As I enjoy my 40s of being single and watch my friends- single, married, divorced- and myself navigate love in all its forms, I keep coming back to the same conclusion- relationships are hard. As much as I love falling and being in love, the day-to-day of relationships is filled with compromise, stress, reality, while trying to keep it fresh, sexy and passionate. Don’t get it twisted, as I’ve aged, my expectations have changed, some might even say they’ve lowered. I don’t expect relationships to only be hot, sexy, steamy Fifty Shades of Grey. I appreciate the excitement of getting to know someone else and trying to merge lives, except now the reality of relationships seems even more real, or more hard.
In the decade of divorce, career changes, shared custody, and previous heartbreak, no one in or around my peer group comes to relationships unscathed or naïve, unless they’ve they have consciously withdrawn from the game- which has it’s own share of baggage. With a few decades of relationships under our belt, you’d think they would be easier to navigate, that surely with age we’ve learned from our mistakes and now really truly only appreciate the happy moments and the tedious annoyances of day-to-day fall to the wasteside- but alas, they’re not. Relationships are still hard, if not harder to start and more importantly maintain as the decades go on.
Through my clinical work, late night chats with best friends, and my own headaches in love- I am constantly reminded that we all struggle in relationships and that indeed, no matter our age, they can be hard.
But is hard really all that bad? Or is hard, what makes the juice real? Initially when getting to know someone we experience the excitement that comes with the freshness, newness, novelty of exploring another person- is the reality of that just impression management until we show the underbelly of who we really are? Then when the underbelly is revealed during those crazy moments, that hopefully while fleeting, nonetheless exist- for everyone. It seems as we age, we become more sensitive to these “warning signs” or “deal breakers” because God forbid we wrap up ourselves up into something emotional that likely won’t go anywhere and leave us heart broken. As we age, do we become more pessimistic, closed-off, or just plain lazy to not want to do the work or put up with the crazy to actually make relationships stick?
You read all this crap about how to date, whatever decade you are, and while much of it is about self-awareness, isn’t it mostly about finding a decent connection and if it seems worth it, putting up with the crazy and expecting that it’s going to be hard at times, even at the beginning when the sex is great! Most relationship or sex therapists seem to categorize women or men or come up with rules or strategies that are meant to guarantee a successful relationship. Well, I think this is all crap!! I know the science, but the fact is, relationships are hard, uncertain and never guaranteed- pretty much like everything valuable in life, including life itself. I’m not trying to get all existential here, but at the end of the day it does seem like a good place to start a dialogue if we all cut the crap and just acknowledge that as enlightened, balanced and healthy we may think we are, relationships are hard no matter how old and experienced we are. Getting through the hard bits, the crazy bits, the bits that make us question our own sanity when we look back on our behavior- this is the juice that build trust, make sex making love and fosters loyalty and longevity. This isn’t news, it’s not a strategy that we have to practice- it’s being realistic, not pessimistic, that while we want all the joys and fulfillment of relationships, we have to nurture them, be flexible, put up with bullshit every now and then. To think anything less is giving up and no matter how confident or put together anyone is, if you’re not open to putting up with or putting in the work, then enjoy those lonely nights.
Relationships are hard- at the start, the middle, and definitely the end- but they’re a major reason for living. So where does that leave us? Seems like we have to acknowledge relationships are hard, and keep trying, and trying and trying—because relationships are worth it- even if they’re hard.