Last week I grabbed coffee with a longtime friend. She had moved in with her boyfriend of five years the previous summer, and I asked whether she and “Joey” would be interested in coming to a pregame that weekend.
“Actually, I didn’t want to bring it up,” she said, “but Joey and I broke up.”
Of course I immediately apologized and offered my condolences before she sketched the relationship’s biography, cover to cover. No, there hadn’t been cheating, at least in the CliffsNotes version. And one wasn’t moving halfway across the country and long-distance wasn’t for them. They had simply discovered this was the end. As in, “I love you, but I don’t think I love you forever.”
I wanted to stand up in this coffee shop and give a slow clap. Kudos to the couple who pulls the plug before the lamp burns out.
Now I don’t advocate fleeing relationship the moment a spark dims. Romance will not always be passion, and you are shortsighted and unfit for the long-term if you think the moment the butterflies go to bed that you should go to bed with someone else, too (or leave or stop investing in the relationship, etc.). Love is about commitment, not just desire and fun. That’s what makes it sacred. It’s more than a fling.
On that note, you should not remain if you’ve devolved to complacency. If your partner bores you or it is just easier to stay together than to find a path apart, then you need to rethink your current status. A breakup is difficult, but a life of doldrums is more terrible.
In your twenties, you are suddenly surrounded by couples who have been together for half a decade if not longer or shorter and just as invested. The statuses of these couples can be broken into several, not necessarily mutually exclusive categories: “Engaged," “happy and healthy,” “growing healthier than they have been,” “SOS: not recommended,” and, finally, “they’re just together because why not?”
The last category is what harkens today’s warning. A couple of years ago I decided that my number one phobia is not spiders or heights; it’s complacency. My nightmare is growing comfortable with an existence that could be improved. We must always be challenging ourselves with how we can better things.
This is why I dislike messes – boxes in the center of a room, dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor, etc. It’s not the disorder that alarms me; it’s the fear we may adjust to the conditions and never make an effort to fix the mess, that one day we’ll tell a visitor to our apartment that “oh, it’s always been that way.”
Relationships should challenge themselves in the same way. More often than never, I’ve seen friends grow lackluster in their feelings for their significant other and do nothing. They complain about them, they avoid them, and/or maybe they cheat. Or they just admit they’re unhappy for nameless reasons, but never consider their relationship the culprit. But it is the heaviest, wettest blanket to be attached to someone who you have waning compassion for.
But then, a few months later, their proposal pops up on your newsfeed. A ring, congratulations, and wedding planning make the dullness disappear for a season. And you attend the ceremony because that’s what friends do. But you wonder, are they really happy? Or have they suppressed their drunken confessions from a year ago? Should you object to the union? Maybe in a drunken toast so you’ll be forgiven after the annulment?
But you sit quietly (after visiting the open bar) and think of the adults you know who have suffered through a listless marriage for decades and still trudge along…because why not? At least I do. I know a handful of middle-aged, married couples whose one half has told me they would not be together if they could go back and do it over, or else their child knows this and tells me the same.
And that’s sad. While life is long in terms of human perspective and experience, it’s still your only life. I’d rather be alone and have a hope of something more than endure an uninspiring relationship for years, until the other dies or the kids graduate or whatever (the usual timeline offered), if only because I was in my twenties and should be getting engaged and having kids by now (the usual rationale proffered).
But I think we all know that about myself. And perhaps I’m being overdramatic. Hopefully not that many people sustain the vapid reality I just described. But you must protect yourself. Fight against complacency. It’s human nature to seek comfort even if it costs us happiness.
This is why I recommend if you’re in a “serious” relationship, you should ask yourself at a certain point, “Am I here because I’m happy, because I’m in love, or am I here because it’s expected, because it’s easier than leaving and finding something better?”
That is why I privately cheered for my friend who broke up with her boyfriend. They had moved in together. By all calculations and palm readings, he would propose by spring, and they would marry in the following year. But they got off the train. Because they recognized they no longer wanted to be on the train and told the conductor (aka each other).
I am totally simplifying. I wasn’t in their bedroom when they had their last fights. And certainly, leaving your significant other is not the bliss you wanted or the future your grandma saw. But now your schedule’s free for other, better trains—trains with solo tickets or trains where you’ll meet someone in the next car. Or maybe you’ll take a plane.
Either way, it’s worth considering, “Is this the right train? Or did I grab the wrong ticket?” Say something now before it pulls away. It only gets harder with each mile. Happy Valentine’s Day.