Over the years I have witnessed and participated in the farce that says I should base my relationships on someone else’s. When I was a child, I watched the Cosby Show and wanted a family like the Huxtables’. And as a young man, I often wished for romantic partnerships like those I saw modeled by friends and family. Over the years, this has become less and less true about me. As a society, however, we regularly participate in this charade.
Since television couples aren’t real, and Hollywood has few lasting marriages to speak of, many of us look to politicians to demonstrate the values we want to see upheld in marriage. Despite the fact that numerous politicians are busted by the media for “indiscretions” each year, we expect them to be pillars of marital bliss, or at least marital longevity. The problem is that they are not pillars; they are people – imperfect, selfish and prone to change their minds, desires and beliefs over time. None of these are “bad” things; they just are.
I recently watched an episode of Nightline, which addressed the separation of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger. While images of such notable political couples as Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Laura and George W. Bush, and Michelle and Barack Obama ran across the screen, John Donvan said:
Political marriages [are] presented to us as enduring partnerships – models for the rest of us to follow. It’s why the wife is always part of the campaign. It is why this wife is called “first lady.” We are sold a package and when we buy it, we want the damn thing to work.
There has only been one president in U.S. history who was a life-long bachelor. Politicians know that being (and staying) married makes them seem safe, dependable and stable. They have families who love and trust them, so we trust them more. By simply existing, their spouses and children vouch for them. They sell us the image of a happy couple to get votes, and we buy it.
We buy this image, along with all the things we imagine to be true about these couples – even with nothing on which to base these beliefs but press conferences, campaign videos and family photos. And we think that we should have the same story for ourselves. So, when our own relationships don’t go as planned, we feel like failures, because we didn’t attain the lasting, “happy” partnerships modeled for us. And when our politicians get divorced, we feel let down. They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
Of course, we’d save ourselves some disappointment if we remembered that the image we are buying might not be genuine. There comes a time when politicians don’t need our votes anymore and can prioritize their happiness over their public image. It has been suggested that Arnold and Maria were unhappy for many years but that they remained together for the sake of his political career. If that is true, I wish they had separated sooner, rather than waiting until we no longer needed them to act “right.” It might have helped other divorced couples feel less ashamed. Ending or changing a relationship doesn’t mean you have failed at being an upright, responsible person; it may just mean that your relationship no longer makes you and/or your partner happy.
I refuse to model my relationship on anyone else’s – not my parents,’ nor Barack’s. My mate and I have our own, unique histories and futures. And there is peace in knowing that I can’t get it wrong, because there is no “right” way. All our relationship has to do is work for us, the two people in it. And if my father gets divorced, or if Barack and Michelle don’t last “’til death do us part,” I might feel empathy for their pain, but I won’t be disappointed. Their marriages have little to do with mine, or with whether they are good people.
So, let’s let politicians off the hook. Accepting that they are only human and that human relationships often end (without any need for blame or judgment) is a step towards doing the same for ourselves – and a step towards being a more Powerful Person in a Partnership.
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