Don’t Judge Your Relationship’s Success By Its Longevity, and Quit Searching for ‘The One’
“What are we?” “Where is this going?” “Is there a future for us?”
These are not only the questions I used to ask my partner, but they’re questions that led to many sleepless nights.
I was so worried about labeling my relationship and looking towards the future that I couldn’t enjoy the time I was spending with my significant others in the present.
I get it, though. If you only live in the present, you won’t be prepared for the future. If you want to have a life with someone, you need to plan accordingly. Things don’t magically work in a relationship unless you make them work. Especially when in your 20s and 30s, a time when your life may feel unstable and in flux. Then it’s even more crucial to plan ahead.
So there’s a fine balance. One that I was only able to discover when I became polyamorous.
Last year I dated a man who had a wife. Not only did I date him, I ended up living with both of them. After folks got over the initial shock of me telling them my living arrangement, they would inevitably ask some variation of “So where do you see your relationship going?”
I know why they asked this. For one, he and I couldn’t get married. He was already married. In fact, they had been married for eight years when he became my boyfriend. Having kids would be another issue — not impossible by any stretch of the imagination, but difficult. We’d have to hammer out the logistics. Who would raise them? Would his wife automatically be the bearer of my children or would we go through a surrogate? How involved are each of us going to be?
And then, of course, folks loved to ask all the “What happens if…?”
What if his wife needs to move for work and he packs up for another town? What if he falls in love with someone else while you’re dating him? What if his wife decides she no longer wants to be polyamorous? And so on and so forth.
I couldn’t even begin to answer these questions. I had no idea what my “endgame” was, let alone what would happen if something unexpected occurred. All I knew was that I loved him and loved dating him. Our living arrangement, while it had some minor troubles, actually worked out really well for the three of us. Better than any other living situation I had experienced prior.
While I didn’t know how to answer any of these questions, I knew unequivocally that I was happy and in the most loving, supportive and fulfilling relationship that I had ever been in. It helped me realize and fully accept that longevity doesn’t define a successful relationship. This is something Dan Savage stresses time and time again in his podcast Savage Love, and it’s something I can’t emphasize enough.
While my boyfriend and I ended up separating, we’re still best friends. He lives in Boston but still visits me in New York all the time. I look back fondly on all the time we spent together.
If I’d had a set “endgame” with him, I don’t think I’d be able to look back as fondly as I do now. The reason being? I would have failed. If the endgame was dating until one of us died, then I didn’t achieve the goal of my relationship. But since my goal was to cherish the time I spent with him, I view that relationship as a success. In other words, without an endgame, we couldn’t fail.
This mindset has definitely seeped into how I view all of my relationships now, regardless of whether my partner and I decide to be monogamous, polyamorous, open or something else.
I no longer am consumed with how much time we spend together, but rather the quality of the time we spend together. While this hackneyed adage may sound easy, it’s really not. The gold standard society uses to determine a successful relationship is longevity. You could be in a miserable marriage for 40 years, hating every single moment of your life, but people will look at that marriage and automatically deem it a success simply because you remained married for four decades.
Also, parents. I’m sure my mother and father want me to settle down and have kids. (It’s like, am I not good enough that you need to have grandkids?) Parents are obsessed with seeing their child “settled.” Of course, settled to them means being in a committed, long-term relationship and pumping out a few rugrats.
Whether we like it or not, the pressure we have from our families — as well as society at large — seeps into our subconscious. So it’s often difficult not to be consumed by notions of “the one” and how long the relationship will last.
I believe that in the past this was better for gay men. We existed outside of these heteronormative relationship ideals. But as we gained more rights, like the right to marry, we have become more susceptible to heteronormative ideologies of dating, life and love. When you couldn’t get married because you were a man who wanted to marry another man, there obviously wasn’t a push from your parents to do so. When you couldn’t adopt, there wasn’t the push to have kids.
Now there is.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m of course thrilled with how far we’ve come in the past half-century. We absolutely deserve the right to marry and have children. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we should feel pressured to do so simply because straight folks are obsessed with the institution of marriage and procreation.
We can and should still define a successful relationship on our own terms.
Now, when someone asks me what my endgame is, regardless of whom I’m dating, I reply confidently, “I have absolutely no clue.”
How do you think one should accurately measure relationship success?
This article was originally published on Oct. 4, 2017. It has since been updated.