Love at first sight. Soul mates. Made for each other. Happily ever after.
These can be magical aspirations. They can also lead us to set unrealistic, counterproductive expectations. It begins with fairy tales. Then comes traditional education, mainstream peer pressure, and pop culture. Today, of course, we have social media — where our similarly influenced friends share carefully curated images of their love lives.
Everywhere we look and virtually every message we receive reinforces misconceptions about love, marriage, and relationships. These assumptions can dramatically increase the chances of relationship failure or, at least, ensure a stifling amount of daily compromise.
Now, I suppose I have to say this, so here goes: this article is not a bitter screed about how every marriage sucks or is doomed. Far from it. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t dream of profound love and bask in its glow when we experience it.
What I am suggesting (to those with enough resources to do so): Introduce some self-love, reality, and common sense when it comes to relationships. Don’t compare and compete with others or with societal standards. Allow yourself to enjoy “short-term” while it lasts — and if it develops into “long-term,” be grateful, vigilant, and radically honest.
Believe it or not, there are many evolving choices within this realm. One such option is appreciating an impermanent connection as it happens. We dwell in a hook-up culture but that’s not what I mean. For the purposes of this article, a “short-term relationship” is something much more than swiping right yet much less than “till death do we part.”
5 Reasons to Appreciate Short-Term Relationships
1.“Long-Term” is Rarely “Long-Term”
Even if you crave “forever,” the odds are not in your favor. The divorce rate is steady around 50 percent — and that’s just for first marriages! It’s far higher for anyone who walks down the aisle a second time (or more). While it’s almost impossible to accurately assess non-married duos, research points towards an even higher separation rate for co-inhabiting couples. After all, ending a marriage is usually more bureaucratically complicated, socially embarrassing, and prohibitively expensive.
2. Short-Term Usually Means Less Compromise
We’re human and thus, by default, it means we’re a bundle of neuroses and quirks, needs, demands, compulsions, and contradictions. Meanwhile, we’re encouraged to seek perfection. Beneath our public facades, you and I are not the “perfect match” for anyone. Hence, long-term relationships may demand an unremitting compromise. We accept the inevitability of part-time unhappiness as a trade-off for longevity. If every interaction is colored with the knowledge that this must be “permanent,” it shifts the parameters of communication and tolerance. We learn to bite our tongue and surrender many of our needs.
All day, every day, we’re choosing colors for the living room walls, dividing up chores, managing finances, helping kids with homework, figuring out schedules for driving those kids to soccer games and dance classes, planning vacations, pondering why our spouse chews so loudly, getting the oil changed, debating about which set of in-laws to see during the holidays, etc. We become more like business partners, daycare managers, and feuding roommates than the committed lovers we imagined we’d always be. And, because of the pre-ordained time frame, we can feel trapped.
3. Dishonesty in the Name of Peace
With a goal of permanence hanging over our every move, we simply cannot be fully honest. We nod and grin even when, inside, we’re raging or crying or bored to death. We complain behind our partner’s back but day-to-day, we go through the motions. On a regular basis, we choose non-confrontation over clarity and passive-aggression over resolution. How else could we ever live up to eternal vows and show our newsfeed just how blissful we are?
4. “Failure” = Staying in an Unhappy Relationship
Mainstream culture guilts us into the happily-ever-after trap. It’s frequently considered odd if we stay single and shameful if we get divorced. Pro tip: Divorce isn’t synonymous with “failure.” In many cases, it’s self-care and self-love. It’s a clear-eyed acceptance of the reality staring us in the face. Take this as a ginormous hint that it rarely makes sense to enter into a relationship with the non-negotiable goal of forever.
5. Sometimes, “Short-Term” Organically Transitions Into “Longer-Term”
Imagine that… by taking it one step at a time, lowering your expectations/demands, being honest, and doing the daily hard work, you just may reap some unexpected outcomes and results.
On the Contrary…
To enter into a romantic bond without blinders is to reject societal myths and to not blame yourself (or anyone) if/when the relationship ends. Short-term relationships lower the stakes without weakening the connection. You won’t take each other for granted because time is not on your side.
Having a “deadline” of sorts adds the excitement of urgency to your words and actions. The concept of failure is a non-entity. You are present and mindful and feel no need to ever suffer in silence in the name of eternal sustainability. Openly aiming for an ephemeral relationship creates more space to feel gratitude in every moment. Your love is no less “real” but perhaps, it’s far more authentically expressed.
Speaking of “far more authentically expressed,” an interim step towards breaking archaic relationship cycles is to reevaluate your social media style. If you must post about your love life, why not do so honestly? Remind others that none of us have it figured out or ever will — but that can be good enough. If you experience a break-up, you are not uniquely flawed. You are simply a human being, living in the year 2020.
Photo: Trenton Mercatino (Wikimedia Commons)