This post has been brewing for months. My intention is to face a challenge, well, actually two challenges: Admitting to a change in my life and capturing my deepening understanding about how we relate – and avoid relating – without (even seemingly) abandoning my previous understanding. So, I want integration more than replacement. The big change in my life is that I am building a coupled relationship with a man. You could take this as abandoning my singles advocacy: “see, all your singles stuff was all because you hadn’t found the right one!” That is precisely the reaction I am challenged to avoid. In essence, my advocacy is not so much about being single than to be in choice. I had already started to realize that advocating for singles means that we remain stuck in the singles-couple dichotomy, which limits us to certain ways of relating. That is the kind of normativity I would like to move away from: As social beings, we all need relationships – how these relationships look like depends on us.
I have written and talked quite a bit about how cultural trauma limits our ability to choose. When the culture we’re immersed in teaches that there is only one way to relate – in a couple – and any other ways are not quite good enough, we end up undermining choice because we might end up coupling just because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do, not because we want to. It’s a reaction to avoiding an undesirable state – being single.
What I have learned over the last year or so is that there is another form of trauma, though, that can undermine our choice: Complex trauma. One of the defining features of complex trauma is that it consists of wounds that occur in relationships. My wounds stem primarily from a marriage that was filled with abuse. I now believe that some of my reasons for remaining single were a reaction to my trauma, not a choice that reflects who I am authentically.
I tend to oscillate between wanting independence/autonomy and closeness/relatedness. I want to express myself and still be accepted for all of me – often sacrificing self-expression because I fear losing acceptance. In the past, whenever I feel my autonomy is threatened in a coupled relationship, I end the relationship because that was the only way I found that I could maintain my independence, not lose myself (as I had during my marriage and one or two other coupled relationships). Slowly, I am learning to stay related and independent. This is made easier because in my current coupled relationship we are both interested in becoming aware of the influence of our past trauma on our behavior. Overall, I am learning that as much as I enjoy being independent, I had ignored my strong need for relatedness, a need that might be stronger than it is for others or maybe meeting it requires more intimacy and depth for me. As I deepen my relationship with a man, I am noticing how I am blossoming, how my whole body seems to say “ah, this is what I needed! this is what I have been missing!”
Does this mean that I now think that coupled relationships can be the only way to meet these needs for depth and intimacy in relating? No. It might not even be true for myself. I have blogged about my longing for it before – that’s one reason I am interested in community building. It seems to me, though, that this is the flipside of couplemania: Because of the cultural story that overvalues couples, other ways of creating deep and intimate relationships are far more challenging to create. And I actually have two such relationships in my life, though one of it is a distance relationship, so does not include touch.
So, my own experience as well as my theoretical understanding of trauma leads me to reaffirm what I keep repeating in my workshops: It’s all about choice. The only change is that I now see more trauma that can get in the way of our choice, which really means more healing needs to occur. And that is my life’s mission: To develop an integrated and integrative approach to healing that addresses all trauma (especially cultural and complex)* and allows us to fully live in choice, which is an important ingredient to a satisfying life.
* I am not quite sure how single-incident trauma, like that following an accident or a rape, fits into this yet… My hunch is that an approach that heals complex trauma also heals single-incident trauma, especially when it interrelates with cultural trauma, as it would be in the case of a rape.