I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about marriage lately. I guess ‘kids’ my age have hit “Marriage o’ clock,” that moment when you feel the need to start settling down. I’ve been hearing the usual dating/relationship laments a bit more often:
“Where is this going? We’ve been together for a year.”
“We’ve been dating for two years. I’m 36; it was time I proposed.”
“It doesn’t really count; we were only together for six months. I need a serious relationship.”
I find each of these statements risky because it seems that so many people are evaluating their relationship by its length or whether or not it was headed toward marriage, as though marriage is the one and only destination of two people journeying through life together; as though a love that lasts is, in and of itself, the point of a romantic union. But lasting isn’t necessarily the point and forever isn’t a destination.
A relationship that lasts isn’t necessarily the point and forever isn’t a destination.
Length has become one of the main ways we measure the success of a relationship because we’ve accepted and embraced the idea of marriage as a culmination of love, and marriage is defined as a life-long commitment. So the duration of a relationship has become one of the ways we discern whether or not its a win or a fail. But this hasn’t always been the case. For thousands of years marriage was a mechanism for joining fortunes, estates, countries. Love entered the picture of marriage relatively recently, about 250 years ago according to Stephanie Coontz the author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage. In its modern day form, with politics and social climbing aside (for the most part), we’ve been left with just love in marriage. But what is love supposed to end in? With marriage no longer a means to some material end, marriage became the point of love. But it can’t be the point because so much happens after two people contractually and ceremoniously declare their love for one another. Life happens after marriage and the fact that two individuals have decided to live their lives together doesn’t change the fact that those two individuals have to find their own purpose, their own raison d’être. Whether or not you answer “where is this going” you still have to answer “where am I going.” And that’s where things can get tricky.
I’ve always said that the longevity of a relationship is largely dependent on how well two people can change together. When the words “til death do us part” are uttered, what’s really being said is: “You’re going to be everything I need emotionally, physically, spiritually, intellectually for the rest of my life. As I change, you’ll change in a way that’s in line with my change. As my tastes change, yours will too. As my opportunities change, yours will change too. From now until I die. Sign here.” That’s a lot for one person to be for someone else and those are a lot of factors that have to come together for all that to work. It’s possible for it to work. It’s possible for the stars of love to align, but it doesn’t happen as frequently as we’d all like to think. And it doesn’t necessarily happen for everyone. But the great thing is ’til death do us part’ is not the only point of a relationship and it shouldn’t be the litmus test through which we’re judging every relationship we have.
Whether or not you answer “where is this going” you still have to answer “where am I going.”
Different relationships serve different purposes and those purposes aren’t necessarily to journey together until the end of your time. Besides DNA, human beings are walking accumulations of their experiences. We are each a collection of the environments and the circumstances we’ve been exposed to, the ideas we’ve been exposed to and the people we encounter. All these things over one’s lifetime configure together in you in a way that is unique to just you and form who you are. Each encounter or experience is a block that shapes your identity. Each person you let into your life is a block that shapes your identity. Some encounters are small rocks, while others are whole walls. Some last minutes, while some last years. But no matter the length or ‘size’ of each block, they all become a necessary part of shaping your form. So the best thing we can do for ourselves is to let those building blocks take the places they were meant to, whether it’s as someone who makes you stronger, or someone who makes you nicer, someone who shows you new things or shows you who you don’t want to be with or just a stranger whose flirtatious wink props up your ego. Let it take its place. Let it serve its purpose.
We have to factor out time in our assessments of love. We shouldn’t commit to someone because its time. We shouldn’t stay because we’ve spent too much time or not enough time. We shouldn’t disregard a relationship because it’s not going to last forever. And when relationships end we shouldn’t cast them into a bucket of failures. Dubbing a relationship a failure because it didn’t last is like scolding a fish for not flying. Not every partner is built or fated to fly. And by holding that criterium up to every single relationship, we run the risk of not enjoying a good swim.
Dubbing a relationship a failure because it didn’t last is like scolding a fish for not flying. Not every partner is built or fated to fly.
Relationships don’t fail; they simply come to an end and in doing so they take their place in forming who you are. Whether or not that happens at or before the end of your time, it doesn’t decrease the value of the experience. Even if it was a bad experience, even if it left scars, there was something in it for you to learn from, to take away, to build who you are.