I think even good relationships are … messy? For an enhanced reading experience, read while listening to “Looks Like Rain” by Passion Pit.
Two of my best friends are facing the ends of their lengthy and serious relationships. I, then, can’t help but reflect on the nature of relationships and commitment.
I’m the type of person who likes to believe in love. I like to believe in marriage and commitment and sticking it out together, no matter what. And when you face the end of a relationship like that, you can’t help but hear a small, muffled voice in the back of your head saying, “Love is dead.”
Because, I mean, you thought this was it. You played all the cards right, and you were in it for the long haul. And this was supposed to work.
It’s sad. I mean, obviously it’s sad. But that type of real, heart-breaking, unwanted, unexpected conflict, isn’t something that you feel every day—even if you think about it all the time.
I guess to a certain extent, I’m glad we feel it. It’s such a human feeling. It makes me feel real and alive and like the things I’m doing matter.
My two friends’ breakups are pretty different, but they both are still terribly in love with their partners. It’s not like their love disappeared or that their relationships were toxic. So it’s confusing. Why did this happen? Is it supposed to happen? If these relationship-threatening conflicts are coming up, does that mean they should end their relationships? Or is their relationship all the stronger and better for it if they choose to work through it and stay together?
It makes me think of my parents a lot. My parents always fought with each other, especially when I was a kid. I remember standing in the kitchen being ushered into the basement by my brothers because my mom was throwing pots and pans at my dad, saying that she was improving because she “wasn’t throwing breakables.” However, they just recently had their 38th anniversary this past weekend, and are much happier than they were back then. I’m glad they’re together. I never wanted them to split, despite all of that conflict. But I can’t say their relationship was healthy in those moments. So is their marriage a success? I love my family immensely, and I’m pretty close with almost all of them, so I guess that says something.
I’ve had a lot of friends whose parents divorced, and many of whom said it was the best thing for them and that life was better afterwards, many who said the conflict made their lives harder and more confusing. I’ve never had that experience, so I can’t speak to it, but I just want to note that not everyone’s parents are together, and sometimes, that’s for the best.
My parents’ relationship has improved a lot since then, but they certainly still fight. Many of the times they fought you’d hear a line like, “Your father/mother has been doing this for the past 30 years and they’ve never changed.” These huge fights and conflicts are things that have never been resolved, and their attitudes around them have never changed. Seemingly relationship-ending conflicts despite which they chose to stick together. Is that how you get to 30 years?
It makes me rethink my own relationships—past and current. It makes me think about the future of the relationship I’ll be in. We’ve had some smaller tiffs recently, most of which were combinations of my own insecurities, her and I having different objectives for the day, and miscommunication between us. Those come and go, they get resolved or don’t, and either way if you want to stay together you have to forgive each other and move on. These sort of relationship-ending and person-defining conflicts, like prioritizing career over relationships for instance, or not liking the people the other associates with—how do you move past those? Do they change or make the relationship fail? Can you accept those elements as parts of the relationship and still think it’s worth it?
There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your career over a relationship in your 20s. That conflict is so often relationship-ending. It’s either the relationship or the career. That theme is in countless movies and shows. Dichotomizing the issue, either choose work or choose me, forces a break up. Just because they prioritize their work doesn’t mean they don’t love you, or that they don’t want to be with you or that the relationship won’t work, but it does mean that you have to be okay with them prioritizing that work. And is that wrong? Are you settling for less by choosing to love them and be with them and support them despite the fact that they cancel your plans to do work?
I don’t mean to imply you should stay in a relationship where you are being neglected. If they are failing to meet your basic needs, and repeatedly trampling your emotions, manipulating you or treating you like you don’t matter, then that is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can come in various nuances and disguises too. I’m talking about a healthy situation in which you still feel where you are not being neglected.
If they still love you, and still make you feel loved, but just not as often as your brain tells you that you should want, which is constantly in my case, are you hurting yourself to choose to change your attitude and let that go? Or are you being a rational adult who is making a sacrifice for the person you love so that you can be together and be happy? Should a relationship require sacrifice? Is it possible for a relationship to continue without sacrifice?
These are big questions to me. People are so scared of settling in life because they see cases of people who settled but never had an attitudinal shift. But isn’t settling the basis for compromise and conflict resolution? Settling with the desire to settle in order to resolve, I suppose.
At the end of the day, the only information we have to go on are the relationships we’ve seen and experienced while growing up. And I think something about modern society that makes this so much more complicated is that we have an exponentially larger number of examples of what that relationship should look like. Movies, books, advertisements, songs, TV shows and comics are all inundated with flawed portrayals of the messiness of real life and even the messiness of loving, long- lasting relationships. Maybe our image was just skewed from what we saw, or didn’t see—not just in movies, but between our own parents, friends and lovers.
I don’t mean to imply that our collective childhood just screws us all up no matter what, I just mean that your past changes you.
Here’s the hopeful part: every day we get another chance to learn. Every day, the sun comes up, and we can make a choice for that day. We can decide whether our relationship has run its course and feel that pain, grow from it and move on; or we can decide to stay together. We can choose to look past the flaws of our loved one as they do the same for us and forgive each other and love the good parts and make that relationship work. But either way, we can do it.
So if you’re dumping someone you love, someone you hate, they’re doing that to you or you’re deciding to stay together and make this two-year, ten-year, 30-year or 3-month relationship work, I just want to say: you’re human. This is human. We are human. And it will be okay.
Alexander Schmidt is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a minor in communication studies. AS849426@wcupa.edu.