When I think about the person I was eight years ago, back when I first met my boyfriend, I’m shocked that we’re still together. It’s not that I love my boyfriend any less than I once did, or that our relationship isn’t as strong as it once was. It’s that I’ve changed so much in the last eight years, as one does. My interests and needs are completely different from what they once were. Because, in so many ways, I am completely different.
Back then, I was mainly searching for release—an outlet from the pain of watching my older sister succumb to alcoholism. I didn’t have the emotional capacity for a real relationship. I had no bandwidth for commitment or loyalty or the ongoing cycle of quarreling and compromise and resolution that defines romantic love, at least in part. I wanted sex and passion and escape.
So I had an affair.
Truthfully, an illicit sexual relationship was exactly what I needed at that stage in life. I wanted to have sex with a man I was madly attracted to, whose company I thoroughly enjoyed. We had crazy fun times together and that was all and that was enough. There were no loose strings of unaddressed feelings or unmet expectations dangling between us. We were connected by a simple, shared desire to fuck someone we liked a lot, but never intended to love. He had a wife, after all, and I didn’t get involved with him expecting him to leave her.
But time goes on. Circumstances change. Careers begin and end, friends move, and disease strikes. People like my older sister die, and those of us left in their wake cannot possibly stay the same.
After my sister passed, my romantic needs transformed almost instantaneously. There were holes in my soul that needed filling, maybe. Without my permission, acute feelings sprouted from the empty nooks and crannies of my being. And no matter how steadfastly I ignored the seedlings of their existence, those stubborn little fuckers kept blossoming.
Suddenly, I wanted a real relationship, and I wanted it with the married man I’d been sleeping with for several years already. The man I’d once liked but didn’t want to love quickly became the man I needed to love.
When I told him this, he was clearly flattered. But he didn’t reciprocate the sentiment, exactly.
Within a year, however, he and his wife had separated.
Falling in love with him was as easy as I knew it would be. I wanted to do whatever he was doing at all times, be with him whenever possible, wherever that took me. I prioritized him above everything else, and I never questioned ~us~.
We continued to have a lot of fun together—maybe even too much. We also started to fight and to compromise and to resolve whatever issues we encountered along our way, as actual couples must. Transitioning from a dalliance to an official relationship was exciting and rewarding. But it also proved tough.
Every relationship transition, I’ve since realized, is difficult on some level. Moving in together, meeting each other’s families, combining finances, marriage, children. No stage, however thrilling, is entirely awesome. Progress never happens without a few growing pains. Why?
Because as circumstances change, people change too. Just as you can’t expect your friends, family, career, or interests to remain stagnant, you can’t expect your partner to remain fixed as an individual.
As time goes by, you and your partner will both change. You will learn through your experiences, shared and individual. Each of you will mature and develop new ideas and nurture new aspirations.
And at every single turn, you will have to decide whether you can evolve together, or not. You will have to assess whether you can embrace the latest iterations of each other. You will have to determine if your relationship is flexible enough to withstand whatever reshaping is required to move forward as a couple. You will have to do the work it takes to mold a new togetherness over and over and over again, or accept that you’re unwilling or incapable of doing that work and go your separate ways.
When considering a long-term partnership with someone, it’s insufficient to love who that person is today. You have to ask yourself whether you can love who they’ll become. Not just whether you can love them in good times and bad, but whether you can love them for who they might be as a result of those hypothetical but inevitable good times and bad.
The thing is, you can’t predict who that is.
Life is messy and love is, too. Relationships aren’t immutable because people aren’t. People promise forever, and then they take it back—not because they’re assholes, necessarily, but because they’ve changed. Or because you have.
Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, neither you nor your partner will exist as you are right now. The future you’s will not want the exact same things in life as the you’s at present do. All you can hope for is that you want to be together enough to figure out how to move on, again and again, without breaking up. That you’re stubborn enough to figure your shit out and evolve as a couple. But there are no guarantees in love—not even the til-death-do-us-part kind.