• Robin Stebbins

Propane Tank Marriage

Updated: Mar 6


7 years ago I left a 17 year marriage. Inevitably, family and friends feel compelled to ask, “Why are you still single?” or “Any man in your life?” My relationship status has been confusing to those around me, and considering this is my 5th re-write, rather confusing to me. I asked for a divorce from my son’s father, despite everything on the outside appearing picture perfect and great on paper. For most of the time I tried to make it work. Counseling, retreats, long drawn out talks. I wasn’t ready to be married, I wasn’t ready to fit into the what I believed was an antiquated paradigm of marriage, I didn’t fit in. I’m too wild, too outspoken, I need too much freedom and time alone. I hated spending time with other couples, listening to them bicker, finish each other's sentences, retell well rehearsed stories, dog and pony show. Even worse for me, the groups of couples, the woman cross talking, going over school or nap schedules, laundry lists of complaints about their men. The men outside laughing, light hearted, maybe barbecuing with tanks full of propane, complaining about the ol’ ball and chain. I longed for freedom, independence, not disappearing into two hearts becoming one.

To be fair, I rushed into marriage at the tender age of 26. My Dad was very ill, at the end of a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease and said “My dying wish is to see one of my children get married.” I was the only one in a relationship at the time and therefore the only candidate. I was excited for the party, putting my artistic fire to use. I designed and made my dress, handmade the invitations with pressed sagebrush, made and decorated the cake from scratch, absolute heaven. I was so involved with the details that I lost sight of what it was I was actually doing. In the back of my mind I thought we can always do a quick annulment after the ceremony, everyone's happy, no one has to know right away, fulfilling my Dad’s wish to walk me down the aisle, I get my dream party, no harm no foul, right?

The man I married, seeing more than I gave him credit for, told me shortly after the ceremony that he would do whatever it took to keep me in the marriage. He promised to work the barbecue and change the propane tank, make me coffee in the morning and keep the fireplace lit. were great friends and were right in the middle of running a successful business buying and renting houses. I thought this didn’t seem like such a bad arrangement, “maybe I can______fill in the blank” make it work. The sentence really read, well maybe I can change the core of who I am to make someone happy. Spoiler alert: This makes you miserable, and everyone around you. Others can spot this falseness, feel it in their heart and soul, but usually accept it if they are doing the same. Oh, she’s not happy, appears to be faking it, but so am I so let's just accept that this is marriage. No one seemed happy but sacrifices must be made to avoid the fear of being alone, ostracized for stepping away from socially accepted norms. I was afraid of what I would look like to others, to be seen as an old maid, or cat lady.

One of the worst fears as a human is being shunned from the tribe. It goes back to our ancestral evolution, where being rejected was an absolute death sentence. This part of the brain, sometimes called our lizard brain, gets activated when we go against social norms. Advertisers are very aware of this and play on our insecurities, the beauty industry alone fleeces billions in creams, lotions and potions promising love and social acceptance. My lizard brain cooked up a nice little fantasy about what would happen if I left my unhappy marriage and set out on my own. I was over 40, female and now had what I thought of as the dreaded “single mom” tag after my name.

I envisioned myself instantly becoming a craggy, short, angry woman who mumbles incessantly, dresses in old ratty paisley housecoats, chain smokes long skinny cigarettes, rents a studio apartment in a dark dank basement with about 20 cats that that I use most of my disability paycheck on. I was scared. Scared that as a woman I was too old; too “single mom”ish; too ‘divorced’; to cat ladyish, although for the record I have don’t have cats, smoke cigarettes, own a housecoat and I’m anything but short. I didn’t feel worthy, successful, or just “enough” if I was alone, but only felt free when I was alone. I had bought into societies rules and trapped myself with my own limiting beliefs. The old 70’s poster of two rabbits that reads “You are no bunny unless some bunny loves you.” Yes, I believed that, hang my head in shame.

I was married to look safe and normal, maybe even successful to my family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, flight attendants, grocery store clerks yes apparently I used cared a lot about what people thought. I didn’t know there was another way. I wasn’t satisfied with average, flat line, put my head down and just get through it existence. And here’s the thing I maybe should have realized. I don’t believe in the concept of marriage, I never have, not even as a little girl. I don’t want the government involved if I change my mind. I don’t want to feel anyone's expectations of who I should be. If I want to travel solo for three months, or disappear into the woods with a bag of rice or loose my phone for a few days I do so with my partners blessing, not that I need it. And I love the freedom to change my mind without any imperial entanglements. Even Luke Skywalker was willing to pay Hans Solo extra for this option when he and Obi needed to get too Alderaan.

The freedom to change my mind is key, the word freedom however is paramount. I don’t want a hostage and I certainly don’t want to be one. And of course I want my partner to have absolute freedom. But what does freedom in a relationship look like? Before I practiced this, I thought maybe somewhere along the lines of what you may be thinking…having an open polyamorous relationship, sleep with multiple partners, always on the lookout, seeking all brands of external love. Of course I know that this will never feel satisfying to the soul, I’ll just become a hungry ghost, always seeking what I already have masked and hidden within me. So I believed a satisfying relationship was impossible, marriage was obviously out, I’m to awake to believe in open relationships. What I wanted was true freedom, which to attain is simple but not easy. It is the awareness I have everything I need inside of me, everything I feel, whether its love from another, or sadness from a loss, is coming from within me. I am the gatekeeper of all of my experiences and emotions, no one else has that power. Freedom in a relationship is being with someone that has absolutely no reason to be with me other than they want to be, freely, without manipulation, coercion, or signed, notarized documents. I want to wake up in the morning knowing I don’t have to be there but I want to be, my whole self, mind, body, spirit. I want something most may never have the courage to experience, something like Kim Anami’s concept of conscious monogamy.

In Kim Anami’s blog, she coined the term “conscious monogamy”. If you are unfamiliar with Kim’s work, check out her website https://kimanami.com/ Kim absolutely changed my life, inspired me to lean into my feminine power, explore and endlessly grow from within, using vulnerability as my power. I can’t thank her enough, my body is leaner, younger, healthier, happier, my spirit more wealthy and abundant, my mind sharper, my heart more open and fulfilled.

In her blog Kim writes: “99.9% of people are non-monogamous. Not necessarily that they are sleeping with others or trying to, but they are closed down, living lives with secrets, lies, unspoken truths. They think it means to simply ‘not be with other people.’…I’ve coined the term ‘conscious monogamy’ to describe when a couple truly commits to each other emotionally and physically. There are no secrets lives, no piles of white lies, no “don’t ask, don’t tell” conversations. They show up.They are naked, raw, vulnerable and fully exposed. 99.9% of people don’t have that. They hold back emotionally and sexually. They might not be intimate with other people, but they certainly aren’t being intimate—sexually or emotionally—with each other.” Conscious monogamy on the other hand is “A deep, powerful, surrendered, cataclysmic, sexual and emotional connection.”

I find it to be very true in my life. Now, when I’m with someone, I give myself as purely and deeply as possible, holding back doesn’t resonate with me anymore. I no longer care what someone thinks about me or the way I spirit my way through life. But this requires deep vulnerability and honesty. Not only with my partner, but with myself. This is tricky work. It requires me to take a hard look at myself, unveil my insecurities, face the areas where I have not shown up as my best self, been lost in ego and fear, or hurt others. The way through all of this, I believe is unconditional love and forgiveness, for myself so that I can ultimately forgive others. I believe that we crave for others to see us in our most raw and vulnerable form, but few of us ever actually dare to be seen. It means that we have to step into the arena of life, lay our weapons down, take off the armor of facades and ‘false-nice-ities’ and bare our heart and soul, the light and shadow. The light is easy, the most attractive beautiful parts of the self. The shadow is another story. How do we let another see the insecurities, the fears, the behaviors we hide without scaring them away?

A consciously monogamous partnership entails pure vulnerability, trust and honesty. Not an arbitrary “third date rule” or set time frame, but a slow unfolding, allowing the time to set itself, finessing, giving slowly, a sacred dance. But the payoff to this painfully slow, sometimes frustrating process? An incredibly deep connection, a next level of intimacy, and a complete loss of ego and self. The ability to be loved unconditionally and to love in the same capacity. The experience cannot be described in words it’s too intense. The closest approximation would be a sensation of being one with the universe, outside the limits of time and space, untethered by the insecurities of the mind, being completely in your body, yet somehow outside, connecting with another’s soul.

So to answer the question, why am I still single? Because I choose to be, and right now it feels exactly right. And I can fill my own damn propane tank.

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