As children, we’re bombarded with cartoons and movies depicting romance and love as something effortless and perfect. The prince meets the princess, some really bad villain tries to keep them apart, but their love is so strong that they defeat the bad guy and they live happily ever after. To compensate for our ridiculous childhood fantasies, our parents, society, and extremely well-paid relationship counselors/authors tell us that no, it doesn’t work that way. Relationships are hard work. Sometimes you want to strangle the person you love, sometimes you wish your eyes could make their heads explode, and sometimes you just wish they’d put down their cell phone long enough to have an actual conversation with you. So basically, we spend our childhoods learning to believe in love and the rest of our lives dealing with the fact that true love isn’t a fairy tale. True love takes effort. And you know, that’s true. But I for one believed it SO much that it caused me to fight for a relationship for which I shouldn’t have fought. When does the effort become too much effort? And how can we tell it’s become too much?
I had the increasingly rare childhood experience of having two parents who loved each other. Their relationship was absolutely NOT perfect. But by God, they love each other. Their ability to overcome what they did gave me faith in the idea of true love. Why else would someone fight so hard to keep a relationship alive? And when they are happy, without any issues whatsoever, it makes total sense. They both say so many wonderful things about each other behind the other’s back. Considering my parents have been married for 29 years, that’s pretty dang impressive. They still get on each others’ nerves, but they’re human, so it was bound to happen.
So, with my faith in true love and all my experiences and society teaching me that making a relationship work is hard work, I went forth into the world of romance with what I thought to be a healthy outlook. Whew, was I WRONG! Sometimes a relationship is just doomed from the start and there is NO reason whatsoever to exert all that effort into keeping it alive. It just eats at you and kills your soul, little by little, til you’re left a pessimist at best, a romantic misanthrope, a deluded desperado, or worst, a person who just doesn’t care about love anymore.
Now, some people are going to read that and think “Well what about the valuable experience that gave you? It made you who you are and led you right to the right person!” Yeah, ok. You go ahead and you think that. You go ahead and think that, if not for the suffering in a bad relationship, you never would have found the right person. I believe everything happens for a reason. As someone who believes in God, there’s always a touch of Fatalism in my reasoning. I believe in fate. I also believe that, regardless of the paths we take, we always wind up exactly where we were meant to, good or bad. I don’t believe destiny is so fragile that making one choice versus another completely throws the timeline off-kilter and we wind up on a separate plane of existence from where we would have been. And if you don’t believe in destinies or fate, just that the conditions created by the bad situation also created the optimum conditions for you to meet the love of your life, that’s fine too. I would argue that we have positive outcomes with less-than-optimal conditions all the time. For example, a couple with fertility issues may, after years with no success, somehow conceive a child and carry it to term and have a healthy baby. So you really didn’t NEED the optimum conditions, you just had to have the barely-passable ones.
Moving on, then. I spent my entire high school experience in a relationship of some kind. Except those days in there where I was broken up before getting back together or transitioning from one guy to the next. I have utterly NO experience in being single. Since I was 14, I’ve probably spent about a month and a half altogether outside of a relationship. And even when I was “single”, most of the time, I already had another guy on the line or was planning to get back together with the guy with whom I’d just broken up. I maintained a very unhealthy relationship for years because I believed that I could make this relationship work if I just tried hard enough. The fact of the matter was that we both had our issues and we weren’t right for each other. We both had to work on our issues separate from each other AND accept the fact that we weren’t right together. I make absolutely no assumptions about his feelings either way, but I fought like crazy to keep the relationship afloat and alive when I should have let it die. While we both walked away alive, we were both damaged from the experience. We stay in contact from time to time nowadays. We both acknowledge that trying to save that relationship was a mistake. But I don’t believe it was a mistake to have been together at all. There were good times that I won’t ever forget.
Speaking of “good times”, that is another concept that reinforces the idea that, with enough hard work, you can make a relationship work. I thought as long as we had good times in the past, we could have good times together again in the future. At some point, we stopped having good times. But the promises of the past hung before me like a carrot on a stick. And I got caught in the trap every single time. No matter how distant the memories became, I clung to them like a lifeboat. If I could hang on long enough, I’d reach shore or someone would rescue me. The fact was, I had to let myself drown before I could be rescued.
Sometimes, hard work can’t save a relationship. Sometimes you should NOT put the effort in. While the circumstances to my meeting Tom contributed greatly to our being able to form a relationship, I don’t think I wouldn’t have met him or been open to being with him had I not just come off yet another tenuous, stressful breakup. The possibility simply had to be there. Not every experience is one you NEED to have. Not every relationship can be saved. And knowing the difference? That’s what society should focus on helping us to see, not pump us full of propaganda about counseling and “making the effort.”
As for Tom? Well, we’ve had some stressful stuff to deal with. But I know that it’s worth the effort because I can remember the last good time we had like it was just this morning. Oh wait. It was. And it just feels right. Even putting in the work feels right. I enjoy working through the stressful crap because it leads us back to each other. If I knew then what I know now, I think I would have spared some guys and myself some heartbreak. I certainly wouldn’t have made the first year of my relationship with Tom such a hardship on us both. But hindsight is 20-20. And with that, I think I’ve piled enough cliches into this post.