I grew up in a family with very strict catholic values – you didn’t have sex before marriage and once married, you were supposed to stay together till death do you part. This ideal was strengthened by Disney movies and kids’ stories that always ended with a vision of a blissful couple living happily ever after – in a perfect harmony of a loving, compatible relationship. And yes, my parents are still together.
I, on the other hand, could be at this stage qualified as a spinster by their standards.
According to a quick internet search, a spinster is “a sour woman who is unable to find a husband”. But somehow, I don’t feel that this definition fits me. Or the other millions of people who remain uncoupled in the modern day. Because you see, a lot has changed in a space of just one generation…
Of course, a lot of single people want to be in a relationship.
And meeting other singles is now easier than ever with abundance of social websites, apps, meetups and events. Yet, the numbers of single people in the US and the rest of the world keep growing at an unprecedented rate. So, what’s going on here? Are we getting worse at relationships? Are we failing? Or is it something else entirely?
I feel very fortunate that during my life the old traditional ideas of social and family expectations about my marital status have been shifting. Yes, my mum would love to attend my wedding but more than that, she wants to see me being happy. And over the years, I’ve been with different men, in relationships that lasted between a few weeks and many years. And every single one of these relationships ended.
This means, that more than once I found myself in tears, heart-broken and asking: what went wrong? Why did this have to happen? And even: how come I failed again?
These days, I no longer see the end of a relationship as a failure.
And I don’t expect my relationships to last forever either. I now recognize that the idea of an everlasting love and harmony is a beautiful ideal… and a very unrealistic one.
Let me explain…
Relationships are hard work. They seem amazing at first – we fall in love, we go through the honeymoon phase and we feel like we’re on top of the world. But things can start changing as quickly as within a few months. I recently asked in a Facebook post what was the longest time people were blissfully happy with a new partner, before doubts, conflict and questions started to arise. And a common response was 3-6 months.
So, what happens beyond that 3-6 months mark? Well, life happens! We stop trying so hard and we begin to see the real person in each other. We start recognizing that we’re two different individuals, that we both have wounding and traumas, that we see the world differently and that our life together will be much more of a challenge than we initially assumed.
Even further down the line we experience accumulated resentment, boredom, routine, taking each other for granted and even nastiness. Things also change in the bedroom – the mutual desire reduces, the libido shifts and nights of hot passion are often replaced by sexual frustration and feelings of rejection.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad.
People in long-term relationships usually experience a great deal of companionship, loving touch, mutual trust, warmth and emotional support from each other. As they go through life’s challenges together, they deepen their bond and enjoy levels of intimacy and connection impossible for young couples.
In more or less subtle ways, partners also trigger each other’s old wounding and mirror each other’s insecurities. It’s very common that people fall in love for that very reason – that their wounding and emotional needs match each other. Unfortunately, we don’t fall for the person who is the best possible partner for us. We fall in love with the person who we’re subconsciously drawn to because of our inner wounds that need healing.
And in this way, our partner provides an excellent opportunity for us to heal, process old stuff and grow together. And this is the part that seems most fascinating and significant to me.
As a sex therapist, I’ve spoken to many couples that struggled together, despite deep love they felt for each other. And I know that staying in a long-term relationship often means that at different times you’ll feel like you’re being dragged through the mud – metaphorically speaking.
And this process of being dragged through the mud holds gems in it – if you’re able to spot them. Because you see, when your partner is triggering you, annoying you and frustrating the hell out of you, they’re giving you an incredible opportunity to recognize your stuff so that you can deal with it. You chose them as a partner so that they can mirror back to you whatever is still unhealed, unprocessed or unloved inside of you. They can’t help doing that. They will do it every time, in every single relationship.
And that’s exactly what I’ve been experiencing with every single one of my partners.
Every single one of these men showed me a part of me that was hurting, rejected by me or hiding deep underneath feelings of guilt and shame. By simply being themselves, they kept showing me my blind spots and gave me opportunities to grow as a human being.
So now, looking back at my life, I see just how much I’ve grown, healed and processed in every single one of my relationships. Every single one was precious, every single one was different, and I feel a lot of gratitude and appreciation for how my romantic life has unfolded.
Each relationship is perfect – whether it lasts a week or 50 years.
One partner can trigger a small aspect of your personal development, while another one will keep challenging different parts of you for years.
So, whenever I meet a Someone Special again, I’ll know that I’ve attracted the perfect person to support me in growing into a better, healthier version of myself while I’ll be doing the same thing for them. And I also know that I’ll emerge from each new relationship as a fuller expression of my true nature.
So no, I don’t need my relationships to last forever. And I will never fail in any one of them. I will simply embrace each new one as an opportunity and I’ll enjoy every moment of it (even the messy ones full of conflict and anxiety). Because that’s what relationships are – a journey. And I’m ready to buckle up again!
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