Ever been in an unhealthy relationship? Ever had that relationship go bad and have it end in flames, the coldness reminiscent of the deep vacuum of space devoid of warmth or corporeal presence, or perhaps a little bit of both? I have. It is awful, painful, and ultimately liberating. But before your experience traverses the totality of the immediately previous triad, there is often a moment when the reality of it clicks home, a time when all you are capable of feeling is hurt. The anger and loneliness will come (again), but at that moment all which exists for you is a cognitively-blinding pain which compels a futile grasping towards the emptiness around and, seemingly, within you.
In time, will be the reflection and evaluation through sadness, anger, and even laughter as you remember what was good haunts you for days, weeks, and possibly longer. Eventually, you will begin to understand that the relationship was unhealthy. Sure, the relationship didn’t seem so at the time; the sex was good, you had fun with them most of the time, and there were some really good aspects to the person you cared for and with whom you built something important.
Even though sometimes they would be a little bit crazy or unbalanced. Perhaps they had some strange ideas, insisted upon them, and didn’t seem to allow you the freedom to express your ideas without complaining about being persecuted or somehow oppressed. Perhaps they had a bad history with relationships which you ignored for various reasons. Perhaps the relationship afforded you professional, social, or even political benefits which would be difficult to attain without the associations provided therein.
Or perhaps you thought what was good about them outweighed what was bad. Perhaps you rationalized that the bad was not even really bad, but merely misunderstood quirks and intricacies of the person you loved; things which illuminated their love for you…or something. Rationalization asserts more sense during its subjective composition it than it does through its dissemination.
But when the relationship ended, it hurt. It didn’t matter that the reason it ended was probably something that should make you feel better about getting away. It didn’t even matter that if you stopped to think about it rationally (that is, if you were capable of such a feat under the circumstances), you would realize that you will be much happier removed from such a relationship. The separation from an established relationship often brings forth sadness, depression, anxiety, loneliness, etc.
It does not even matter if the intimacy of that relationship was fictitious, or perhaps merely one-way.
Breaking up with god
Anyone who has left religion might be noticing some analogs here. This is, obviously, intentional. The reason I am drawing some parallels between leaving religion and a break-up from a bad romantic relationship is that I think that there are some interesting comparisons between them. In fact, my experiences with unhealthy relationships has not only taught me a lot about relationships, but I think it gives me a glimpse of what losing religion might be like, since I never had a religion to lose.
To start with, I suspect that many people stay in bad relationships, and religion, longer than the relationships provide actual happiness. I think that much of what keeps people in religion is a combination of habit and the comfort of familiarity. I think that many people stay in relationships whether they are abusive, neglectful, or simply poor romantic matches for similar reasons. It takes a lot to leave a relationship we are invested in, and even knowing that we need to do so does not make the process easier.
Secondly, I think that people stay in such relationships longer than they should because they don’t recognize how unhealthy the relationship actually has been. I imagine that the full comprehension of this is never fully known until much later, in many cases. People often don’t recognize the difference between (co-)dependency and real intimate affection and concern, and this inability perpetuates unhealthy relationships all to often. The feeling of needing someone, especially if that needing reflects some feeling of possession, ownership, or obligation, is not healthy. The fear of loss (often in the form of jealousy), or basic insecurity of uncertainty, is not something to be held aloft as the basis for love, let alone “true” love.
And this is the type of relationship which religion instills; a fear of loss, of being owned, and even of feeling obligated to remain in relationships which are unhealthy.
Relationships need to be built upon things like trust, transparency, and honesty. We do not own our partners, we must be open about what we do, what we want, and what we can and cannot handle. We need to do the personal work to make sure that we know what we want, to make sure that we have exercised our ability to perpetually grow emotionally and intellectually, as well, in order to make sure never to prematurely cut off what we can handle to some too easily reachable goal which will stagnate who we could be if we challenged ourselves more.
And in terms of our relationship with the universe, our society, and even the “truth,” we need to make sure that we are continuing to challenge our boundaries, presuppositions, and to keep communicating with people with whom we disagree. The universe is massive, complicated, and often beautiful as well as terrible. We would be temporal thieves of potential experience, understanding, and perspective by not allowing ourselves to see as much of that beauty—and terribleness!—if we didn’t pursue the world with full thrust towards such potential.
We need to approach people and the reality which we all share with an open mind, open heart, and unbridled willingness to hear the world calling us on our bullshit. If we do these things, we will be better off in all our relationships, whether they are the two-way relationships of traditional monogamy, multi-faceted relationships of less traditional polyamory, or the one-sides intimacy of our own self-respect or the respect for reality.
For reality cannot love us back, but that does not stop us from finding it beautiful, compelling, and worth our effort to get to know it as intimately as our limited cognitive ability allows us.