By Georgia Clark
It was always going to be a gamble, but the funny thing is, Kurt and his girlfriend just didn’t see it that way.
As told to the US radio documentary program, This American Life, the couple decided to take a break from being together—a relationship rumspringa. A word as playful in concept as it is on the page, a rumspringa is when 16-year-old Amish teenagers have the chance to stray from the fold for two years of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, then decide whether to come back, or stay permanently hungover like the rest of us. Kurt Braunohler and his girlfriend had met on the third day of college, and after being in a happily monogamous relationship for over a decade, decided that 30 days of sexual freedom was what they needed to confirm that the grass over yonder wasn’t actually greener, just a trick of the light. Then marriage, babies, and all the rest could follow unabated. They thought it’d be easy; “We had this arrogant notion of our relationship,” Kurt says. “That it could survive literally anything.”
Turns out, it couldn’t. But more about that later.
Today’s $64 million question is, do rumspringas ever work? Is it a good idea to let yourself and your partner ‘off the leash’ for the greater good of the relationship? Or does this reek of having your cake and eating it too (never mind that cake is, by its nature, for the eating).
Psychologist Michelle Morris believes rumspringas can work to strengthen the relationship. “A ‘holiday’ or ‘break’ from the relationship may reinvigorate a partner, enhancing the relationship,” she says. “Partnerships can change from being “in love” to “loving” with the intensity and chemistry missing, and relationship rumspringas may assist in rejuvenating stale relationships with new energy.” ‘Enhancing the relationship’ is good, solid reasoning for any proposed rumspringa—this isn’t a chance for you to act like an Amish teenager in a real life version of American Pie, it’s a chance for you to make your existing relationship strong, fulfilling and resilient.
Be upfront with your rules and expectations. How long will you be springing for rum? Are you aiming for full disclosure at the end of your rumspringa, or is your basic instinct telling you to keep mum? Ross and Rachel could have avoided episodes of arguing if they’d decided in advance what being on a break actually entailed.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that rumspringas are inherently dangerous. Once you open the door to the outside world, all manner of sexual and emotional temptation could see you turning your back on your metaphorical horse and cart for good. You might plan for unemotional sex with all the sanctimonious fervency of a cinema snob intending to deride American Pie. But love springs unexpectedly eternal, as do giggles at broad sex comedies. Michelle recalls one couple who felt that their relationship was so stale, the husband left the marriage, rented a flat and set out to court his wife again. “Unfortunately for his wife, he met another woman in the same building and formed a permanent relationship with her,” Michelle recalls. “His wife was aggrieved and sad but acknowledged that having her husband move out ‘was a gamble anyway’”. A gamble in which she was the loser.
But inertia—closed door monogamy—is also a choice and an action. And if you or your beloved have expressed the desire to taste the forbidden fruit of Other People, that desire won’t go away by simply doing nothing. Unmet desires can breed resentment and fuel cheating. Or rumspringas themselves can simply be the unconscious desire to get out. Just look at what happened with our friend Kurt.
One month of rumspringa turned into two, which turned into three. Kurt fell for someone else and eventually, the couple mutually decided to call it quits. In retrospect, Kurt’s girlfriend (who is not named in the piece) thinks she wanted out of the relationship before the rumspringa, but she was too scared to admit it to herself—the rumspringa gave them a reason to break up.
To spring or not to spring? Life isn’t a sex comedy, and no matter what you do, you’ve got no way of knowing which way the chips will fall once your horse is out the gate. But if you go into it doing all the right things—open communication, realistic expectations, sticking to your rules—you’ve got a better chance of your stallion returning to his place behind the cart, once the dust has settled.