Relationships should be a new opening, not a cage. People in relationships should definitely make the most of having one another and being able to do things together, but it is also important to be able to give one another space.
In Paulo Cohelo’s novel ‘Eleven Minutes’, the main protagonist, Maria goes to Switzerland in pursuit of her dream. Her dreams of fame and success are largely left unfulfilled, but she does gain a much more profound understanding of love and relationships. On her odyssey of self-discovery, Maria eventually finds a man, who she truly loves and who respects her for who she is.
Yet, at the end of the year Maria still decides to travel back to her family in Brazil. She does not end her relationship with Ralf, but evidently the two will not be able to see each other as often. Maria does not necessarily want to follow the conventional pattern of moving in together, getting married, having children and being together day in and day out. She feels that this may in fact just slowly kill their relationship. She tells Ralf:
‘Yes, I love you very much, as I have never loved another man, and that is precisely why I am leaving, because, if I stayed, the dream would become reality, the desire to possess, to want your life to be mine … in short, all the things that transform love into slavery.’
Maria wants to continue having a relationship with Ralf, but she feels that it is important not to take ‘possession’ of one another. This idea is encapsulated in a dream that Maria has the day before she buys her flight ticket home to Brazil. In her dream, she sees a beautiful bird and falls in love with it. She starts to fear that the bird ‘might want to visit far-off mountains’ and so she traps him in a cage. Yet as soon as she does this a ‘strange transformation takes place’:
Now that she had the bird and no longer needed to woo him, she began to lose interest.
The bird, unable to fly and express the true meaning of his life, began to waste away and his feathers to lose their gloss; he grew ugly; and the woman no longer paid him any attention, except by feeding him and cleaning out his cage.
One day, the bird died. The woman felt terribly sad and spent all her time thinking about him. But she did not remember the cage, she thought only of the day when she had seen him for the first time, flying contentedly amongst the clouds.
If she had looked more deeply into herself, she would have realized that what had thrilled her about the bird was his freedom, the energy of his wings in motion, not his physical body.
This dream is a metaphor for Maria’s relationship with Ralf. She recognizes that their love thrives on freedom. Their relationship is beautiful but can only continue to be so, if they each have space for their personal development; if they can develop and acquire ideas and experiences outside the microcosm of their relationship. She knows that, like with the bird, if she ‘allow[s] [Ralf] to come and go’, she will love and ‘admire’ him even more.
The great news is, in this day and age, we can choose to have relationships, in which we allow each other more freedom. Women have much greater financial autonomy and independence than just 50 years ago. We do not have to live together with our partner. It is fine if we sometimes need our own space. We do not have to have accept all the views of our partner or compromise our own values for their sake. We do not absolutely have to get married (although of course we may choose to do so). We can still have relationships, without legally ‘binding’ the person to us through marriage. After all, we do not force our friends to sign contractual agreements in order to make them stay with us. Love should be like a beautiful friendship.
We may also decide not to have a relationship, or to live with a close friend, or to form a creative partnership. We can love who we like and live how we like! Rather than thinking through the traditional frameworks and still-pervasive societal ‘ideals’, we should realize the new freedoms that we have in this age. Throw away the old cages!