It’s a funny thing, getting into a new relationship. It begins with a certain amount of intensity—the chats, the sex the closeness—but it isn’t sustainable. Intimacy is of course a necessary part of a relationship, yes. But there has to be some give. The elastic band of infinity that keeps those people stretching away and springing back together for whatever length of time they exist as a ‘thing’.
Nor is it a bad thing. Its a really great thing! It just takes an exercise in perspective. To see it for what it is and not attach too much meaning to the space expanding between you.
This is ‘The honeymoon period’—and the aftermath. Those magical few weeks or months where you can’t get enough of each other, constantly trying to snatch time together. Everything is great because real life has been suspended.
And this what is not sustainable: You feel close because you are sharing a lot of time. In this initial phase you are exploring each other. You feel like you are baring it all—mentally and physically—there isn’t anything they don’t know about you. Or you them.
Except there is. There is loads. Because we all believe in the ‘best foot forward’ mode of dating. You are polished and presented. Or more likely waxed and buffed and moisturised to within an inch of your life. And the best part? You don’t have to even hide the bad stuff because you are walking on a cloud where you have found the person you want, and they want you back. Life is fucking bliss.
Then in rolls the real world. They’re belligerent, casting a torturous eye over you as they take off their leather glove and slap you across the face with it. With entitled ease they walk through your hastily constructed bubble of sex and joy and dismantle the whole shoddy thing.
And you wonder what the fuck is happening. You had a good handle on things, why do you feel so out of control.
Because this is actual life. The one where there are responsibilities and deadlines. You, the coveted shiny new toy, are now just one amongst many many things that form a line-up of personal duty. Flip it round, same goes for you.
Plates need to keep spinning, and your relationship becomes just one of the many that must be jiggled to keep it so. Gaps in your knowledge become more apparent. The relationship ideal gets shattered and you have to piece together the remains with yet more new elements piled on top. Like a jigsaw puzzle with only half the pieces available, and no box to refer to.
So what you do is you take your sense of reason and logic and apply it to this new person. Understand that they are their own person and you just need to get to know them allover again. You see the gaps and you patiently wait for them to be filled as you learn and grow together.
Like fuck you do.
Nope, the alternative is so much more damaging, and so much more likely to happen.
You start to see them prioritise other things in their life over you. No longer are they emphatically saying “yes!” to the suggestion of a hangout. They have to be up early in the morning, they have other things to attend to.
Now, those among us with a robust character (for this read aware and comfortable of their own worth) can see this and think, “That is disappointing, but ok I have things to be getting on with. I have a life/chores/friends/a career. We’ll see each other soon.”
For others this is not so simple. That little bubble has become their safe space, and they are not willing to part with it, however hard reality hits. For ten glorious minutes, they thought that they had found it. The tonic that would forever soothe all ailments.
“Real life has been beaten hasn’t it? What the fuck is it doing standing in front of me right now?”
This may seem sort of pathetic. It kind of is. And I won’t lie; this has definitely been me. Many times. But the truth is that we all want that. Some of us are better equipped to deal with laying down expectations and facing reality, knowing it is the only option we have.
For when a relationship moves from the ecstatic bubble into real life, the super idealistic had best get their fucking act together, and hold on for dear life. Borrow some logic, take a chill pill and calm the fuck down. If not, these little vignettes of pure bliss will be the only kind of relationships ever known. A dating life strewn with exes rubbing their heads and saying: “What the fuck was that?”
For it was truly going so well. That much cannot be doubted. But in failing to practice this skill, the person who thinks they have beaten reality, won at life, will either slide into depression or rage.
Either way; we have the big cold world to deal with. And it is a shock. Again. It always will be, unless the lesson is learned.
And this is it: Your self-worth is not wrapped up in another person. Your self-love comes from you alone. You cannot farm it out to the person you want to spend your life with. It cannot be done adequately by another. And if it could, it would be exhausting for them.
But there is more to it. When you love yourself, you are able to look at the world around you and see it as a game, as opposed to a war. Low self-esteem and lack of self-love drives the desire for universal approval. An unattainable goal where we morph into an effigy of all our faults—real or imagined. If we constantly want the world to tell us we’re great, we will come unstuck.
And so it follows; we cannot expect our partner to mirror our positives back to us. It is a fool’s errand.
So when we learn to feel that we are enough, and love ourselves wholeheartedly, we not only perceive the world as less of a threat to our identity. We start to see the people who truly love us for who we are. And herein lies the key.
Say you are in a new relationship. It is going well, very well. But after a while you begin to feel neglected. When you love yourself, you are willing and able to stand up and ask for what you want in a calm and rational manner. And if you don’t feel it is working for you anymore, you walk away. No drama or long drawn out days of sadness and indecision. No games.
There is a marvellous stand-up routine by comedian Daniel Sloss where he discusses the “jigsaw pieces” of life. This brilliant analogy came to him via his father when, at age 7, Sloss asked him about the meaning of life. Everyone is trying to build their own jigsaw puzzle, but we have all tragically lost the box. So we must work diligently to figure out the picture. This is our mission. The comic notes that, when it comes to the relationship piece, people are often so afraid to be alone, so depleted in self-love, they often stay in an unhappy relationship. Just so they are not seen as “broken” (i.e – alone). The societal status quo is: if you are in a relationship, you have succeeded. And if you are of an age where everyone is settling down and you aren’t… Well, you’ve failed.
This fear perpetuates the necessity for us to crowbar incompatible pieces into our puzzles. Or even to take pieces that do fit, but to place them at the centre when they actually go elsewhere. This leads to our denying the true image we should be creating, in place of an image you think that the world would approve of. Or understand.
Another way we can trip ourselves up is through our own expectations. If they are rigid about desired outcomes, it is likely that our coping strategies will be found wanting when reality does not match up. Thomas Oppong muses on this in his article ‘The Expectation Trap’.
“Many people can’t get over their disappointments because they are hung up over what reality should be — a single perception or lens with which they see the world.”
I would heavily recommend you read the full piece as it’s very insightful. Oppong terms this “dichotomous thinking”, where every expectation either ‘is’ or ‘isn’t’. Just black and white outcomes no room for grey.
Having expectations is healthy, it is how we measure the scope of our future, and adequately set goals. Without them we would have nothing to aim for. When seeking a partner expectations gives us a list of attributes we admire, or detest, and we can set about learning how these will fit with our own. We can assess and redress where needed. This is great, but when black and white outcomes are the game, the thinker can quickly become debilitated. This, combined with a lack of self-love can cause the world to come crashing down around you at regular intervals.
Now, there is no way to tell if the person you are with is going to be a ‘lifer’. All you can know is: The new relationship bubble is not ‘it’. There is more coming. But armed with a healthy sense of perspective, humour, and a great deal of self-love, you can approach everything with a baseline of serenity. The new partner you like so much? Meet them where they are at. Be curious, not furious. Don’t attach meaning to everything they do because you wouldn’t have done it like that, and don’t expect them to save or coddle you. No one is going to do that, it’s up to you.
So act now. Be kind to yourself and learn to love yourself wholeheartedly. Learn and respect the differences between you and your partner. Set expectations but don’t die by them. Therein lies the safety net. Don’t go about haphazardly creating bubbles, ignoring the fact that soon they will burst, leaving nothing. And please—for the love of your sanity—don’t cling to the shattered ‘was’. Move forward, see that entire new world of potential just past that bliss bubble. One where you get to learn and understand an entire other person. Unendingly. You are being inaugurated into a never ending journey of discovery. And the only way to get through that is to stop putting labels on their actions based on your feelings. To ask for what you want, and be clear on how you want to be treated. Ask questions to understand their own position. Get curious, not furious.
And if it doesn’t work out, you can leave with your head held high. No long drawn out sadness. No drama. No games.