Okay, I’m fessing up. If you’ve read my blogs here, you know my husband and I got a divorce, reconciled, and remarried. You know how strongly I urge awareness and information for people contemplating divorce, and its harsh realities. You know I work to help couples find the tools that will help their marriages thrive. You know I’ve skirted the issue of how the institution of marriage itself is part of the reason for divorce. The whole reason I started writing this blog here at PT was to help as many people as possible avoid the same divorce trap that my husband and I fell into. To help couples and families avoid the pain we endured, and the traumatic legacy we almost handed to our children. I still bow down with gratitude nearly every day that we found our way together again: for all those reasons and more.
But when Valentine’s Day approaches every year, I shudder. Yes, of course, I’m overjoyed to be a family again, to celebrate our sons with my husband, to share a glass of wine and meal, to toast our amazing partnership. And still… I shudder.
Because the single biggest gift of our reunion is not our marriage, or our family, or the fact that our boys will not suffer a broken family. No, the gift is far bigger and more nuanced...and it includes all of these. The single biggest gift is our tribe, and the security, resilience, and magic woven into the strands of our tribe, and the way the weave of it strengthens and spreads with each passing year. It is our marriage, the core solidity of it, that first allowed us to tap the tribe, but the tribe is much bigger than our marriage. It exists without us, but is enriched and strengthened by us. In our tribe we are much more than the sum of our parts.
On Valentine’s Day, when I see people trying to find a way to celebrate so-called romantic love in a culture that glamorizes insularity and isolation, I shudder. And I think of all the other love that Valentine’s Day neglects and tramples on.
See, the thing is, when we got back together again, when we reconciled and remarried we’d finally begun to understand the tremendous benefits of our teeny little social network: our team of two. We’d been split open when we split apart and important aspects of ourselves—including our expectations about marriage and nuclear families and how they are “supposed” to work—were destroyed. Thank goodness.
When we divorced and got back together again, we stumbled upon something so primal…so embedded in our own humanity that at first we couldn’t see it for what it was. It was the power of our bond. It was the power of the bonds we’d forged with our new partners. It was the power of the bonds with our sons that we wished to fortify and nourish, together. It was the power of the bonds with our friends, the ones who’d sustained and enriched our lives as we found each other again. The friends who were there. The friends who wanted to be there. The family, our mothers and fathers and grandparents, who—despite long distances and the pain of our divorce for them—reached out and offered love and reconciliation of their own. These are the friends and family who have become more family to me than anything I’d ever known before. Our tribe.
And it’s why I shudder on Valentine’s Day. Before our divorce, my husband and I lived with a crushing belief that a good marriage and happy nuclear family were the epitome of success. Valentine’s Day perpetuates this inhumane myth. In truth, this myth is the fundamental reason we divorced. We came to believe we didn’t have a good enough marriage, and so we let each other—and the deepest bond of our lives—go. And we found out the hard way that divorce can be the quickest route to exile from the tribe. (For those who are divorced, finding and reclaiming the tribe may be one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself and your children).
But Valentine’s Day is only a symptom of something far bigger and more menacing. When human beings switched from a tribal, collaborative life filled with dozens of kinds of love and an interlocking web of social bonds that knit each and every member of the tribe into its very threads—to marriage and nuclear family isolation—we ripped the core of our humanity from our hearts. We lost each other. We lost our accountability to each other, our cohesion… and with that we lost meaning and fulfillment.
Most of all, we lost the profound wisdom that comes from the building of such social networks. The wisdom that knows better than to soil your own nest. The wisdom that comes from loving the tribe’s children, all of them, and seeing them into their future. The wisdom that cares about their world, and demands that it be healthy and beneficial. The wisdom that knows that everything is connected...and that detrimental choices by some hurt us all.
We’ve lost access to the deeply human experience of belonging. Marriage can help human beings feel as if they belong, but it is only one tiny step through a magnificent doorway of mattering.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m giving thanks for our tribe: for the other mothers and fathers and others who are now trusted additional parents to our kids, people who bring whole new worlds to our boys and who've become our own sisters and brothers and elders. And for their children, the many other kids who run through our home, knowing it is also theirs, trusting us to protect and nurture them. Without them, our marriage would be a pale shadow. With them, it becomes everything.
So, this Valentine’s Day find your tribe. Know who they are. Celebrate them and commit to the bonds you sustain. Hold one another accountable. It takes work, sometimes as much work as a marriage takes, but the meaning and fulfillment you get is worth it.
As Albert Einstein wrote:
“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others...for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”
Happy ValenTribe’s Day to you all!!