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Forever Isn’t Real


That's not the goal we're shooting for

by Rabbit Darling

Forever Isnt Real | A Practical Wedding

My parents stayed married too long. They stayed and stayed, for twenty-three years, and in the fifteen I shared with them, I saw spite. I saw passive aggression. I saw flickers of a love they once had, only to see it roar into the house-burning flames of disappointment, mental illness, bad behavior, dishonesty, and far too much sacrifice.When their marriage ended, I sat with my mother over coffee, all sixteen years of me. She stopped, my mother, and looked at me with full, blue, red-rimmed eyes and said, “I don’t have memories without him in them, Hil.” And my heart shattered for her. Because it was still no reason to stay with a man who was ill, narcissistic, cruel. Forever was a bad idea.

If the marriage had ended the first time he stumbled, when I was eight, perhaps I could have still had a father I respected, loved. Perhaps I wouldn’t think of him as the man who devastated my mother. Perhaps the time away from the family would have shown him our worth, spared us his casual cruelty, his self-absorption, his violence. Perhaps I would have learned different things about men, and not lost myself, Radiohead style, in the briar patch of enmired sexual experiences, barely consensual relationships, and ill-treatment for a decade or more, thinking, “I deserve this. This is all there is for me.” I wouldn’t have had to spend my late twenties and early thirties healing that damage, finding the pieces of me that survived the blaze and fitting them back together again. I might know a little less about grief and loss.

It’s all neither here nor there, for my parents. But forever at what price? Why is Forever intrinsically worthy? Why is it inherently valuable?

It isn’t. It’s the moments and effort that make up forever that hold the value. I want to make promises about that. I want promises about that. The idea of someone staying with me merely because “they promised,” that the promise to do so is what constitutes the heart and soul of a marriage—I balk. I resist. I buck. No, says my heart. If it comes to it, it’s okay to leave. I’ll cry. I might beg. But leave with some love in your heart left for me. We will build the hallway to forever this way, and walk as far as we can down it. But I will never drag you. I will never tether you to me. You will always, always be free. I wouldn’t have you any other way. Stay because you want to. Stay because I make you laugh. Stay because I’m tough as nails and soft as silk. Stay because I’m fierce and flawed. Stay because you love the man you are with me, the person reflected in my eyes. But do not stay out of obligation. I want to be a celebration, not a duty. Even when it’s hard. Even when we’re sick. Even when we’re broke and scared.

Maybe forever shouldn’t be the explicit goal. Maybe the explicit goal should be in why we might want forever, and how to keep wanting it. What makes a relationship successful is not that it does not end—because hey. They all end, somehow. What makes a relationship successful is how much joy, delight, and victory you can wrestle from the jaws of a less-than-gentle world.

Let’s join hands and walk into that unknown with chips on our shoulders and swords in our hands. I’ll take every moment with you I can have.

Rabbit Darling

Rabbit Darling is taking the scenic route through life, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming by her own unabashed passion and unbridled curiosity. With extensive education in Western philosophy and crisis counseling, she blogs quietly, reads voraciously, and loves with wild abandon. Chances are, she loves you very much and wants only to see you flourish.

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  • Kt

    beautiful. all the best.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      :) <3

      • Grace from England

        Please keep writing!

        • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

          Thanks so much, GfE! I’ve recently re-entered the world of sharing my words with others, and it is lovely and warm and encouraging to hear that they’re worthwhile!

  • Alice

    I’m one of those people who finds ‘forever’ very scary, although it can be hard to articulate this without sounding like you are the weak link, or don’t love the hubby enough, etc. Thanks for writing this. The ‘forever’ I want is the ‘as long as we both can love and be loved.’ And maybe, if we’re lucky, that will be forever.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      This, exactly.
      We eat a whale one bite at a time. We build forever out of one moment leading to another.

  • Anon

    “But do not stay out of obligation. I want to be a celebration, not a duty. Even when it’s hard. Even when we’re sick.”
    This is an idea I struggle with. My partner of 6 years left me while I was in the midst of a deep, deep depression because he “couldn’t take it anymore.” I’m glad that it took something that awful to show his true character, but now that I am better, I do want to be with someone – “for better or for worse.” How do you find the balance between the two?

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      Hi, Anon. I’m so sorry that your previous partner left you in the lurch, and I’m so glad that you have emerged from your depression. I think it might not be a question of balance, at least in the way I frame it, and perhaps the way I frame it would be helpful. So here we go: No matter how we slice it, promises like “for better or for worse” won’t ever -actually- keep someone who doesn’t want to stay. At least, not forever, the way we hope. (And we do hope, you know?)

      A more meaningful promise, I think, would be for someone to say, “I know this [depression, debt, whatever] is/could someday be a part of you, and that it can get hard and sort of ugly, and feel really bottomless and hopeless, and I promise you today that this person you are is the current that drives that river is the person I love, and I will see him/her underneath all of the bullsh*t and remember that your [depression, debt, whatever] does not define or limit your true self, who I love.”

      Because hey, there. It doesn’t. Wonderful, beautiful you was in there, the whole time, armadillo’d up and trying to fight your way to the surface.

      The notion of someone promising to refuse to accept the limitations I put on myself, or that are placed on me by a chronic illness seems to me to be far more of celebration than a duty. The result is the same (or maybe better?) in that staying is a thing of which we are assured, but there’s a rubber-hits-the-road thrust to the celebration of you as imperfect, biological, subject to change, and worthy as f*ck of all the love in the whole wide world PERIOD that to me, feels lacking in the (sometimes) hand-wavey notion of forever promises that create obligation or duty.

      Does that help at all? Am I at least not making it worse.

      • Anon

        Thank you! This brought tears to my eyes!

      • Grace from England

        Wow, that’s beautiful

      • Meigh McPants

        Are you available for pep talks? You’re dropping a lot of wisdom on us today. Also, your writing is beautiful and I hope we’ll see more of it.

        • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

          Pep talks are one of the services I offer, yes! Also snark and yelling about pretty things. I HAVE FOUND MY PEOPLE.

      • Mandi P

        Great. Thank you.
        I’ve suffered from depression and my FH has significant financial debt, but we both see the other’s “true self,” and we’re choosing to celebrate and honor each other.
        Thank you for writing the original piece & this comment.

      • Class of 1980

        Rabbit Darling, you are so RIGHT ON, that I have nothing to add to any of your words here.

        • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

          High praise from an admired source?! WHY THANK YOU, WEDNESDAY I WILL TAKE IT AND HUG IT WITH MY FACE

          • Class of 1980

            ;)

      • Sarah

         “I know this [depression, debt, whatever] is/could someday be a part of you, and that it can get hard and sort of ugly, and feel really bottomless and hopeless, and I promise you today that this person you are is the current that drives that river and is the person I love, and I will see him/her underneath all of the bullsh*t and remember that your [depression, debt, whatever] does not define or limit your true self, who I love.”
        THIS! My partner has depression and at the moment a lot of days feel ugly and hopeless. Thank you for reminding me that my love is the person underneath all the BS and not defined by the BS. I need as many reminders of this as I can get. I love him so much, but some days it’s hard to be strong and to see things clearly.

  • Jen

    I’ve never really looked at forever like this before. Thanks for the new insight :)

  • Jillian

    “I wouldn’t have had to spend my late twenties and early thirties healing that damage, finding the pieces of me that survived the blaze and fitting them back together again. I might know a little less about grief and loss.” OOf, right there. My parents divorced in the middle of college for me and I maintain to this day that they should have never married. I get this all so much.

  • LBH

    Forever terrifies me. I’ve been married a little over a year, and I love my husband, and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else, but I’m someone who frequently finds a year-long lease too claustrophobic, and just being tied to someone indefinitely feels that way too sometimes. Another commenter said it makes her feel like the weak link (or that saying it does, at least) and I totally feel like that too. What does it say about me that being married, even in what I think is a good, if not a great, marriage, sometimes makes me feel trapped? It feels like it can’t be something good.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      So Hi, LBH! Maybe we could investigate that ‘trapped’ feeling. Maybe say a little more, if that feels comfortable for you? I know I certainly get a case of nerves when big changes happen in relationships (my boyfriend just moved in and it was like oh heavens), but that tends to be because I’m prone to forboding joy, which I touch on in my submission. The worthiness struggle is WAY ONGOING, and so I’m not always convinced that I deserve it when good things (let alone wonderful things) happen. So I skip the joy and go straight to damage control. Ok, so what do I do if he loses his job, wants to leave me, gets tired of my face… They’re escape plans. They’re emergency exits.
      Is that the kind of trapped you worry about, or is it something else?

      • LBH

        Hi! I really enjoyed your submission, even though it made me react so strongly. :) That’s okay though, it brought my thoughts on the matter to a head, so thank you for writing it. I think yes — I look for escape plans and emergency exits. The what-if-hes and what-if-I’s make it difficult to just relax into the relationship and soak up the joy.

        Which I guess I should work on.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      I went through a lot of this at the beginning of my marriage too. I think the thing that makes it possible (and sometimes impossible) to sustain a relationship over the long term is you really aren’t married to the same person forever. Michael and I have changed SO much in the twelve years since we started dating, and I know we’ll change a bunch in the next 12 and so on

    • Alice

      Hey, I made that first comment, about how it can make you feel like the weaker partner to voice your concerns about forever. One thing that has really, really helped me is talking to the hubby about it. Actually, it started as a meltdown two weeks before our wedding. I hadn’t really intended to bring it up, until we got into a minor spat about something else and it all just came pouring out. Thoughts about whether or not we’ll love each other in five or ten more years, and still want what we want now (or at least different same things). I was so nervous, since the hubby is a very laid-back guy and has always been so, so confident that our relationship and gerring married is just the right thing to do.

      He has been so understanding and supportive about it, though. We’ve been married just two months now, and it still comes up in conversation frequently (we’re unfortunately living in different countries right now, so the monsters are a little closer to the surface than usual). Somehow, though, just knowing that he, who I love and respect, has so much confidence in our relationship is really reassuring. And also knowing that he still loves me, and doesn’t feel any worse for me being worried about the future.

      Anyway, this got really long, but if you haven’t brought it up, maybe give your partner a try? It’s really helped me to get it out in the open. Oh, and I just signed a year lease on a flat in a foreign country with no job… so I feel you there, big time! Uncertainty is so scary.

  • C R

    What a beautiful way to frame “forever” — so true, that a relationship’s success isn’t about its duration, but in what you make of it everyday. Much happiness to you, always.

  • Violet

    This is so interesting, and so well written, and on one hand, I totally agree. On another, the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophecies is real. As in, evidence-based. So my knowing I will be with my partner for-EEEh-vur (think: Sandlot), is a reminder during arguments and hard times, “Tread carefully here. Keep respect for him and you always. Don’t say things you’ll regret.” Keeping “forever” in mind keeps my actions honorable during those times I’d otherwise be ready to be my worst self.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      Hi Violet! So, you know how when you go to the eye doctor, they switch all the lenses around until the images become clear? I think you and I are looking at and doing a lot of the same things, but just have a different lens prescription, if that makes sense? I think focusing on keeping our actions honorable is so essential! Very well said. I dig it.

      • Sarah E

        What a great metaphor!

  • Poeticplatypus

    It’s hard to think about forever and how this term is untangible. When I think about marriage I frame it for as long as we live. Granted if it doesn’t last then there was a break in the contract we made together. On another note not feeling stuck with a person is the issue.

  • Claire

    Gasp! This writing is so beautiful and poetic. Thank you, Rabbit Darling, for so eloquently expressing a perspective on marriage that really resonates with me.

    The marriage vows my partner and I wrote purposely did not promise forever or “till death do us part”. We both agree that we only want to be together for as long as we are bringing out the best in each other. We’ve both seen examples of marriages that endured beyond the love, marriages that remained intact even when they had turned destructive and were literally destroying the soul and health of one or both partners. We don’t want forever under those circumstances.

    This is very different from saying we’re only committed to each other for as long as our relationship is easy or fun or makes us “happy”. Even in the four years that we’ve been married, it hasn’t always been easy. We have supported each other through unemployment, major depression, family crises and the fostering of young relatives. There is no fear that one of us will walk away due to difficult circumstances. We are willing to put in the sometimes uncomfortable work to maintain a healthy relationship and work through our issues before they choke out the respect and love. What we aren’t willing to do is promise to stay in a relationship that isn’t loving or healthy or respectful, just so we can win the forever badge.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      This is exactly what I hoped to express, and you say it so clearly.

    • Grace from England

      Hey, no pressure but I would love to see what vows you made to each other, if you’d be happy to share any of them? This is a great response to a really thought provoking post for me as the til Death do us part of traditional vows is something I’m not that comfortable with either, but honestly hadn’t considered it would be ok to omit it entirely! I’d be really interested to see some other options as I totally agree with your sentiment about bringing out the best in each other.

  • Crackerjack

    Rabbitdarling, you nailed it. Beautiful, excellent piece. Thank you for your words.

  • notquitecece

    Yes — I agree, also because of my parents, but from the lucky other side. Both my parents were married and divorced at least once before they married each other and had me. They’ve fought for their marriage and learned how to work together, but it was never out of obligation. And — crucially — I don’t think they view any of their prior relationships as “mistakes” or “wasted time.” I’ve almost never heard them speak ill of their ex-spouses. A relationship’s “success” isn’t about time-done, but about affection shared, things learned, changes navigated, people grown-into.

  • JDrives

    Just brilliant. Excited to see you write a post here, RabbitDarling, as I’ve enjoyed so much your eloquence and insight in the comments!

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      Oh my goodness *blushhhhhhh* <3

  • Amanda L

    This is so beautiful. I am saving these words:
    Maybe forever shouldn’t be the explicit goal. Maybe the explicit goal should be in why we might want forever, and how to keep wanting it.

  • Lauren

    Finally, words to describe the forever I envision. You got a way with words, lady. Let them flow!

  • River

    I was so excited to see that you wrote a post, RabbitDarling!! And then I read it, and felt all the feels (claro que si).

    I identified with this so much, RabbitDarling. Watching my parents super intense and unhealthy relationship implode after 22 or so years was awful. Yet even at the tender age of eleven, I remember thinking “what took them so long?” As an adult, I too am still dealing with the fallout. Whenever the fear of intimacy and the paradoxical accompanying terror of abandonment rear their monstrous heads, I wish that she had left him years earlier, because as you said “perhaps I could have still had a father I respected, loved.”

    And this: “Maybe forever shouldn’t be the explicit goal. Maybe the explicit goal should be in why we might want forever, and how to keep wanting it.” I love this. It makes me feel hopeful.

    Thank you.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      :D River!!!! <3

  • Alyssa M

    Personally, I’ve never seen forever as A (not THE) goal of a marriage as being a problem… to me the problem is unconditional forever.

    Forever just can’t mean putting up with abuse (physical or emotional). It can’t mean staying in a marriage when one or both partners have given up or refuse to do the hard work to maintain the relationship. It’s very important to end a relationship in a place like that.

    Which I think is very similar to what you’re saying here. I’m just more positive about having forever as a goal…

    • Kayla

      Why is the idea of unconditional love so popular anyway? To me, it’s just a flat-out terrible idea.

      How about, “I love you, on the condition that you never, ever raise a hand to me”? Or “I love you, on the condition that you remember to be kind to me even when you’re going through some rough shit”?

      My love has conditions. His love has conditions. The goal is that we meet each others’ conditions forever, but maybe we don’t.

      • Alyssa M

        I freakin love the way you put that. “The goal is that we meet each other’s conditions forever”

        That’s so perfectly how I feel about it!

      • Mai

        Can we make a hashtag for this? I’d love to hear other people’s conditions. Mine would have to be “I love you, on the condition that you stand shoulder to shoulder with me, not in front or behind.”

        I also vote for #LoveHasConditions as the hashtag

    • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

      I agree! I still believe in forever (despite going through that not happening in my own marriage). But the thing is, if you are the only one you wants to stay married, you just can’t do much with that. And abuse and other harmful situations are realities that mean a person needs to get out and protect him/herself. Alyssa, I love your articulation of the unconditional forever being the problem and I think that’s where I am too. I believe in forever, but I have not and will not beg anyone to stay with me. Like the authour says, I don’t want someone to stay who doesn’t want to be with me.

      But I do hope for and want to work towards forever with someone, someday…that’s my goal.

  • Kayjayoh

    “Stay because I make you laugh. Stay because I’m tough as nails and soft as silk. Stay because I’m fierce and flawed. Stay because you love the man you are with me, the person reflected in my eyes.”

    [tears]

  • AmyN17

    Thank you for sharing, I needed this today.

  • laurasmash

    This is beautiful, thank you for posting!

  • Sarah

    For me and my husband, our lifelong commitment to each other and to the marriage doesn’t mean that we will be together forever no matter what. It means that we have committed ourselves to loving each other and working on the marriage for life. There’s a distinct difference. The goal for us, of course, is that our commitment and love will carry us through to forever, even when things change or get difficult. For us,that’s the whole point of marriage. Will we succeed? We’re sure as heck hoping so! Obviously if one of us became unable or unwilling to honor our vows the marriage would have to end but when we got married, we chose to take that risk and trust each other and ourselves. But we certainly see “forever” as a realistic goal and are unwavering in our commitment to it.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      Hi, Sarah! I think that is how a lot of the people close to me generally approach things — and it’s an approach I value and admire. My goal, when writing this piece, was to try and give voice to feelings that center around my skepticism and tendency to look at promises and commitments as, sort of, formalized predictions based on carefully collected and curated data, if that makes sense. I absolutely grok what you’re saying here (and it’s also lovely, for the record), but just tend to think about things in very different terms. So where you use “We’re sure as heck hoping so!” (<3 me too!) I FEEL that a lot, but when I'm cognating, will say things more like, "The evidence (i.e. our relationship so far) strongly indicates our shared ability and desire to succeed."

      One of the things that I struggle with, when it comes to relationship narrative, is that I often feel like an alien from another planet. *Ahem* Put another way: I don't see a lot of dialogue that resonates with me, when it comes to things like "forever," exclusivity as a defining characteristic of romance, consent, rules/agreements/standards/virtues, and traditional vow-making. It stands to reason that I'm not a totally unique creature in the universe, and so my hope was to give the other strange creatures like myself a place to feel like, "Yes. Ohmygoodness that. I'm not alone."

      I hope the title wasn't toooooo misleading in that regard.
      And with that, I wish you and your husband all the very very best. <3

  • MEM

    we had this quote on our invitations: “That’s what makes marriage so brave and wonderful, making a promise and going forward. It doesn’t matter what happens in the future. Right now, it’s real and it happens and it’s true.” – Captain Jack Harkness, ‘Torchwood’

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      Harkness has my heart forever, dudes.

  • ASimmons

    Hmm, RabbitDarling – I think you’re my long lost sister! I’m a lurker, not a poster – but I just had to comment. Your post made both my fiancee and myself cry. This will be the second marriage for both of us, and your post rings very very true with us. We both came from destructive homes with petty violent parents, and then ended up in destructive first marriages. I thank the stars everyday, that I live in this time so forever didn’t have to be forever. That I could leave, lick my wounds and eventually find someone who cares more about mutual love and respect than possession. Our vows may not match what you said today, but I know in both our hearts we will be singing what you said. ” You will always, always be free. I wouldn’t have you any other way.
    Stay because you want to. Stay because I make you laugh. Stay because
    I’m tough as nails and soft as silk. Stay because I’m fierce and flawed.
    Stay because you love the man you are with me, the person reflected in
    my eyes.”
    Thank you for your beautiful words, I found them hopeful and true

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      I am so glad you could put yourself before your promises, leave, and find love that serves you (and each other). My heart will sing with you on that day.

      • ASimmons

        <3

        • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

          Remind me at some point to do a “The Day I Married Myself” post, ASimmons. Highly relevant to everything you mentioned above, especially when it comes to weighing the promises we make to our loves, and the promises we owe ourselves.

          • ASimmons

            Ahhh yes please! I would love to hear it =)
            I know a big part of my journey was realizing that I didn’t deserve to be in a shitty relationship just because that’s what I was used to, and grew up thinking was normal. For lack of better words, it was work to figure out that I was ‘deserving’, it’s so interesting how our own feeling of worthiness impact so directly those we choose to spend our time with – whether loved ones or friends. This conversation reminds me of brene brown’s work on shame and vulnerability.

          • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

            ASimmons, we are officially related. Brene Brown is my JAM.

          • ASimmons

            Yep, sisters – I was reading your post about ‘drama’ and thinking to myself – good lawd this woman is in my head! =)

          • ART

            I would love to read that as well. My husband and I both have divorced/remarried parents, and we’d both been in long, very wrong-for-us relationships before we met, with a lot of picking up to do after we each got out. My feeling on “forever” in this marriage reflects both my deep love for him and and my past experiences (with my parents and my ex), and I think reflects two parts of my personality I’ve worked really hard to develop: I am devoted to this partnership, madly in love, very trusting, and will work hard toward forever/but I WILL leave if I have to, because I value myself and I know I can survive it.

  • Whitney S.

    This was awesome.

    “Let’s join hands and walk into that unknown with chips on our shoulders and swords in our hands. I’ll take every moment with you I can have.”

    It there anything else that needs to be said? :)

  • Magdalena

    I would be crying if I wasn’t at the office right now.
    Such a great essay for this complicated topic. I am currently experiencing the breakup and rebuilding of my family and your writing touched me. Because my mom keeps saying she misses the life she had, and I think to myself “What life? That one were you had a selfish husband and father, who only did whatever was good to him and hurt everybody so badly we can never rebuild our relationship?”

    I think sometimes, fear of the unknown and the amount of years together, keeps us from really acknowledging the fact that forever is no the goal, as you said. Being caring, loving, and respectful to each other are goals and, hopefully, we are strong enough to work in our relationships to stay like that forever, but just staying for the sake of it, seems to me like letting go of your initial goal and vows.

    Thank you again for these beautiful words, keep them coming!

  • http://peckishadventurer.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    This is lovely. The idea of choosing someone over and over again, every day deciding that they are your person is so much more romantic to me than simply “honoring vows” and being there because you have to.
    Sometimes choosing the same person isn’t easy, and when the chips are down and they’re driving you crazy, or there’s a problem, a big, big problem, people take comfort in the idea of “for better or for worse.” It’s an insurance policy, but at what cost? The worthy and the true will be there to catch you.

  • DMC

    I’ve been wondering what marriage means to me when it includes the option to leave when things stop working….and this is it! You put into words what I couldn’t, so I thank you!

  • revooca

    Oh man, this hits close to home. Thank you so much for sharing. My fiance and I have both watched our fathers emotionally abuse our mothers, due to (primarily) mental illness and alcoholism. It’s so hard to reckon with the decision to stay together when one person is unwilling to recognize that their behavior is negatively affecting the whole family and to seek help/treatment.

    Keep writing. We need this kind of honesty.

  • elysiarenee

    This is the most beautiful piece of writing that I think I’ve ever read on APW and I’ve been reading for a very long time indeed.

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      Oh my goodness *blushhhhhhhhhhh*

  • Charmanda

    Hi Rabbit! I really really love this, and would love to include it in my ceremony. Would that be okay with you? And how would you like to me attribute it? Thank you!

    • http://rabbitdarling.wordpress.com/ rabbitdarling

      Charmanda, Of course you may! I’m not even sure I need attribution, but Rabbit Darling is just fine, if you would like to provide a name. That is my blogger nom de plume, so it’s just fine with me. I’m so glad it gave you words you love that much!