Frank and I have been spending a lot of time apart lately. Which is fine, I mean, it’s not like we have to do everything together. I’ve gone out with my friends and he’s been too tired to come, one of us has gone to bed early when the other wanted to stay up, after work socializing, gym classes, whatever. It’s totally normal, especially considering how much time we spent together with the move and the trip to California.
But it just makes me realize how easy it would be to grow apart and not even realize it for a while. With different schedules and different friends, two cohabiters could be past the point of no return, relationship-wise, before they even really noticed that there was a problem. I guess I’m kind of freaked out because I realized that I don’t personally know anyone whose marriage has worked.
That’s not true—my parents are still together, as are the parents of lots of people I know. But I mean people close enough to my own age to seem like exemplars. The couple that I used to think were proof that marriage could work I recently found out are separating. I have friends my age who are married, but they’re all basically newlyweds. I don’t personally know anyone who has been hitched for five to ten years.
It’s funny, just as I started to warm up to the idea of getting married, it turns out that maybe I was right all along—people change just enough over the course of their lives that partners just naturally grow apart. I see lots of married couples five to ten years older than me in my new neighborhood, but they all have kids. I know it’s a total stereotype that Park Slope is rife with babies and dogs, and I knew it would be, but holy cow. I don’t know anyone that’s spawned, and I just can’t help but wonder if it’s more difficult to keep a relationship going long-term without at some point having something other than the two of you to focus on.
It definitely seems easier to come to the decision to split up if you don’t have to think about how it’ll affect your kids. Maybe that’s got more to do with it than anything—the childless are just freer to make the decisions they’d want to make for themselves. Which is a good thing? I guess? But given that I plan to keep my genetics to myself, what does that mean for me?
On the one hand, I’d hate to think anyone would stick with their significant other just because they’d made a promise to, or because they were scared to be alone or something like that. But on the other hand, it seems really sad to me that so many relationships end, or that without some outside-yet-shared responsibility and focus (like kids) that there’s just not enough glue in most pairs to keep things going.I swear, I’ve always been cynical about this sort of crap, assuming that Frank and I would break up at some point and insisting that it’s not sad to think about that because growth and change are good and human and that it’s okay to admit that people don’t necessarily mate for life. I thought that my whole life, and it’s one of the main reasons I’ve always thought marriage was stupid and pointless. For old me, it was far worse to contemplate being stuck in a loveless relationship than to imagine something long-term ending.
I don’t know what changed exactly, but at some point over the last year or two, my perspective has shifted. I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what everyone says when I explain this to them: hormones. Maybe it is hormones, though it does feel a little bit like that kind of anti-feminist reductionism where all lady feelings are hysterical and hormone-driven and all dude feelings are the product of self-reflection and philosophy and heroic urges.
Anyway. My point is I’ve gradually gone from saying “when we break up” to “if we break up” to not thinking like that at all, and the realization that probably I was right the first time makes me sad. I, like everyone in the world, like to imagine that my friends are different, that we’re going to be the ones who live long, untroubled lives with their partners. I realize that this is illogical, just as my shift from life-long cynicism to stupid-yet-socially-acceptable optimism is illogical. But then how does it even make sense to apply logic to patently irrational things like human relationships?
And the standard hope for the best but expect the worst compromise cynicism doesn’t even work here. It’s pretty binary—you either think that it’s possible for people to like the same person their whole lives or you don’t.Ugh. I don’t like seeing my friends go through sad times. Relationships are complicated. Life is complicated. The end.