A couple of weeks ago, I was being interviewed by a Californian radio host about my book How To Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World.
Suddenly, she realized I am divorced. Believe it or not, she actually said to me, “Wait a minute, why should any of us listen to you about ‘how to be alive.’ You can’t even stay committed to your own wife and child!” Then, she went on about how she and her husband had been together 30 years through thick and thin. They knew what commitment was and despaired of people like me, she said.
I told her that actually, Bella’s mom Michelle and I remained deeply committed to each other. I said that our marriage had stopped working, but we continued to work through our difficulties in order to be good friends to each other and, more importantly, great co-parents to our daughter. I said, “It is easy to be committed to someone when you haven’t had to split. But you might say Michelle and I are even more committed to each other than you and your husband, because we keep working at it, even though our family now has a different form.”
Afterwards, I gave this a lot of thought. I thought how lucky I was to have Michelle as my co-parent and how well Bella is turning out and how we really do feel like we are one reconfigured family. Because of this, you could say that I never could have married a better partner. Not because our marriage lasted forever, but because the time after it is working so well.
That made me think about how we might choose long-term partners in these times when we all live so long and there is a good chance we won’t be with our partners for our whole lives. I also thought about what a waste it is when, after we have invested two or five or ten or twenty years in a relationship, if we stop having that relationship just because it is no longer a romantic partnership.
Wouldn’t it be better if, even if the form of the relationship changes, you could still have a relationship? For the sake of the children you have together, yes, but for the sake of the people in the partnership, even if you have no children? Don’t all of us need lifelong relationships, even if their forms change shape?
Then, I came across Dan Savage’s campsite rule for dating: Always leave the other person in at least as good a state or a better state than you found them. Whether your partner believes in that rule is probably a great guide to whether you would want them in your life after your romantic partnership ends.
Taken together, those things made me think of two new criteria for choosing partners. Rather than choose them for whether or not they will stay with you forever (call me a cynic–I assume they won’t), choose them according to what kind of a friend and family member they will be once the partnership is over. How committed will they be to your well-being in the really long term?
So, in choosing a partner who will be in your life forever, maybe what speaks best of them is these two questions:
- Do they have good loving relationships with their exes?
- Do their exes say that they learned and grew–were left, according to Savage’s campsite rule, in as good as or better condition–from their relationship with your prospective new partner?
- Take that as a sign that you might have a lifelong committed relationship with someone, even if it isn’t always romantic.
It makes sense to me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.