We live in an age of growing efficiency. As technology continues to quicken our access to just about everything, including sexual and emotional gratification, words like “patience” and “slow” are increasingly rendered obsolete.
And, yet, when it comes to dating, we’re told to “take things slowly”, to “keep our options open”, to “wait”, to “chill out”. By the same token, we’re taught that the emotional value of a relationship is relative to its duration.
I’m sure you’ve all been there. A friend meets someone, gets wrapped up in a whirlwind romance that seems ill-fated from the start and, after a month or so, you’re there on the doorstep with a box of Kleenex and a bottle of pinot. When discussing the events with your other mates, at a later date, someone will pipe up and say, “It was only a month – why are they making such a big deal about it?” or, “Why are they so upset? They barely even knew them.”
Now, there’s a lot to unpick here, not least the labelling of emotions as “wrong” or “incorrect”. But, for the purposes of this rant, I’ll stick to the following: your emotional attachment to someone doesn’t necessarily relate directly to the longevity of your partnership.
Here’s why. Yes, when it comes to relationships and codependency, getting used to living apart from someone when your routines and habits have become so intertwined is tough. It takes time. But I’ve also seen and experienced long relationships that have run their course emotionally or reached their logical conclusion. In those cases, the aftermath is more of a logistical complexity than an affair of the heart. Where will the person live? Will their friendship group split? How will they divide their shared possessions? Who will keep the cat?
The difficulty, when ending a relationship near to its beginning, is that you are left with so many unanswered questions. So many ifs and buts. So many unfulfilled fantasies that are now relegated to your imagination. What were their friends like? Would your parents have liked them? Would they have enjoyed that pizza place you wanted to take them to? What would they have been like to live with? How would it have felt to allow yourself to be vulnerable with them? To trust them with your feelings?
There is no fixed equation for attachment and trying to suggest otherwise is not only harmful, it’s total bullshit
Now, I’m not here to argue that one scenario is more difficult to weather than the other – they both have their own unique challenges and benefits. But what I do want to say is that it’s time to stop minimising people’s emotions based on something as trivial as the passing of time. Because I am absolutely certain of the fact that, in the history of the world, there have been great loves that were never quite fulfilled that are just as emotionally valuable as long, and relatively uneventful, couplings that have rumbled on for decades. There is no fixed equation for attachment, and trying to suggest otherwise is not only harmful but it’s total bullshit. People in long-term partnerships don’t have a monopoly on melancholy. They don’t have the exclusive right to heartbreak. And, sometimes, mourning what could have been is just as painful as mourning what was.
So, next time someone in your vicinity derides a pal’s lack of emotional elasticity when coping with the break-up of a short-term fling, remind them that everyone’s experience of the world is different, and nobody gets to decide what heartbreak looks or feels like. We’re all in this together, lads, and the least we can do is be compassionate.