It’s a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl…(well, a more modern version may shift slightly to: boy tries to get girl’s attention on a dating app with some cheesy pick up line that ends with her thinking he’s super lame but secretly charmed by his geeky wit)…girl and boy hang out, bond over their shared interests and common values, and the next thing you know we are all falling in love with their love.
At first the relationship is wonderful and the two people you are here and now are a perfect fit. But you can’t stay those two people forever. In my experience, whether in my own relationships or from an outsider’s perspective of other people’s, the make or break with couples in long term relationships are whether or not those two people are growing together through life’s changes, or growing apart instead. Now, you could be growing apart for many different reasons. Maybe one of your careers suddenly takes off and your priorities start to shift until they no longer match. Or maybe one of you is much further along in being ready for your future together, but the other person isn’t currently there and doesn’t know if they ever will be. Or sometimes you simply look back on your years together and realize the people you used to be just aren’t there inside you anymore, and who you both are now aren’t compatible together. I think this one is the hardest to identify and to cope with because nothing actually went wrong. No one cheated or lied or did anything to intentionally hurt the other—you just gradually fell out of love with one another as you matured as people. You both did everything right, and yet still weren’t right in the end.
Despite coming to terms with the potential end of a relationship, we sometimes continue to hang on even when it no longer offers us anything of value.
I feel like I should acknowledge here that, yes, true love is never easy and some relationships are absolutely worth fighting for. Depending on what the issues are, couples can work through things and come out even stronger than they were before. I congratulate every single one of those people. But those relationships are not the subject of this blog post.
So why do we hang on to those relationships that aren’t worth fighting to keep? While I think every relationship is unique in its own right, at the end of the day, we’ve all been through similar experiences that can relate to each other. I don’t know a single person that isn’t afraid of change to some degree. In relationships, we put so much of our time, energy and heart into that partnership that it shapes how we live. We start consulting someone else in our decisions, we share our space, we divide our schedules, and we often even merge our families. Everything about our lives in some way or another revolves around being a partner to someone else, and having a partner in return. If that partnership were to ever split, the areas of our lives that would be forced to change are substantial and totally overwhelming. And sometimes those changes are so drastic you stay in a relationship just so you don’t have to deal with them.
Let’s say, for example, you and your significant other live together. Who gets to stay and who has to go? Who gets what? And god for bid you are renters and your lease isn’t up for another six months. What then? Some people would rather postpone a break up to avoid moving back in with their parents (and can we really blame them? I wouldn’t want to have to sleep right below Todd and Denise either).
Or what if you share mutual friends and can’t even fathom the idea of having to see your ex again at your best friend’s birthday party, or worse—her wedding. Speaking of sharing things…what if you two have a pet together? I don’t even know if I can muster up the courage to write about that one because it’s just too sad to think about.
I think at the core of all of it though is one very relatable and common fear. We have to start completely over. Speaking from the experience of someone who did a lot of “dating” in between relationships, the process can be exhausting. And each time it doesn’t work out you have to muster up the courage to put yourself back out there and get to know someone all over again. Not to mention—for my fellow females—the pressure we feel to live by this societal timeline that tells us we have to be married before 30 (at the latest) and pop out three kids by the time we’re 35. So what happens when all our friends around us have found the one and are getting engaged, and suddenly our relationship is no longer moving forward? If we end it, we would find ourselves single again, and starting over now, according to that metaphorical timeline, means starting behind. At that point, our breakup becomes much less about losing someone we cared for, and more about having to face the world. Having to tell our families that they’ll no longer be seeing the person they’ve already accepted into the fold as “one of us” and then dealing with their inappropriate and very personal questions about what happened and can’t we just work it out? And let’s not forget the idea of having to go stag to all our friend’s weddings and toggling between Bumble and Babies R Us on your phone after getting your invite to the gender reveal.
So sometimes we just stay. Sometimes staying is easier than changing. Except staying doesn’t make us happy, it makes us trapped. Letting go of a relationship that no longer fulfills us is completely terrifying, but can also be completely liberating. We just have to be willing to embrace the pain as part of our healing process and get back to becoming ourselves again as individuals. So no, we did not fail. In fact, we are actually succeeding because we are doing what is best for our own happiness and our future. And our partner’s future too for that matter, since living in an unsatisfying relationship is not living at all, for either of you.
I don’t know who needs to hear this (I don’t know who even reads this blog for that matter), but I hope that this [very lengthy] post lets you see that some relationships are meant to end. They were not a lie, they were not a failure, they just had an expiration date. Whether it was six months, two years or ten, it was what you needed in your life at the time and it helped you grow as a person in one way or another. That is the way you need to look at it—nothing else other than a chapter in your life, big or small, that was pivotal to the plot development of your story. But chapters have to end in order for new ones to begin, and it’s up to you to find the right words to close it out. Just know that no matter what, you still have so many pages of your story left to write. And I for one can’t wait to read them.