“All happy couples are the same. Which is to say they are just boring.” –Tolstoy
Dana Adam Shapiro’s new film, Monogamy, is more a study of break ups and divorce than it is of committed relationships. He became intrigued in the demise of relationships as he watched many of his contemporaries and close friends divorcing. He conducted over fifty interviews over two years that became the foundational research for his film, which added the intrigue of a private investigation to keep the plot moving.
Shapiro notes that, “All the people I interviewed are sort of flawed anti-heros–which is the part that Theo (his main character) plays in the movie. They are not necessarily “good people”– they’re simply people trying to be good.” More accurately, they are people who, after their relationship has ended, can bear witness to and articulate how badly they did. One interviewee said, “ I never once thought about my wife or my marriage first until it was over.” Another woman recounted not just the final affair that ended her marriage but the years of dishonesty and falsehood that lead up to it.
Tolstoy’s idea that making a marriage work or that they all work in the same way is ridiculous. Just as most breakups are different variations on the same theme and often stem from the failure of one or both partners to step up to their best selves, relationships that work and endure contains the same variations of opposite themes; that both people in the relationship are actively engaged in becoming their best selves and committed to bringing that to their relationship.
Just as divorce is not a story of bad luck, lasting relationships are not the result of good luck. The truth is that there is no other context in life which offers the potential to create either the best or the worst of us. Many people unwittingly become dedicated to the most negative aspect of their personalities and to the degree that they develop little insight, take these traits out on their relationship. Certainly, the interpersonal drama that this anti-hero practices is enough to fill a life time of relationships. But just because it is common does not make it the story worth emulating.
Still even with the cultural myths of the near impossibility of enduring relationships we remain a people dedicated to searching for them. There is no other culture in the world that seeks out romantic relationships at the pace that we do or make the choice to try again with such frequency.
Learning to love is a life-long pursuit and many of the people who leave relationships grow into the people they wish they were when they started. Relationships and all of their pitfalls are still the most important and life-changing circumstances that define our life. When it is all said and done, it is the only really meaningful markers we have to remember our lives. Who we loved, who loved us back and how we learned to be the best of ourselves is never a boring tale.