My partner and I (the one who lives locally, at any rate) have been in a relationship for over two and a half years. Up until just last month we had virtually no pictures of the two of us together, and certainly none of us together which gave any indications that we are, in fact, together. To most people, this might seem a touch odd.
We are both ardent atheists, and that seems to overflow into every aspect of our lives; particularly in our lack of ritual and ceremony. I was brought up Catholic, but I never found comfort in the rituals of that religion, and eventually the invisible man in the sky became such a distant, implausible, and uncaring figure that what little comfort my early belief gave me had evaporated by my teenage years.
Even when I was searching for my own truth amongst other religions – from Paganism, Buddhism, all the way through to Satanism; I always found that while some of the sentiments appealed, the necessity for some kind of formalised devotion was a turn-off. Maybe Catholicism jaded me, or perhaps, like my partner, I simply have no craving for it. From my observations of humanity at large, that makes us pretty unusual.
We have no symbolic jewellery to remember each other by; no song that we call “our song”; no particular shared sentiment over any kind of representational thing. Even the photograph we now have of the two of us only evokes positive emotions because it shows us happy and together – it wasn’t even taken with our awareness, but rather snapped from a distance by the photographer at my brother’s wedding. It has emotional value to us, but it was neither planned, nor is it given any additional significance other that making us smile when we see it.
We also have no desire to get married – except possibly to make legal matters easier at some distant future point. Our partnership through the adventure that is life is characterised by a distinct lack of any physical evidence that it is occurring. No drawers are shared at our houses, so that we can have a presence there when we stay over. Each morning I wake in her bed I pull on the same clothes as the night before. We are completely happy with sharing our lives, but leaving no mark except for in each other’s hearts.
It’s not as though I don’t understand people’s desire for ceremonies and rituals. A desire for permanence and security is a deep-seated root of human motivation, and to give an idea physicality gives it an impression of permanence. It makes things seem tangible, and more solid. The appeal is a strong one, as evidenced in the on-going practice of marriages, commitment ceremonies, and all those other little things that people do to concrete their relationships. And yet my partner and I do none of these things. We have not gone out of our way to avoid them – they simply never occurred to us.
Do I think this means we are somehow less committed to each other, or unwilling to show our connection to the world? Not at all. One has only to look at us together walking down the street, arm in arm, giggling about how much we love each other, to see that we display our affection even more openly than most in some ways. We are proud of our long, happy relationship, and constantly strive to make it more wonderful day by day.
Do I think it somehow means we are less likely to continue, as we have not tied our lives together in any material way? Not at all. In fact, (though I may be a little arrogant in doing so) I think that we might just last a little longer than the average relationship. Because, you see, we will never come under the illusion that our relationship is anything but an impermanent utopia that we must struggle to maintain.
If there were a god to pray to, I would probably pray that we never take up any kind of hook to hang our relationship on. That way we will never forget that our happiness is only guaranteed so long as we carry each other’s burdens along with our own.