Where the Sidewalk Ends
There is a place where the sidewalk ends… And before the street begins
In Boston I’ve encountered a lot of situations. Every now and then though, something will surprise me. One of those came up in conversation recently as I realized that not just one but several of my friends are going through something that is new to me from a relationship standpoint. New in such a sense that I had to seek further discussion to provide some kind of clarity and understanding. Some of my friends, fully knowing there can be no packaged, well-refined ending to a relationship, enter into it knowingly and willingly. I’m not talking about one night stands, I’m not talking about dating a guy you know is not a great person. I’m talking about dating someone who in any other scenario, you would date seriously. But here there is a very distinct timeline. And you don’t have time on your side. These are relationships with those in Polyamorous marriages or those in soon to be Arranged Marriages.
I spoke to one of my friends recently upon realizing that she is dating someone that will eventually be placed in an arranged marriage by his parents. It will be a woman of his ethnicity, which she is not. The timing as yet unclear. Initially I was very sad about the situation. She seems to like him very much. And so we spoke one night about it, and really what that situation means on different levels. What proved most interesting to me was the period of in between- that moment when you make a decision to enter into a situation fully understanding that eventually the road will end, and not in the way that some skeptics remark all relationships end. It will end because it is destined to end. The path is defined.
I was surprised I hadn’t really lamented this prior. Boston has a lot of students becoming young professionals hailing from countries in which arranged marriages are quite common, and not only common but expected. What exactly do young people do in the meantime while they get an education and spend time in the city? Apparently they date. Every person is different and the nature and seriousness of arranged marriage does vary even from family to family. So while no one can be a spokesperson for the situation, it is an intriguing notion to date someone knowing that the situation is temporary. Does the temporary nature detract from the seriousness of the relationship?
Said my friend, “I wasn’t positive that a serious relationship wasn’t out of the question based on things he had told me about his family. And I felt like there was a decision to be made, but he didn’t think so. He just wanted me to know, I guess. He said he wants me to be happy and that I should go on dates with other people while seeing him. I said I wasn’t sure how I feel about it, but we decided to try to continue hanging out.”
It’s possible to also make the argument that the temporary nature of the situation lends itself to a more open approach. Theoretically there is less to lose to a point. In considering whether to proceed, my friend mentioned her points of reference were those former relationships whose memory was derivative primarily of time.
“When I was deciding, I thought back about previous relationships that had a sense of temporary-ness.. So I guess that my thought was just that I really enjoy spending time with [this person], and although I don’t know what it will be like later, it just seems healthy at this point, just because each of us is spending time with someone who makes us happy and cares about us… I think that since we are relatively clear about it, that there are kind of relatively unspoken agreements. That he will marry someone else, that we will see each other until one of us needs to start seeing someone else, that I can go on dates with other people, that he won’t tell his parents about me.”
A related but entirely unique situation is that of dating a person involved in a marriage already, but one in which they are seeing other people- as is the other person to whom they’re married. Several of my friends actually have dated a person in this kind of relationship, and each time has been obviously different. And while very careful not to present herself as a representative for all situations, it was very interesting discussing with another friend the ins and outs of this particular setup, and the relevance of the perceived lifetime going into it.
“We were friends and had a sort of flirty rapport, which is a dynamic I really loved. It seemed like it would be a sort of fun type of fling. The idea of the relationship and it having a finite ending was not something that bothered me. I hadn’t been in a relationship that was so blatant in its eventual finality, but I had been in relationships before that I knew would end sooner rather than later… [but] while I was excited to spend time with this person, I was kind of anxious about the actual ins and outs of a polyamorous relationship… I didn’t have the full information about their poly relationships and if I had known the amount of partners they had and how they chose to wield their attention, I probably would’ve thought harder about getting into the relationship.”
Similar to the above situation involving an arranged marriage, I inquired as to whether there were any guidelines, or lines in the sand that needed to be established to maintain a successful environment.
“I didn’t want them ‘scoping’ for other partners when we were together. I wanted our time that we spent together to be ‘our time’ like it would be within the parameters of a normal relationship. Things like seeing them with their wife didn’t bother me.”
I can’t help but feel that ultimately the mental approach of the people on both sides of the relationship equation would prove too different. Different approaches, different feelings, different amounts of temporary relationships with different experiences of commitment. But then really, what do I know? I wonder after talking to my friends if I would ever be able to date someone I knew ultimately I would lose. Not to cancer, not to an accident, but to another person. They would be here, and I would be here. And maybe the love would be real but it would never be enough to override a preexisting system or one that was self-enforced. Maybe ultimately a temporary relationship is the one that you need for that moment in time. Maybe it’s all you need, who can say. And maybe 99 times out of 100 it wouldn’t matter because you’d break up anyways. Every case is individual and different with success and loss determined on an almost immeasurable spectrum. But I can’t help thinking about if the person that was going to marry someone else was the 1 out of 100… And whether, I guess, if the knowledge that they would be/are already married would allow you to allow them to be the 1 out of 100.
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