Rest Stops on the Relationship Road

Breakups are hard.

Even good breakups are difficult — the ones where you both say “hey, this really isn’t working, let’s stop wasting time and energy and it’s agreed upon. Because any relationship that has ventured far enough into intimacy to where a break-up is possible did so with the hope of something. A hope of deeper connection, or security, or support, whatever it was, at the point where you stop trying to make it into that thing there is a sense of loss. A door closed, a possibility that is no longer.

And that’s unfortunate, because in order to get there in the first place, things had to change. Why can’t they change the other way?

Escalators Go Both Ways

Think about it: first you are strangers. You don’t know each other, because you haven’t met yet.

Then things change, because you meet. At that point you have become acquainted, which makes you acquaintances, and you may or may not like each other. Whether you do or not really doesn’t matter, because it’s not based on anything other than conditioned responses, biases, and good-old-fashioned biological imperatives.

Because you don’t know each other yet. But you may decide it’s worth finding out more, and so things change again. Maybe it’s dating, maybe it’s friendship, maybe it’s working together on some project, maybe it’s all three. But again, it’s a gradual thing, full of I never knew that about you and wow, me too! and thank you for sharing that.

If you’re into what’s known as “the relationship escalator”, the analogy is that things keep taking you higher. I’m not a fan of that metaphor, myself, because of the hierarchical nature and the way our society tends to equate height with virtue.

I’m also not fond of it because there’s this idea that you’re traveling up smoothly and that’s all good…but never an acknowledgment that escalators go down, too.

Taking a Journey of Love

Let’s try a different metaphor. Let’s call it the Love Road. When you start on the love road, you’re coming out of a comfy house — maybe it’s a prior relationship, maybe it’s your parents’ home, maybe it’s something else — but you find someone to go on the road with you, and in the beginning, the only shelter you have is the Car of Acquaintance. It’s a very easy thing to get in and out of, it can go a lot of places, but you don’t really spend a lot of time in it, and when you do you’re pretty alert for dangers.

Maybe at a certain point you decide it’s worth making a stop on the road to relax a little more. Maybe this is a tentative date, like pitching a tent overnight at a campground, or maybe it’s a more fancy place like a resort, but either way it’s just a temporary bit of fun, not a place you’d stay forever, or something sustainable. That’s when we’re putting our best face forward, trying to impress our partner but also trying to hide the imperfections that we fear will alienate them.

At some point we have to leave the resort, and get back on the road…but if that short respite was fun, it’s natural to think “Maybe we could do more of that…longer?

And that’s when you (in this metaphorical journey of love) rent a place together — you’re in a relationship, you’re not quite at that big commitment phase, but this is making a shared space together. Maybe it does get to the point where you have enough security that you have a relationship house together, built to include closets and basements and cubbies to store the things you only take out for special occasions.

With any luck, you’ve built well, and you can stay there for a long time.

But no matter how well you build, nothing is forever.

Moving Relationships to New Homes

At the risk of making the metaphor even more ridiculous, people have to move for any number of reasons. Maybe rent got too high. Maybe the house has three stories and they can’t go up the stairs. Maybe the climate is no longer suitable. Whatever the reason, people have to leave their nice houses.

The question is: do you leave and go your separate ways, forever on the road? Or do you find another place to live?

Either one is a valid decision. Sometimes it’s not smart to try and maintain a giant mansion with servants and more rooms than you can count. Downsizing sometimes improves the quality of life, or the quality of a relationship, with the knowledge that some people are much better lovers than partners, or friends than lovers, or acquaintances than deep friends.

I guess the idea I’m trying to promote here is that instead of looking at tents and hotels and apartments and houses and mansions as better or worse than each other, maybe look at them as each good for a particular kind of experience. And the journey of love is a long road with stops at all kinds of domiciles, and just because you’re in one doesn’t mean you won’t end up in another at some point, and that’s ok.

If you have the privilege of being able to pick out the experience you want to have, don’t hamstring yourself by assuming that any change represents loss.

Change is change. And a lot of whether it’s bad or good depends on the metaphor we choose.

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