Suddenly thrown together; violently torn apart; slow and steady buildup of grown and strength or a steady movement away from each other; a study of planetary plate tectonics is like viewing the development and decline of personal relationships only on a global scale.
Most people are introduced to the concept of tectonic plates in grade school. I can remember learning about how the plates moved and how two plates meeting head on caused folds in the land that we know as mountain ranges and how the sudden shifting apart of two plates could cause rifts and canyons in the earth’s crust; how two plates moving in opposite directions can cause earthquakes or trigger volcanos.
It was a fascinating subject, and I remember spending hours on my own reading about how the plates interacted with each other; about which continents rode on which plates and in which direction they were (slowly) moving, and about the currents of the magma underneath the plates that is thought to contribute to the continental shifts. Of course I got sidetracked by geysers and earthquakes and volcanoes and Yellowstone National Park basically being one giant Caldara. But it was the discovery that plate motions vary from 10-40 mm per year (or about as fast as fingernails grow) at the Atlantic Ridge to 160 mm per year (about as fast as hair grows) at the Nazca Plate that really got me thinking about the similarities between planetary tectonics and the human subconscious and its influence on the development and decline of personal relationships.
While each human person on this planet belongs to one species (just as the tectonic plates travel over and around the one core of the planet) each individual (plate) stands alone and moves in its own direction, intent on its own growth and development.
But, just like the tectonic plates, individuals come in contact with and interact with each other on a regular basis. Some merely pass by each other smoothly and with absolutely no friction or move together in the same direction, taking comfort from knowing that they are not alone, while others meet each other head on, neither one giving an inch and causing the upheaval of everything and everyone around them. Some people come together and meld in spite of the fact that they are moving in opposite directions, and when they finally move far enough apart everything around them comes tumbling down or an eruption occurs that burns down everything they had worked to build together. And some people – some people travel together for a long time, but unbeknownst to either, they are moving in opposite directions and it isn’t until the rift or ridge between them is too big to be spanned or climbed do they have to acknowledge that their time together is over.
I suppose that I am lucky. Unlike so many marriages that mimic a Convergent plate boundary (meeting head on and causing huge upheavals) or a Transform plate boundary (the kind that result in frictional shift with resultant earthquakes and destruction of everything the couple has built) my marriage is ending as a Divergent plate boundary – the kind where two plates keep drifting away from each other forming a rift or ridge between them.
After 25 years my husband and I have finally acknowledged that the rift between us is too deep and too wide to be spanned. For years we simply ignored it, felling trees to serve as foot bridges, building rope bridges when the trees were no longer large enough, constructing steel and cable monstrosities when the ropes finally unraveled and at long last sending mule trains across when even the longest bridge could no longer hold up.
Mind you it wasn’t easy for either of us to acknowledge that it was over. There have been lots of tears (on my side) and plenty of defensiveness as both of us try to justify how we got here and who is to blame for the huge canyon between us that we finally had to acknowledge as existing when even the mules bogged down in the mire, dug in their heels, and refused to move another inch.
They say that hindsight is 20/20. And now that we are here; now that it is over; it is clear that had we acknowledged the rift when it first occurred; the first cracks in seemingly stable land, we could have halted the divergence in its tracks, for there is one major difference between plate tectonics and human relationships, and that is choice.
While the plates move together and tear apart in seemingly random dances of creation and destruction, humans can choose to move together; to mend the rifts; to quench the volcanos; to anchor themselves to something far deeper and stronger than themselves; to anchor themselves to their choice to be united and to stand together and to grow and change in tandem; a choice that prevents the random and chaotic upheavals that unanchored relationships encounter.
We did not.
Perhaps we were anchored once. But slowly, day by day, year by year, the resolve to stand together dissolved and we were left to drift apart on separate unseen currents tethered to each other only by our love and concern for our two beautiful daughters and our desire to make sure that they grew up with the love and attention of both parents on a 24/7 basis; a tether that, with our youngest turning 18 and graduating from high school has finally snapped, leaving us each standing on opposite sides of a grand canyon of disbelief and holding the frayed end of what was once a strong and beautiful relationship.
The good thing about a divergent breakup is that there has been only a minimum of drama; no histrionics or flung accusations or eruptions of long vented anger and frustration, only the relatively calm acceptance of where we are now and of what comes next and the mutual agreement that our daughters will continue to be our priority and that even though we will no longer be living together, we agree to be there for them when they need us; putting aside our own differences in order to support them in whatever they decide to do and in any kind of life events that come their way.
So here we are, saying goodbye to a marriage that lasted a quarter of a century but somehow emerging with a level of mutual regard, of shared responsibility and goodwill for each other intact; something that defies the conventional concept of breakups and leaves us staring at each other with a sheepish smile and a half-hearted shrug. It may not be how things usually end, but this is where we are. Each of us staring into the canyon between us, seeing the layers of strata that have been revealed by the pulling apart of these two plates; the shared experiences and colorful memories and moments of a shared life and down; far down at the bottom of the canyon we can just glimpse the river of what once was; a river that continues to flow in spite of the towering canyon walls, and always will.
~SSHenry, July 2014