When people talk about long-term relationships, they tend to tell you the negative stuff: like losing the ‘spark’, infidelity, or how children can suck the life out of a marriage. But no one seems to talk honestly about what a relationship is – this thing so many of us are searching for.
I suspect a lot of people have an unrealistic idea about what it’s like to be in a relationship. So that when they actually get ‘there’, deep down, they are fearful that their relationship isn’t like it’s supposed to be. Maybe they can’t begin to admit it to themselves. I look back on my dating years and wish I’d only known.
What it’s like to not be in a relationship
Not being in a relationship is a bit lonely. This is easily managed by keeping busy (almost regimental, in my case) and pitfalls include:
- Feeling overly reliant on others for company (and not necessarily always enjoying that company).
- Feeling a deep underlying terror about your aloneness. – If you really are quite alone, there’s always the risk of sinking into complete aimlessness; peering into an abyss of nothingness and finding it hard to gain perspective.
- Finding it harder to do nothing/relax because for fear of aforementioned abyss.
The power of early attraction
There is so much tension and thrill when we start dating someone. This potency derives from the insecurity of not yet ‘possessing’ the other (i.e. being in a relationship with them) and their resulting ‘strangeness’ to be discovered, as well as the wondrousness of transitioning from physical solitariness to shared physical intimacy.
Being in a relationship
Once we fully ‘possess’ each other, and get used to sharing intimacy, we can be completely ourselves and the power from that early insecurity is gone. We can feel safe and supported and don’t have to fear the same nothingness because there is always company and contact, close at hand. However, being in a relationship is absorbing. It really occupies one’s thoughts. This is the opposite of aloneness.
Crucially, once you get to this place, you realise that your aloneness wasn’t so bad – it was just different. The upshot of it was that your mind is relatively empty and quiet.
This is what I wish I had known.
And this is the inevitable destination of every love affair, if allowed to run its course.
Once in a relationship, the challenge is a practical one: to make things work the best they can. You will also have greater changes of success is you now recognise that the relationship is only a small part of being you; if you continue to invest in yourself, it will make your companionship all the richer.
The power of love?
Remember that however excited you feel about someone at the beginning, the strength of your feeling does not tell you anything about their suitability. ‘Love’ is not some pure guiding force; only your head will help you figure that out. We have the capacity to love many people. Our capacity for love simply tells us that we do not want to be alone.
Furthermore, a partner’s personality is not a fixed thing. People can bring out the best or worst in others. The challenge of being in a relationship is being the best we can be and trying to help the other person to be the best they can be. Of course, we should also have a clear personal agenda – a set of fundamental expectations to pursue at all cost (e.g. equality, kindness). If we follow this approach, we never need to feel bitter about time ‘wasted’ in past relationships. We are responsible for who we depend on. And we always have the choice to depend on ourselves.