I grew up believing in fairy tales like so many little girls do; though I was usually more interested in the princess’s ridiculously (unachievable) long locks of hair and sparkly dresses than I was in living happily ever after. BUT nonetheless, I believed in it. I believed in life-long love and happiness and that there truly was a Prince Charming out there waiting for me. And once I found him, that would be it; in love and together forever. Easy peasy.
For those who know me, the idea of marriage has never been something that has weighed heavily on my mind nor has it had any sort of ‘biological clock’ attached to it. I always planned on getting married, and I still do… I think, but it’s never been a driving force in my life that I’ve been dying to check off of my to-do list. I’ve fallen in love a couple times, but things never felt “right” enough to bring me to the point of saying I Do. And being in my 30’s now, a handful of my friends are married, a few are divorced, a couple remarried, and another entire handful are fighting through the dreaded 7 year itch. Needless to say, marriage sometimes sounds more like a bunch of angry paperwork than falling into a forever type of love.
In case you’ve been living under a proverbial rock, the 7 year itch is a psychological term that suggests that happiness in a relationship declines somewhere around year 7. Is it a real thing? I guess I’ve always hoped not, but more and more I would be inclined to say yes? A hesitant yes though. Relationships are hard, and anyone who isn’t actively working on bettering theirs (especially the 7+ year-ers) is setting themselves up for failure. But this begs the very important question that has been weighing on my mind lately, does love have an expiration date?
People may point a finger and say, you were in a 10+ year relationship (13 to be exact, but who’s counting…) so there must be some way to make the magic last? And my reply to that is that we had too many break-ups to count, had too many reunions to count, and rode a roller coaster that continued to fall off the tracks every time shit got real. Relationships are HARD. We tried. We tried really, really hard. But the allure of trying something new, of giving up on something that just wasn't working, of seeking something (or someone) that offered a fresh challenge, new excitement, a new perspective, was too much of a draw for either one of us to handle. I’m not saying it was the only decision available, or even one that most would agree with, it’s just what we decided was best for us. In our case, love didn't win; life did.
So what does it all come down to? Does love truly have an expiration date where it seems to “run out?” You go from being so blinded by love that you can’t even think straight, to losing your mind when the other person talks during your favorite TV show. I once spent the night in my car in near zero temperatures with a boyfriend just so we wouldn’t have to spend the night apart. Mind you, we both had perfectly good dorm rooms that were nice and toasty warm, but neither was coed… so freeze our asses off we did. I remember not being able to feel my fingers, toes, nose, basically my entire body. But we had each other, and at the time, apparently that meant more than full body circulation. Fast forward 10 years and I would have given anything just to sleep alone in the bed by myself for a night. How does love span that entire spectrum? How did we let ourselves get to the point where our tanks had completely run out without even noticing?
Can you refuel somewhere along the way?
Gosh I hope so. I have a few friends who are on marriage number one and are still blissfully happy. I have a few on number two that are blissfully happy… though in all fairness, we are not old enough to have reached the 7 year itch fully twice yet, so only time will tell if the cycle ends here. And I have friends whose relationships (either marriage number one or two, or people like me who form more of a partnership) are ripping apart at the seams. So how did group number one make it? How did they refuel while the rest of us were left stranded on the side of the road?
I did what any curious human would do; I asked. I asked those in first marriages and those in second marriages and those in no marriages. Obviously group number one had figured out how to use these challenging life moments to fill up on what they needed to keep the love alive while the rest of us drove around on E.
This is what surfaced over and over again:
Cheating seems to be a prevalent factor in a majority of relationships where things go south. Surprising? Nope. I wish I could say this was never me, but that would be a lie. I have been cheated on, done the cheating, cried about the cheating, caused the crying about the cheating…I am as equal a sinner as most. Again, relationships are hard and require effort and work to keep the passion alive, but here is what I have come to conclude about cheating. Cheating is not hard to do. In fact, there are ample opportunities for nearly anyone seeking outside affection, to find it. And it's oftentimes easier to look elsewhere than it is to actually face the music from within the pitfalls of your own relationships.
In its simplest form, I would compare cheating to a bandage. And not even a good Band-Aid brand bandage… more like the cheap drugstore bandages that end up getting stuck to the inside of your sock and serve no useful purpose. You are seeking something you feel your existing relationship can no longer provide, but very rarely do you go out seeking to find it in the name of love; so much more often you find it in the name of lust. Or worse, drunken, forgettable, regretful lust. Cheap, drugstore bandage cheating causes so much more pain and heartbreak down the road and never ends well for either party. Yet it happens so frequently because we are all looking for love, to feel loved, and to be loved, just in all the wrong lustful places. If love is what you seek, you have to be able to face the music of your own relationship, no matter how ugly it may sound, before you can ever find real love elsewhere.
Date nighters seem to be the strongest links in the chain. Parents, this one is for you. Childless couples, take note. As new parents, my sons’ father and I were terrible at date nights. In lieu of a babysitter, we rotated nights out with friends—he took Fridays and I took Saturdays. Bad idea. Bad bad bad. If this is you, stop immediately. We developed completely separate lives outside of each other, and subsequently, separate secondary relationships (yikes). Fast forward 6 years and baby #2 comes along. We vowed never to redo mistake from baby #1, so during this go-round we went into lockdown and never really went anywhere as a couple; we did most everything as a family. Another bad idea. No relationship can withstand revolving solely around the kids; complete romance killer. You want to keep the love alive? Get a babysitter.
Communication is almost always lacking in failing relationships. Also not surprising. When was the last time you had a real conversation with your significant other? We all get so wrapped up in going through the motions of day to day living at times that everything else falls by the wayside. How was your day? is literally spoken as a formality, not because you even care about the answer, but simply because you've been trained to say it. And what about the sweet texts throughout the day that you used to do? Absent. Lunch dates just to talk (without kids present)? They don’t happen. Date nights? Nonexistent. Sexting each other? Say what?...
So when do you communicate? Aha! Only when there’s a problem. Communication becomes code word for battle field and ends only when one of you is proverbially beaten down and bloody. Next course of action is to tap out, or walk out, or throw your significant other's clothes out of the second story window… pick your poison. Communication needs to happen on a positive level too, and this is so easy to side-step once the honeymoon stage is over.
Sex; relationships need it, yet many lack it. Simple as that. I won’t even go into detail on how badly I let this one slip in a prior relationship, but let’s just assume if we were waiting for the paint on the house to dry, it would have already cracked and flaked off. If you have friends who are brand new to a relationship, you’re probably super annoyed by how handsy the happy couple is. Why? Because secretly we all miss that stage! It’s fun and exciting and the stomach butterflies are so real (just saying that makes me feel like a 9-year-old writing in my diary again). And if you’re nearing the 7 year itch those feelings have likely been replaced with all the stresses and worries of real-life, day-to-day living. Sex tonight? Nope, too tired. Tomorrow? Nah, not in the mood. Next month? Probably busy that night too... You gotta keep the romance alive! If that means vacations sans kids, do it. If that means rekindling lost love with flowers and sweet nothings, do it. If that means whips and chains, go rent 50 Shades of Gray and do your thang. Whatever needs to happen, do it.
Is there hope?
As long as you have two parties who are still willing to try, there is always hope. Some couples are on the verge of something major and are looking/waiting for any reason to fall back in love. To them I would say, stop waiting for something to happen and make it happen! You are the author of your life story. Write how you want your story to end.
So this next part is tricky. My Christian upbringing says to continue working through a relationship (especially a marriage) until you can fix the problems and rekindle lost love. However, millennials and generations on down seem to be more interested in trying something new rather than forcing a square peg into a round hole. Forgive that utterly simplistic example of working through a messy relationship, but it's how I feel too. Sometimes, going back and editing a chapter to change the outcome is a good thing. And sometimes, starting fresh is an even better thing. In my case, the past simply caught up to us. And because we had never taken the time to fix the earlier mistakes, years of compounded actions and emotions could no longer be contained and our story spilled off the pages. The last chapter of our story will still be written someday, just in separate books.
Love is an imperfect science. It's supposed to make sense, but once emotion is involved, most logic flies right out the window. But take heart, because for as hard as relationships are, they are worth it. Making memories and building a solid foundation with one special person is priceless; that is LOVE, that is LIFE. Nobody wants to grow old alone. The key to it all is finding someone you can talk to, someone who challenges you, someone who has the same basic moral code as you. Find a person who likes to do the same things as you do, someone who makes you laugh until you cry, someone you can sit and talk to for hours while losing all track of time. Find someone who always respects you, always values what you bring to the table, loves you for all your unique and imperfect flaws, and most importantly, find someone who is willing to fight to remain IN love with you. If you already have that person, hold on tight and do what it takes to keep the love alive. And if the love has already run out on your relationship, know that every ending simply means a new beginning.
I wear a vintage locket from time to time, which holds a picture of my Grandma and Grandpa and is inscribed with their 25th wedding anniversary (though they made it well past 50 years together). They were one of the rare exceptions who managed to live their vows “…until death do us part.” I still hold out hope that love can be what I grew up envisioning it to be. And that it doesn't have to be something that merely comes and goes with the passing of time.
Love doesn't have to fade away with the years and it doesn't always have to end. If your hourglass of sand is running low and hope remains, you CAN flip it over and start again.
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