Lesbians specialise in the urge to merge, and we are adept at “complicated” relationships. We try every trick in the book to convince ourselves it’s meant to be, even if love flashes off and on more often than a strobe light.
The thing is, a good relationship is never that complicated, and doesn’t call for] multiple breakups. So here are some of the lies you’ll tell yourself when it’s not working – and your no-excuses guide to leaving the yo-yo behind.
Lie 1: It’s normal to ‘take space’
Yes, it is normal to need your independence. But when your relationship is working, you won’t need to put a label ontaking space. You’ll go off and do stuff on your own when you want to, and you’ll come back and reconnect when you want to; you’ll lie around watching DVDs when you want to, and talk a hole through the ceiling when you want to. No one will shout and no onewill feel insecure about it. If they do, it should take a three-minute chat to sort out.
What is not normal is to fight often, go tearing off into the realms of no contact, and come bouncing back with an over-compensatory level of intimacy. Alarm bell! You’re officially in volatile-ville.
Lie 2: The timing is bad, but if we wait, it will change
Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. When you build a life with someone, that life will be full of things that are badly timed: overseas moves, job offers, illness, confused children. And you know what? You’ll work with it, because you will have the understanding that you put each other first.Whether it’s long-distance, one of you needs something amputated or you have family difficulties, you shouldn’t have to pause your relationship except in extreme circumstances (and I mean really extreme, not just “I really like her, but we have mid-terms…”). If it means enough, you’ll stick out the rough patches – not run away and come back when it’s easier.
A common variation of this lie is “I’m in a bad space” or “She’s in a bad space” or “We have stuff to work through”. Again, life is full of stuff. It’s full of bad spaces. Human beings are always a work in progress. We’re all a bit messy and mad. So what? Does that mean we don’t deserve love?
If you aren’t both on board with making your relationship work no matter what, you’re not both on board. Move on.
Lie 3: It’s not working because our circumstances are complicated
Relationships are not complicated, even if circumstances are.
My current relationship could, if you just looked at the circumstances, pass as very complicated. We have family dynamics you could wrap around the equator three times. There is a child involved. We have a desperately ill close family member to look after. There is a painful history that may later involve a brutal court case. I have a job that means we barely get to spend any time together, and when we do, I’m nearly asleep. We hooked up when we were both still recovering from recent breakups, and were as raw as Gwyneth Paltrow’s macrobiotic diet. We had every external set of circumstances possible to discourage us. To top it off, I went overseas for a few months when we’d been together just a few weeks. And guess what? It still worked.
Because here’s all you need to know when you’re in a relationship that works: no matter what, you’re a team. It’s very simple (write this down): a good relationship makes a tough life easier. A tough life makes a bad relationship worse.
Tough times are the ultimate litmus test. There’s no such thing as “We’re on a break because we’re having a rough time”. If you’re on a break in a rough time, you should be on a break permanently.
Lie 4: It’s normal for feelings to fluctuate
I don’t know about you, but this was a big one in my past relationships: partners were keen on telling me that they went through phases of being sure they wanted to be there, and phases when they weren’t sure, and that this was normal. I told myself it was normal.
But I did wonder why I never experienced that doubt from my side.
Here’s what I was too much of a coward to admit: the people I’m talking about just didn’t fancy me that much, but neither of us wanted to let go. I let them tell me I was insecure, clingy, etc. I tried to “fix” myself. “Become independent.” It didn’t work. And here’s why: I was trying to fix the wrong thing. I was assuming I was broken instead of the relationship.
Having entered into a relationship that does work, and having stayed in it for some time, I can tell you that when it’s right, you don’t need to ask the scary questions. Because you know. You know that when you fight, it’s not going to end in a breakup, or even a “break”. You know that they’re not going to stop loving you when you behave like an arse (which we all do). You know that they’re not going to stop loving you when you get fat, get old, get cancer, or have a teenager in the house. When it’s right, you just know they’re there, and that’s that.
And yes, feelings do fluctuate. There are moments when you look at your partner and think, oh, just stop it with your (Wo)Man Flu. Or: pick up your damn socks. Or: I wonder what my life would be like if I were single. Or: that girl down the road is kind of hot. And your partner probably thinks many of the same things. These feelings are normal and okay if they don’t threaten your relationship.
But if they do, do yourself a favour and get out.
Lie 5: Fights are a sign of health in a relationship
You know what? I know great relationships where couples have never had one fight, and I know other great ones where the couples fight every other day. The number of fights you have are no indication that you are communicating any more or less effectively.
What does indicate the health in your relationship is whether the fights make things worse or better between you.
My almost-wife and I bicker like an old married couple (if you saw Cloudburst you’ll have some idea) and we fight at least once a month. This is just a function of us both being argumentative and cantankerous people, really. But what differentiates this relationship is this: we feel no differently about each other after the fight. There’s no lingering anger or elaborate, dramatic, tear-sodden making up. There is no talk about whether we want to stay together or not (we know we do). We’re just… done fighting. And we move the heck on.
Test the effect fights have on your relationship. If they make it any more fragile or brittle, you need to walk through that door.
Lie 6: She only just broke up with her ex; I need to give her time
I don’t believe the length of time between your current relationship and your previous one has much to do with anything. She might have been over her ex a year before she got up the courage to break it off.
What matters is how you treat each other now. So even if your current girlfriend broke up with her ex yesterday, what matters is not that, but whether she makes you feel like the queen you are – and, obviously, whether she’s using not being ‘over’ the ex as an excuse not to connect with you.
You can live with a ghost – we all have people from our past who live in us and with us. The key is that they are in the past, not the present.
If you ever come up short in comparison, or if you ever feel (legitimately) like you are taking up less heart-space than her ex, then worry. And worry even more if she uses the ex as an excuse for keeping you at a distance.
It’s very simple: ask yourself if the presence of the ex is hampering the quality of your relationship. If so, then go.
Lie 7: But we’re so much in love
Unfortunately, your mother was right: in love is not the same as love. That feeling you think is “in love” is largely a hormonal reaction.
When you stay with someone for years, however, they become your family, so you’d better know there’s a damn lot of substance beyond the pheromone injection. Picture how you’d react if your partner were incontinent. Still feel that much in love? Reality check: super-long-term relationships are very unromantic. You’ll spend half your life nagging your children and the other half of your life wiping your once-lover’s arse. And if you don’t love them enough to do that, do yourself a favour and walk.
Or, in my wife’s evergreen terms, “Sometimes your chosen other may make your pants melt off. All of the time. But if she doesn't make you feel good in all the places that are not your pants, then you need to say bye-bye.”
Lie 8: I don’t believe in marriage/ I’ve been hurt too much to commit
I know five people who don’t believe in marriage. Two of them have been with their partners for five and ten years respectively, and have shown commitment in other ways, for example by buying property and starting a business together. The other three were all in long-term relationships and claimed loudly that they didn’t need false, external signs of commitment… until they met someone better and raced to the altar in less than a year. True story.
It’s human nature, when you find what you want, to want to hang onto it. That’s all I’m saying. I’m sure there are people out there who don’t want to get married, but it’s not great if they’re using past hurts just to keep you at arms length. If your partner is against marriage,make sure it’s not just about you.
Lie 9: We have to get married, like right now
I’ll say it again: It’s human nature, when you find what you want, to want to hang onto it. But a lifelong commitment is also an enormous amount of pressure to put on a young relationship (actually, any relationship…)Same-sex relationships can come with a lot of baggage, and planning a wedding is enough to make anyone lose their cool, so be careful if you’re not totally stable together.
If you really are meant to be together, it will keep – you don’t have to go rushing to Vegas Britney-style before you’ve even learnt each other’s last names or lived together for a while. Whenever you’re ready,the courts will still be there.