A relationship may or may not work out for a million reasons. People outgrow each other. Some realize they like themselves better when unattached and choose their freedom. And some work out. A few compromises are what it takes to make it. Some of us are willing to make those compromises. Others aren’t. The idea of a perfect relationship is what it is, an idea.
We believe in the lies portrayed in movies. In books, on social media, or the stories we heard from friends about someone who is the epitome of love. Forgetting, the very nature of any experience is subjective.
Stories help us make sense of the world. And our thoughts and emotions. Stories are what connect us with others. Helping us comprehend, identify and remember more than any other medium. A narrative makes reality easier to process.
But stories also set up unrealistic expectations. We often believe more in the potential of someone, something, making us happier than we could ever be on our own. Perhaps, when I land this job. Perhaps, when I meet the right person. Constantly chasing an elusive state of happiness, or textbook definitions of a home, a partner, security, or emotional support, becoming blind to our own needs. We fixate on the outcome, even if it is someone else’s outcome, and wonder why even after having it all, none of it is making us happy?
It was three years ago when I first realized there was a problem. I didn’t know what was causing this constant state of stress and anxiety. I just knew it was there. All the time. But other things needed my immediate attention – work, commute, daily chores, social media, overdue bills, shopping. I was never good at handling emotions, esp. negative emotions. So, I found an escape and convinced myself that this nagging voice in my head was wrong. That, I was making it up. Maybe I’m just bored. Maybe, I need change. Who wouldn’t, after being together for as long as we had. It’s only natural. Even when I no longer felt any intimacy. I let this go on for two years; before I decided to move on from almost a decade-long relationship.
There are no guarantees. What goes into a committed relationship isn’t quantifiable – not the love, the effort, the hurt, or the pain. You give a part of yourself to another person hoping they will nurture it. Then one day, you realize it doesn’t even exist anymore.
Familiarity also makes it very easy to forget the things we once admired in our partners. Before you know it, a carefree attitude turns into laziness and genuine concern into constant criticism. And without addressing the real issue behind this resentment, we start holding the other person accountable for our frustration. Turning small annoyances into full-blown problems. If something is making us unhappy, it surely must be them. Wasn’t it their responsibility to make us happy? It never occurs to us that we have too many expectations from a single source. For surely one magic potion to all our troubles would have been nice.
And age doesn’t help, along with the dwindling determination to put yourself out there once again. The curse of sunken cost fallacy. But we have been together through the worst. And loss aversion. It can’t get any worse than this.
We were familiar. We were comfortable. We knew each other more than we knew ourselves. Our most annoying habits. Our pet peeves. The part of us that’s invisible to the rest of the world. On exhibit, for one another. It was easier to stay.
Naturally, the strong emotions we feel in a budding romance dial down. We start to see the person for who they are. We see ourselves for who we are. And what we are willing or unwilling to compromise in the name of love in the long run. And this may seem more drastic if we never took the time to get to know ourselves first. I’m not talking about the routine that comes with a long-term relationship. Monotony is not always a bad thing. I’m talking about not knowing what you want because you were too busy chasing happiness outside rather than finding it within. It’s unconventional to defy the idea of romance, coupledom, and motherhood society shoves down our throats. So we’re more likely to put up with a bad situation than walk away.
I’m not a pessimist (not all the time). I don’t think every relationship is doomed to fail. The problem arises when you let it define you. When you cannot identify between your individual goals and your dreams as a couple. Like you don’t exist outside of it. Your relationship is an extension of you. It’s not you.
We fall prey to self-fulfilling prophecies. Stuck in loops; while wondering why things aren’t working in our favor. I researched extensively on depression, memory, and how the brain works. I thought if I could explain what was causing these feelings of unfulfillment in my relationship, I could work through them. I figured, unconsciously, I was conforming to my pre-existing notions about us.
I even took a much-cliched solo trip “trying to find myself”. It’s surprising how uncomfortable it can get to be with yourself. And it’s not what the movies make it out to be. There are no handsome strangers. Only suspicious ones. No epiphanies. No, you don’t have striking realizations about the meaning of life because you took a trip. I wasn’t as carefree as I could be in the company of another person. I visited places I planned for, limited myself to two drinks, and was back at the hotel at a reasonable hour. But I was glad I made the trip. Maybe the next time will be better.
I now understand nothing is worth years of mulling over at the cost of my degrading mental health. As daunting as it may seem, everything eventually turns out alright. Starting over is okay, at 31 or 52. Accepting failure is sometimes the best thing you can do.
The internet is flooded with self-help content, sometimes to a fault, but we are more self-aware now than ever. There’s more access and education around mental health, yet the rates of depression and mental illness are soaring. We have to find ways to help ourselves. Feel whole just by ourselves. Do things that make us uncomfortable. Have difficult conversations, and remember that we are limited only by imagination.
I’m finally learning to be alone without being lonely. I’m learning to prioritize myself. Something I hadn’t done in a very long time. As overstated as it is, the most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. A person or a state cannot drag us out of our misery. Temporarily, maybe, but for permanent, lasting changes, we need to acknowledge, then address our needs. Realizing that has been freeing.
Maybe it’s the lack of a certain quality in your partner that’s bothering you or a deeper issue you’ve never addressed. For me, it was the fear of being alone. This fear led to frustration and trying to fix a situation that was no longer working.
I miss the presence of another human being. I miss the reassurance. Someone I could turn to when I couldn’t escape my mind. But I still don’t know whether I was happy or just happy to be with someone. That’s the only question you should be asking yourself. The hole you’re trying to fill with things, and people only deepens. The uncomfortable feelings you are trying to escape will catch up.
When I started writing this, I thought it would end in some realization, some big truth, but that hasn’t happened. Things are as simple or complicated as you want them to be.
I’m now trying to figure out what it means to be happy. Sometimes that comes in the shape of my cat’s furry belly. Sometimes while dancing at 2 am for no reason. Sometimes while finishing a post I started six months ago.
I’m finally beginning to unwrap the bubble wrap from the last seven years. And it hasn’t been that bad.