Our society has a two dimensional view of relationship. If you're not single you're either on the marriage track or your dating, which these days, I've been told, means being in a monogamous relationship with an indefinite lifespan and an implicit consideration of marriage. Consequently, the terminology for defining relationships is far too simple to accommodate the complexity that some of us weirdo's out here engage in.
Over the last month, as Kassia and I have traveled across the country and up the west coast, we've been noticing that we're different from other couples. We're not a unit or a package. We don't take for granted that our relationship will continue to exist in a particular form, or at all, for any length of time. Our lives are very intertwined right now but we don't assume that will persist.
From very early on Kassia and I set some clear intentions for our relationship. We agreed that we didn't want to get into a pattern of trying to change each other. We wanted to accept each other for who we were and allow our relationship to evolve accordingly. At the same time we agreed that one of the main purposes of our relationship was to support each other in becoming more of who we want to be, which was in part a recognition that we will continue to grow and change. Later that expanded to the intention to support each other in doing our work in the world.
We recently reaffirmed that as the priority. Our lives are driven by what we're doing with our lives. Our relationship is viable so long as we can support each other in that, and ideally find areas to collaborate. It helps immensely that we share a very similar meditation practice (two hours a day of vipassina.) It reinforces this shared philosophy, provides us with a common language for understanding and working with our relationship, and helps us continue to grow and evolve, and gain deeper understanding and clarity about ourselves, each other, life, the universe, and everything.
This differentiates us from couples who hold their identity as a couple as equal if not superior to their individual identities. We are each seeking to follow our own path. At the same time we're open to what that might look like, seeking to follow fundamental principles and ideals as opposed to specific visions. For example, for myself, I say that my goal is to make the best use of my life to make the world a better place. That could manifest in many different ways, some of which would keep us together, others that wouldn't. That goal may ultimately lead me back to Twin Oaks to be with Willow, which would mean the end, or at least a monumental transformation of our relationship.
This presents us with a certain challenge in knowing what to call each other. This challenge is further complicated by the fact that I have this whole other family with a child - a set of relationships that is even more difficult to sum up in a word or two. Kassia and I have gone through a myriad of agreements over the last 2 years regarding our openness to other sexual/romantic relationships. Anyone who knows even a sliver of that experience, or knows about my family or any of the other people with whom either of us have been involved , and who isn't familiar with intentional community and polyamory, tends to be a bit befuddled by our relationship.
About 10 days ago we arrived in Chico and stayed with Dale (my father) at his cohousing community. Dale and I took a walk a couple days after we there. He asked how things were with Kassia and I. He couldn't quite tell where we were at in our relationship, but observed that we seemed like we were just good friends traveling together who's lives were on similar tracks. He also said that we seemed like we were really enjoying each other. We asked another member of the cohousing cmty to borrow a bike. He checked with his teenage son if we could borrow his, saying, "can Sky's friend borrow your bike?" We got a ride to Eugene with a member of Tryon Life Community Farm, where we're subletting a room in May. On the way up another member of Tryon called. "Guess who's in the car with me? Sky! Yeah, he and his, uh, friend Kassia."
Last year when Hawina, Willow and I were at the cohousing cmty in Chico we had a similar difficulty finding easy labels. Hawina and I had all but officially ended our romantic/sexual relationship. Now, and at that point, I still thought of Hawina as a partner. Over the last couple years I've half-jokingly called us domestic partners. But calling someone your partner carries a romantic/sexual, long-term-committed connotation. The long-term-committed part was and is still true, but as deeply bonded friends and co-parents. We're family. We're not exactly split up, nor are we divorced as we were never married. At this point you could say we're separated, or that I'm separated from the rest of my family. But the bond and identity Pax, Hawina, Willow, and I share as a family, ironically, has never been stronger.
When we were in Chico, often the easiest way to identify Hawina was as "Willow's mother." You can imagine the subtle awkwardness that phrasing illicits. A different awkwardness would be involved in saying, "this is my domestic partner Hawina." Similarly there would be plenty of room for misunderstanding if I qualified my partnership with Kassia by calling her my "life partner," which I've done in the past, meaning that we are partners in life, not for life. Of course, people who remember meeting Hawina and Willow didn't quite know what to make of Kassia even when I call her my partner. And often it is just too complicated to explain to people to whom I don't really have much connection.
As we've been moving towards this period of travel and re-location Kassia and I have been mostly referring to each other as "my partner," because this seems the closest to reality and the easiest to understand. It is still very over-simplified, and we both at times avoid going into details about the larger picture because we just don't want to take the time and energy, esp. with people who may be shocked or even offended. But ultimately it doesn't really matter. Neither of us are very interested in proselytizing at this point, nor are we particularly concerned with finding an appropriate package for our relationship - that would seem antithetical to our guiding philosophy.
Since Kassia and I have been together our practice has been to develop a deep intimacy and involvement with each other while maintaining an attitude of non-attachment. We're good allies. At some point it occurred to me that the label companions fit our relationship best. More recently I had the idea that we were a team. I was tickled at the possibility of coming up with a team name, mascot, etc. That idea incorporated the possibility that we might find other people to join our team (which could also manifest in a variety of forms.)
In one of my favorite tarot decks, the Zen Osho Tarot, there is a card called "friendliness" that captures the essence of what I'm getting at (the two of cups in traditional tarot, also thought of as the minor arcana version of the major arcana's "the lovers.")
The creator of the deck, Ma Deva Padma, shares these words:
"The branches of these two flowering trees are intertwined, and their fallen petals blend together on the ground in their beautiful colors. It is as if heaven and earth are bridged by love. But they stand individually, each rooted in the soil in their own connection with the earth. In this way they represent the essence of true friends, mature, easy with each other, natural. There is no urgency about their connection, no neediness, no desire to change the other into something else."
I feel immensely appreciative of Kassia and our relationship. I've been developing a lot of kooky ideas about relationships for over 10 years now. Having a solidly collaborative partner for a living experiment in intentional relationship has been an incredibly edifying and beautiful experience, and I know any relationships I have in the future, any kind of relationships, will be healthier and happier for sharing this dance with her.