We humans seem to be intrigued by the “what if.” The idea that we could have altered our choices if we only had had the information afforded to us by hindsight is a tantalizing and compelling contemplation. Most of the time, we enter into relationships with truly no idea of what the end might be, or how it might come about, or what we might feel when it does end.
But what about the times when we do know? When the most likely — even highly probable — outcome is very clear from the outset? Why do we still venture down the path? What is it that compels us to do something we strongly suspect is not in our own emotional best interest?
The most obvious example of this situation is an affair. I suspect few of us know of affairs that produced a “happy ending.” (I myself do actually know of a few, but they are special in a lot of other ways, too.) Most affairs end badly; which type of “badly” is the only real variable. And yet, every day, more couples step down that path, even though the ultimate outcome is typically clear to even the most casual observer.
I have a single friend who is contemplating a relationship with a man who is polyamorous. For the uninitiated, polyamory is the practice of or belief in having more than one intimate sexual relationship simultaneously, with the knowledge and consent of all involved. It’s not the same as screwing around — it’s not simply about sex — it’s about having actual physical and emotional relationships with more than one person at a time. It may or may not include multiple sex partners in a given encounter, but it usually doesn’t. The easiest way of thinking of it is like polygamy without the marriages.
This friend is of mine is not polyamorous. She is most definitely a one-woman/one-man kind of girl. She is not even particularly comfortable dating more than one man at a time beyond a date or two. But she likes this man in question. And so she is thinking about it. To his credit, he has been completely frank about his beliefs and his preferences, and he has not pressured her or judged her or reacted defensively. Which, of course, only makes him more attractive and interesting in her eyes….
But for most of us, the end for these two seems pretty clear and awfully likely, doesn’t it? So why is she even thinking about it?
Lately, I have noticed a lot of people talking and writing about how our hearts don’t follow what our minds tell us to do. The heart/mind disconnect is amazingly powerful and stubborn. For some it manifests as behavior that is entirely out of character for them under “normal” circumstances; for others, it is the pursuit of something they know or believe to be wrong for them. Either way, the explanation provided is usually some version of “I just can’t help myself.”
Sometimes I think we venture down that path for the best of reasons. I know that I’ve often been aware, from a metaphysical perspective, that perhaps my course of action will likely end in my own heartbreak, and yet I feel that there are lessons to be learned along that path, wisdom to be gained, that will make it worth the trip. That rationale tends to work best when embarking on the journey and with the benefit of removed hindsight; it usually doesn’t hold much water when I’m sobbing and hating myself for my choice.
I am constantly astounded at the romanticism all around me. How much we all want to believe that we are different, that our relationship is different from the norm, that it will not have the obvious outcome but will surprise everyone and defy the odds. That it — and we, by extension — is special. I have been as guilty as anyone of this sweet delusion at times, and I cannot say that I would not be again, given the right set of circumstances.
And just as the Vegas oddsmakers understand, we believe in the jackpot because it is possible. It truly is. Of course it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Sometimes. To some people. So why not me, we ask ourselves, why couldn’t my relationship be the one that defies those pesky odds?
As I’ve often said, I love a happy ending. And I love it even more when it overcomes the naysayers and the critics and the doubters. In their own ways, every relationship that lasts another day is its own happy ending. Because every single one has the odds stacked heavily against it. I guess, like a good gambler, the key is being able to evaluate the nature and quality of those odds.
I know, for myself, that I could not get involved with a polyamorous man at this point in my life. I know what I want and the polyamory choice is diametrically opposed to some of the most important aspects of what I’m looking for. So it wouldn’t work for me.
But what about my friend? Perhaps she will decide similarly. Or perhaps not. Perhaps she’ll take a leap of faith and play the odds. Perhaps she’ll let her heart drown out her mind.
And perhaps she’ll hit the jackpot. Or perhaps not.