Are long term relationships attainable?
Isabel Langguth discusses long-term relationships and why they are not always sunshine and rainbows for everyone.
How we treat love today is fascinating; we capitalise on it; we praise it and sometimes we crap all over it. It seems entirely random – but every day without fail, someone will give up on love, while somewhere, someone else makes it their mission to find it. I have witnessed little in between those two extremes.
Some people will tell you to take it one step at a time, ‘go with the flow’ as it were:
It will happen when it happens.
Don’t rush anything.
There is someone out there for you; it just takes time.
But those people are almost certainly in relationships. So, screw them.
It is not possible that every person to ever end up in a loving, long-term relationship just sat around, knowing about the concept of time existing and then: POOF – Relationship, marriage, kids. And yet, I have both given and received this advice.
On the other hand, we all take single people’s advice with a grain or sometimes a truckload of salt. So how do we find lasting love? Are we even cut out for long term relationships? Evolutionary psychology will have you believe many things about long-term relationships and monogamy. Primarily, that women look for a long-term partner who can provide for and protect them, at least until their child is born. On the other hand, men are intended to have as many sexual partners as possible to pass their genes on to the next generation.
A quick glance at the relevant research or out of the nearest window will probably show you that this mostly no longer applies to relationships today. Women can take care of themselves, and very few people are going around trying to kill pregnant women, I hope. Not to mention LGBTQ+ relationships and an entire industry focused on preventing pregnancies (including the interesting but slightly terrifying development of testicle jacuzzies). With a rising and already overflowing population, whether or not a man passes on his genes will not be the be and end-all of humanity (highly unlikely at least).
It is clear that relationships now largely operate on the bases of companionship and love. Because emotion and a new sense of purpose and identity are now attached to relationships, they have arguably become the most central thing to our existence. We dedicate an extortionate amount of time to love. We read books about it, watch videos about how to gain it and how you might lose it. Most things we see and produce about love today are practical, making universal proclamations about things that are either our own experiences or just utter bullshit.
To see someone exist entirely for someone else petrified me
Love is not practical – I can say with certainty that it is actually one of the least practical things in the world; it has no rhyme or reason. And yet, we spend so much time trying to make a pseudoscience of it:
Here are 10 ways to tell if your crush likes you back.
Do this and any guy will fall for you.
Here are 5 things girls look for in a guy.
Such material largely ends up in the hands of teenagers and young adults. And I know that me and millions of others have, at one point, or another fed into this rhetoric. You want love? Ok well, do these things and you can get anyone – it’s so simple.
That was my first conception of love and long-term relationships. Gradually I was conditioned to believe that a long-term relationship must be the ultimate goal – that it equates to happiness and purpose. Looking back now, I am so relieved that I was too socially anxious to pursue a relationship with anyone as God knows what kind of situation that could have landed me in.
Only a few years later, my perception of what long-term relationships meant flipped on its head. I saw close friends get into relationships and completely change, cut off everyone, including family, and be completely under the control of their partners who made them feel nothing but insecure. To see someone exist entirely for someone else petrified me. I started to become acutely aware of the fact I couldn’t see one example of a relationship around me that was healthy and truly happy. It seemed all those books, tv shows and YouTube videos were lying. Relationships started to look like a means of control and oppression thinly veiled in a sense of validation, mistaken for happiness because someone likes me, someone wants me.
And so, an adversity to relationships started, one that I was not aware I had gripped onto tightly for years until the potential for one arrived sooner than I thought it would. Last year, over the second round of drinks at a pub in London on a post-lockdown high, my old A level Psychology tutor (now friend, although I might need a tutor again), having just finished her PhD in Clinical Psychology, told me: “Everyone who goes into Psychology is looking to fix something in themselves or someone else, usually, it’s something in them.” Naïvely, until that point, I had assumed I was the black sheep of psychology students. An undercover spy, working selfishly for her own means to cure whatever anxieties were bubbling under the surface, not knowing that in less than two months they would spring free.
I was shocked. I had never considered that it was glaringly obvious I was working to explain my faults and fears and, alongside many others, trying to prescribe clinical terms to complex emotions. I doubt it’s a revelation to anyone that this is far from healthy or useful.
‘So, what’s everyone trying to fix?’
‘Relationships usually. It’s almost always relationships. With their family, with their partners, with themselves. Everyone wants their relationships to last and maybe make them happy.’
We sat in that bar for hours. She cancelled a date later that night, and we drank and talked. I told her about the best friend (now boyfriend) whom I had overwhelming feelings for but was too terrified to do anything about. I described in painstaking detail what the last six months had been like. Mainly the inconsistent flirting, forcing friends into spontaneous therapy sessions, and ignoring what good advice came out of them. We chuckled over the date I had gone on in a feeble attempt to focus my feelings on someone else, then faking a family tragedy in a panicked effort to avoid a second date (if you’re reading this, I had a lovely time – I was just in love with someone else).
you will not find happiness in denying what you want – you might feel safer, but not happier
Then she told me about the Bumble phase she was in, off of the back of a fresh and still bruising breakup. She showed me texts and pictures of various prospective suitors (I did the generic reactions you do when you know you will likely never hear about a person again). We judged the men she wasn’t too fond of that were trying to weasel their way into something long term, determining that none were fit for the role of replacement boyfriend.
On one particular occasion, a man she had been on one date with felt the need to try and show up at her apartment with soup after she cancelled the date due to a cold. Both of us reacted as if he had proposed right then and there. We chuckled about her new irrational hatred of all things French (also the ex-boyfriend’s doing). I cackled at her embarrassed retelling of her too late realisation the week before that her therapist was indeed French after she had spent the better part of an hour si****ng on the entire country on one particularly bad post-breakup afternoon.
Towards the end of the night, I found myself marvelling at the fact that despite the 10 years between us, and wildly different life experiences (mine bordering on none), we had revealed striking similarities in our views on long term relationships and how such views had flited from one extreme to the other over such short periods of time. And yet, while we both currently saw no hope in relationships, we continued to date, or express interest in people, just creating more dissonance and stress within ourselves.
We were both clinging on to either someone else’s experiences or our own – and clearly not helping ourselves or our prospects of successful relationships through doing so. After that conversation, I went away to Cornwall for a while – I spent a lot of time alone on that trip, trapped in my own head thinking about what I wanted, and whether the risk of f*****g up a friendship is worth the small chance of success that long-term relationships supposedly hold.
I came back home and a few weeks later I made a move on my best friend, and it went well. The next morning, I freaked out and I told him: ‘Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a few weeks, this is usually the part where I freak out.’ Of course, all that did was panic him. But the freak out didn’t come until a few months later, and so I kept seeing him and everything was great.
When the panic did come, it was about the relationship I wasn’t even officially in yet, and so I started to push him away because of how much I wanted to make it work. Luckily, over the past few months, with the help of a great therapist, I managed to fix a large part of my perception of relationships and get to a point that was actually realistic. I found a middle ground where I didn’t think everything was doomed to fail or meant a loss of freedom and at the same time didn’t equate my self-worth or sense of identity to my relationship status.
I wish I had realised earlier what extremes we tend to go through when it comes to relationships and our search love. Finding that middle ground that many of us seem to ignore would have been useful a long time ago – frankly, it would have saved me a lot of emotional turmoil, self-hatred, and guilt. Some people are made for long term relationships, some people aren’t, but it has nothing to do with past or present experiences; what suits people to long term relationships is whether they want that other person enough to be vulnerable.
It’s the sacrifice you have to make; to keep being vulnerable again and again until you do it for the right person. That might be on the first try or it might be on the 50th – unfortunately, there is no way of knowing. But I can assure you: you will not find happiness in denying what you want – you might feel safer, but not happier.