I can’t honestly recall a single relationship I’ve been in that didn’t have an expiration date.
Some of these dates were inherent – the boys I met working at summer camps, the relationships I formed on the road. Those expirations were blatant and overt – On the 21st of April, one of us had a plane to get on. On the 30th of August, we all had to pack up our bags and go home.
Those end dates were the sweetest kind, if possible. They made everything before them seem heightened – every kiss more intense, every uttered word more special. There were no bruises to the ego upon parting – just a simple sinking feeling and the knowledge that life would go on. You got to hold on to the notion that there was one more person in the world whom you loved or adored or at the very least liked for a while. They were comforting, those expirations. They were a simple way of flirting with love.
The hardest expiration dates are not the overt ones though.
The hardest expiration dates are the covert ones. The doubts that creep into your mind six months into a relationship. The arguments you simply can’t resolve. The conversation you have about the future that keeps you up at night, turning over somebody’s words inside your mind. These are the signs that point toward your inevitable destruction – the signals that indicate the end.
‘It works now,’ You remind yourself, ‘But he or she wants to live in the suburbs. They hate travel. They want (or they do not want) kids.’
And no matter how much you re-iterate to yourself that it doesn’t matter or that you can cross that bridge when you come to it, it matters. It worries you. It encapsulates you. It makes you wonder if your relationship exists on borrowed time, if it’s all going to come crashing down.
And if it’s going to, when?
And if it’s going to, shouldn’t you just get out now?
We are obsessed with rescuing ourselves from pain. If something won’t last forever, we’d rather knock it down early. Cut our losses. Save ourselves from falling from greater heights later on in the game.
We forget that the worth of everything is not measured by its longevity. That some of the best things simply don’t last forever. After all, all of our favourite novels, movies and stories had endings. And yet, we read them anyway. We watched them anyway. We loved and learned from them anyway. They still had value, even though they eventually ended. And so do our relationships with people.
The uniquely beautiful thing about relationships that have expiration dates is that they aren’t moving toward an end. They aren’t about the future so they get to be about the now. About every day you have left with that person. About everything they can teach you before life inevitably tears you apart. Because you know that someday, it is going to.
Someday you’re going to wake up and they won’t be asleep in bed beside you. Someday you’ll hear a joke they’d love and not have their number to text it to. Someday you’re going to need their advice and they will not be there to give it. And so you do the only thing that you can: You ask them now. You laugh with them now. You fall asleep beside them now, and relish every moment that you have before it’s gone.
Relationships with expiration dates teach us that love doesn’t have to last forever to be meaningful. That someone doesn’t have to stick around to make an impact. That the best things in life are not always measured by their longevity but by their intensity. Their complexity. By their patience and wisdom and by every way our lives change as a result of them.
We don’t get to hold onto every person we love in our lives. But we do get to decide whether or not we’re going to appreciate them for everything they’re worth while we have them.
And if we can learn to do that, then perhaps we’ll find we can experience the most sincere form of love that exists. The kind that opens us up, takes our entire life by storm and then gently, quietly, teaches us how to let go.
And to appreciate what we have for as long as we get to hold onto it.