It’s rare that my columns contain a disclaimer, but this one does; and it’s a pretty obvious one. I am not claiming to understand relationships or have the secret to making them work. I mean, let’s face it. If I knew that, this would be a book, not a column, and I’d be off on the road right now on a very successful (and lucrative!) tour.
No, this is merely a little list of things I’ve learned over the years from being in or witnessing relationships that were something short of successful. I share this with you now, not because it’s earth-shattering, but because I think sometimes people like to hear something and say, “Hey, you noticed that too…”. Call it a hunch, but I’ll bet we can all relate to some of these.
First of all, a little relationship math:
Good person + good person does not equal good couple.
Just because two people are very cool, have similar interests, share a group of friends, and may even like hanging out together, that in no way implies that they’ll be a good couple.
Example: I knew a couple in college. Everyone thought he was a great guy; fun and enthusiastic. She was bubbly and witty and everyone loved being around her. But together, the combination was explosive. It was like rubbing two sticks together until…no, wait. Bad analogy. It was an almost daily roller-coaster ride between agony and ecstasy. One minute it was young lovers in paradise, the next you could hear the fighting three dorms away. And it wasn’t for lack of caring. They loved each other to pieces – almost literally.
And really, that doesn’t surprise me much. Why would think that they should be such a great couple? When I think of the people I care most for in the world, I realize that I couldn’t live with half of them, and probably couldn’t have a relationship with any of them. And I’m sure they feel the same about me.
(Note: the couple above finally went up in flames – not literally, thank God – though that certainly was a possibility. Both ended up meeting someone else, getting married, and are now good friends.)
Another simple rule:
Breaking up is easier when one of you is a jerk.
Anger is a much stronger emotion than sorrow, and it carries a lot of energy with it. Why, you can spend hours, days, or even months imagining your ex being roasted slowly over an open flame, being torn apart by wolves, or involved in a grisly car wreck. Better yet, how about falling for some gold-digging tramp and being taken for all he’s worth? Even temporarily, hating someone can become a whole reason for living in and of itself. Besides, it’s a welcome change from wallowing in self-pity, and hey, he deserves it, the bastard!
Think back to one of your own breakups. Ever notice how your significant other started acting really odd, almost begging for a fight? That’s exactly what was going on, because it’s always easier when there’s a bad guy – even when you’re the bad guy.
If it’s easier when there’s a jerk, it’s worse when it’s nobody’s fault.
This happens all the time. Two people meet, feel some attraction to each other, and have enough in common that it seems obvious that they should date. So they do. And it’s great. It’s new. It’s fun. Thing is, it doesn’t stay new. And great becomes good. Then good becomes comfortable, which quickly becomes boring. Next thing you know, someone asks you why you’re still together, and you don’t know what to say.
And it’s nobody’s fault. The magic faded and there was nothing to replace it. Maybe you grew slowly apart. Maybe you ran out of things to say. Maybe you feel pressured because, as a couple, you feel like there should be more there than good friendship. Maybe you’ll never know, but you do know one thing; there’s no one to blame.
If you’re lucky, you part as friends, though even then there’s a period of time when you really can’t deal with the other person, because in some indescribable and yet very profound way, you can’t help feeling like they betrayed you. They let you down, and you can forgive that, but they’ll never be quite the same in your eyes again.
And finally we have the worst breakup of all; the ten little words that will rip out your still beating heart, throw it on the ground and grind it into the dust:
“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
But why is this the worst? Because it’s completely unarguable. If someone isn’t in love with you, well, then that’s pretty much it. You can’t make them love you, and they can’t make themselves love you. They would if they could (or so they say), and you want them to (or so you think), but it’s not going to happen. Deep down in side, you know that, but you still want them to try. Just once more. Maybe with time you’ll come to love me… And when it doesn’t happen, and you know it’s over, there’s just one thing need to know.
I loved you. – Why wasn’t that enough?
I gave you everything – Why wasn’t that enough?
I thought of no one but you every day we were together. – Why wasn’t that enough?
And the painful answer is, “It just wasn’t.”
And you’ll torment yourself, poring over memories looking for a reason. You’ll blame yourself, believing you must have done something wrong. And finally, you’ll accept that some things simply don’t have reasons, and you’ll let go and move on.
Now, if this sounds negative – if it sounds like I’m down on relationships – I’m not. I look forward to every one I’m going to have, especially the last one. But the fact of the matter is, until one sticks, all the other relationships are going to end in a breakup.
So you might as well get used to the idea, take some comfort in the knowledge that it’s the same for everybody, and dive in. Admit the risk and focus on the possibilities. You won’t be the first to get hurt, you won’t be the last, but you may very well end up with the person of your dreams, and that makes it all worthwhile.