin to feel tied to the little ones, in the same way you feel tied to the big one… both are a marriage of sorts. It’s all very big. So, again, Bravo! I will be excited to see how this goes.

    In the meantime, just got this in my inbox, and thought it would make you smile… it seams there are are few 40 day plans out there. I MIGHT, might, try it… we’ll see. Depends a lot on the knee. IF I do, it is because you inspired me. If I don’t it’s because I’m inspired, but not ready. 😉
    Namaste,

    http://3omsyoga.com/workshops/40-days-to-personal-revolution

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    • Hey, you’re back from Israel!
      Look, some women (and men) really struggle with this kind of living arrangement, although it is more accepted in men, I believe. We are not given any other socially sanctioned options though, so many of us just battle through, or divorce. I am looking for the third way :). And you are spot on, it is a much better idea for me to go to the cottage rather than Bear – it suits me much better. I think the children had to be that bit older, and they are now.
      It’s strange how when a good idea is born, it is born all over the world. Although 40 days for personal renewal is mentioned in the bible and even earlier. Thank you for the inspiration acknowledgement – I really appreciate it, although I wonder if it could really be true 🙂

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  5. I truly believe in the trickle down effect on these types of things — if you are happy it will make everyone happier as a result — you are taking care of yourself! Curious how your kids are reacting to the change…

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    • Hi Tamina, I truly believe that too. It’s impossible to fill up someone else’s cup if your own cup is empty. As for the kids; well, it’s early days yet, and I am moving slowly. I have slept a couple of nights over there with my 4 year old daughter, which has been fine, and I have slept a few nights at the main house too. My 8 year old son seems to be completely unfazed and has no desire to follow me, and my daughter prefers to be over at the cottage (as long as she has unfettered access to me, she’s fine). So far so good. I am discovering that just having that space there, and being able to duck over there for an hour or two is medicine in itself :).

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