I was a few months away from turning 24 when my parents told me they were splitting up. I definitely didn’t see it coming. It hit me like a punch in the gut. After all, they had been together for 30 years and, although I knew they were going through tough times, I always thought they would work it out eventually.
I also happened to just have gone through a painful breakup myself and (being already pretty cynical about the whole relationships thing) I thought all this would deepen that feeling and all the trust issues that came with it. It did, for a while.
Every time I got involved with someone I was either bored to death (I will admit I often dated people I wasn’t entirely into because I knew that way I wouldn’t mind the relationship ending) or scared we would break up as soon as I fell for that person.
It was so hard for me to trust people or just be optimistic about my romantic life that I ended up closing myself to new relationships as a way to protect my already damaged emotions. You know, that old story.
But I soon grew tired of it. It was boring, it lacked intensity, enthusiasm – I missed that sweet adrenaline of meeting someone and perceiving a connection. But always keeping my guard up came so naturally to me it scared me. I couldn’t enjoy getting to know someone new because I was too busy waiting for the inevitable moment when everything was going to fall apart. It was incredibly frustrating, yet I felt trapped in that self-destructing circle.
Then one day I heard one sentence that triggered an evolution in the way I saw human connections. I don’t even remember whether it was a TV show, a movie or podcast. All I remember is that there was a group of people talking about failed relationships, and then a guy said, “I didn’t have a failed marriage, I had a very successful marriage – that happened to only last three years”.
Happily ever after; That’s the stupid phrase we use to determine whether a relationship was “successful”. Ever after, means the princess and prince made it in the end. And many of us still judge relationships by that naïve, simplistic criteria: if it lasted, it was probably successful. If it didn’t, it’s because something had failed.
But maybe there is no such thing as failed relationships. Not if you look at it the way I assume that dude did (the one who said that sentence, whoever he is): by how much happiness it once brought you, how much you learned about yourself and others, how much love you felt, what you created together. Then, its length suddenly doesn’t matter that much.
There are people who have had very long, crappy and toxic relationships and others who have had short, intense, happy ones. There are as many kinds of relationships as there are kinds of people. So, how can we say what a “failed” or “successful” relationship is? Those concepts are absolutely subjective.
I decided, in that moment, that I would try not to worry about how a relationship might turn out, but just about how it makes me feel right now. Is it fun? Is it interesting? Is it respectful? Then okay, I’ll enjoy it and see how it goes. Will everything eventually fall apart? Maybe. Probably. Or maybe not. If decades-long, once solid relationships end all the time, chances are things with that person you met at a birthday party a month ago could suddenly end too. And it will hurt. But it will be worth it. A lot more worth it than protecting yourself from harm, because that usually has a way more dangerous side effect: it keeps yourself form living your life.
My parents’ divorce taught me a lesson: we have to accept that few relationships last forever – and stop dramatizing that. It’s a painful thing to learn, but it can also be pretty liberating. It can be a chance to further enjoy the good in every connection we make with other people without being anxious about what will happen next, a way to embrace the inevitable pain one feels when things don’t work out the way we wanted, learn from that and move on.
Right now, well, I’m only half there.