If my other half is beside me when I die at the age of ninety, it will come as quite a surprise. Not just surprising that I’ll have lived until ninety, which is unlikely given my lifestyle. It will come as a surprise that we haven’t yet split up.
My Mum is horrified that I can simultaneously love this man more than I’ve loved any other, and also believe that one day we’ll split up. She thinks that it is oxymoronic to say ‘I love you, and also I don’t think we’ll be together forever.’ But it is the only way to express my love that makes any sense to me.
All relationships end. Even discounting ‘death’ as a reason for a relationship ending, still the vast majority of relationships will end. Happy ones, unhappy ones, and all those in between. People grow and change, and their life goals change with them. What they enjoy changes too. At university I used to live for Wednesday night student comedy: now I live for Friday-night sexual hedonism and trips to Homebase on Saturday morning. These are facile examples, but there are bigger ones. If I wanted and loved the same things now as I did ten years ago, I’d be quite the outlier.
People change. People grow. People make new choices in light of new experiences and information.
And people often split up.
Don’t make me lose faith in love!
A while ago I had a conversation with a good friend about my other half. I was telling her some of the problems we were having at the time, and she groaned and put her head in her hands.
“But you always seemed so happy!” she told me. “Don’t make me lose my faith in love!”
She was genuinely shaken that all wasn’t sunshine-and-roses in Mark and GOTN’s house. That we fought, bitched, and spent anxious nights awake wondering how to repair the crack put in our relationship from the latest horrible fight.
I was reminded of this today when news of Chris Pratt and Anna Faris deciding to separate hit the internet. There was a collective howl of ‘noooooo! Not THEM!’ and some people proclaimed that if even Chris and Anna couldn’t make it work, then love was dead for all of us.
CAN WE TALK ABOUT THIS PLEASE. pic.twitter.com/IqE4nvigR0
— Girl on the Net (@girlonthenet) August 7, 2017
A few people on Twitter asked me who Chris Pratt and Anna Faris were, and why we should care about their break-up, the implication being that we shouldn’t be discussing the private lives of famous people and/or that any discussion surrounding their relationship is irrelevant. So I just wanted to head a little of this off at the pass:
- Who are they? Chris Pratt and Anna Faris are Hollywood actors who were married (now separated). As well as being Hollywood actors, they have in the past been very public about their love. Every now and then, a cute video of one or other of them explaining how much they loved their spouse went viral, and lots of people on the internet retweeted it and said ‘awww’ or even ‘I want a love like Chris + Anna’s.’
- Why should we care about their break up? There’s no reason why you as an individual should, but lots of people do, because – as above – many have looked at the way Chris and Anna talk about and to each other and have aspired to having a relationship like theirs.
That’s also why I’m writing about it, FYI. While their relationship isn’t something I’d ever given more than a passing thought to, I’m fascinated by the way people have reacted to (and covered) news of their split. I think the reaction shows that there are plenty of people who believe that relationships are only successful if they last forever, and I believe it’s worth tackling these beliefs, because they are harmful. In the same way I think it’s worth discussing the weird news that Mike Pence won’t eat dinner with any women other than his wife. I only add this because some people on twitter have told me I shouldn’t care about this, or write about this, or talk about this, because it’s only celeb gossip so ‘who cares?’
I care. I think the discussion around it highlights a problem in the way we talk about love, and I would like to offer a counterpoint. It’s an important part of what I do, so please don’t tell me to stop.
Love is not dead
When I was younger I used to think that the end of a relationship was like the end of the world. When my first boyfriend cheated on me, it felt like a cataclysmic betrayal – one I would never fully recover from. Although I’d been wavering about how much – and whether – I really loved him, the second he broke my heart I realised that I’d loved him deeply and eternally, and I would never again meet someone as perfect for me as he was. The end of that relationship was the end of my world.
Later, I fell in love with someone else. Wholly and completely. My love for this guy made the love I’d had before seem like so much pale, weak nothing. Then that relationship ended, and my heart turned to stone permanently, because if I couldn’t make love work with this man – the Love Of My Life – then surely love itself was a bitter, miserable lie.
Then I met someone else and… you get the idea.
I don’t say any of this to trivialise break-ups: I’m trying to illustrate how significant they are, that they can not only make us miserable and potentially mean we lose faith in one person, but that they can make us lose faith in the entire concept of relationships, love and togetherness.
I think this is because we’ve been sold one crucial lie:
Love is only worthwhile if it lasts forever.
Eternal togetherness is not always romantic
Most major love stories end with either death or a glorious sunset. We either see our protagonists dying or we see them smiling together before the camera fades out. The implication being, of course, that they go on to live long and happy lives together forever.
It’s not hard to see why we think relationships have ‘failed’ if they end – the language of eternity is coded into so much of our romantic narrative. I will love you until the end of time. Always and forever. Til death do us part.
It’s not seen as romantic to say ‘I will love you until I stop loving you,’ but to me that’s the only true thing I can say with passion and conviction when I’m swapping cute words with my other half. To the example I used at the beginning: if, one day far into the future, I die in his arms, it will come as a surprise. A lovely surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. My dying brain will register the statistical improbability that two people could remain in love and happy for such a long time, and could have both worked hard enough and/or been lucky enough to survive all the obstacles that life throws in their path.
There are two alternatives to this scenario: the first is that we split up sometime before I die – in my opinion the most likely outcome. The second is that we stay together not because we actually want to, but because we feel like we should. At some point – either officially (til death do us part!) or unofficially (I will stay with you forever!) we make a promise to be together forever regardless of what changes in our lives. Regardless of what either one of us might want at any given time. It means I wake up each morning and am secure in the knowledge that he won’t leave me… even if he’s fucking miserable.
I don’t want that.
I do understand that marriage – or other forms of partnership that require a ‘forever’ promise – don’t necessarily mean you have to wake up to this depressing thought each day. But for me that is what it represents: a decision to stay together because staying together is paramount. If your promise to be together forever were actually eternally binding, that deathbed scenario is no longer romantic – it’s inevitable.
Break-up does not equal failure
Alongside my perhaps pessimistic interpretation of ‘eternal love’ promises, there come the practical things. If we equate the end of a relationship with failure, or proclaim that ‘love is dead’ because it didn’t happen to last for decades, we immediately obscure or trash a lot of things that may be incredibly worthwhile.
This partner might have helped you overcome a really difficult time in your life. That one may have helped you start a business, or pay off your debts, or learn a new hobby. You might have raised a child together who goes on to do something badass and world-changing. You might have just spent lots of evenings in front of the TV chatting shit and eating biscuits, or having wild BDSM sex, or doing whatever it is that brings joy to your life.
Sure, you’ll have had your bad times too, and maybe those bad times eventually add up to causing more net sadness than they do joy, but usually a break-up is an acknowledgement that the net sadness is now outweighing the joy. The implication, surely, being that the joy was well worth it in the beginning. Of course not all relationships are a net positive – there are some that are abusive, harmful and destructive – but these are not the relationships I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about the mundane, everyday reasons people break up: they met someone else, they fell out of love, they grew apart and can’t find anything new in common. Their partner changed and they lost interest, or vice versa. They found that arguing was easier than loving each other, and they decided to quit before they got bitter. Or after, and then regretted their late decision.
These relationships didn’t necessarily ‘fail’ – they ended. They may have been supportive and kind and valuable before that. If we tout them as ‘failures’ then we reinforce our unrealistic narratives around romantic love. We imply that the vast majority of people are either bad at relationships or unworthy of ‘true’ love.
We assert that in order to be truly real, love must do what no other human emotion can: it must stay the same forever.
Love is not dead because two people fell out of it.