Science of Poly

Out With the Old

Whether or not you ascribe to New Year’s resolutions, it’s hard not to do a brief evaluation of the state of your life compared to where it was at the beginning of last year when the new year rolls around. Of utmost importance to many of us is the state of our relationships, particularly those of a romantic nature.

Dating in Western culture is still primarily a vetting process for long-term commitments. Rings and vows mark your progress as you make your way toward the ideal of lifelong monogamy.  Any disruption along the way is then considered a failure, and you have to start over. Most relationships do not last, so it seems like a bad model. Why do we only label relationships as successful if they never end?

One of my favorite podcasts is the Savage Lovecast. Dan Savage thinks a breakup does not have to signify a failed relationship. Human beings are dynamic, constantly changing due to influences by the media, circumstances, geography, and other humans. What you need out of a relationship also changes.

Unfortunately, there’s not really a model of how to break up amicably. The plotline would not sell in the box offices. I like to think maybe this is why people stay in a relationship way past the expiration date. When I was with my ex-husband, I literally spent months wavering over the decision to leave, even though the answer was flashing in my brain like a neon sign from a shady bonds office. They were dark days filled with ruminations of the good times, guilt over ending a marriage after my parents spent so much on the wedding, and a deep assuredness that I’d never love again.

Then I left and had a month-long bender where I drank away my frustration at staying as long as I did and my sorrow at the loss of the future I’d been building in my head for years that was never going to happen. Three years later I cannot even fathom being in that future and feel I dodged a bullet the size of an asteroid. Our relationship was over. I don’t regret it because I had some amazing adventures with him and learned so much about myself. We just ran our course.

I try to remember those days when I knew I needed to leave but couldn’t quite muster the courage when I have friends who are in similar circumstances. There is a comfort in familiarity. I know this is true because too many times I’ve listened to a friend spend literally hours talking about all the terrible aspects of a relationship, and when asked why they stay, they respond, “But we’ve been together so long…”

Or maybe they’ll go off on a tangent about sacrifice. There are sacrifices like alternating whose family you visit what holiday, then there are sacrifices like having children you never wanted. Most are somewhere in between, but you have to figure out where the line. Once it’s crossed you are the only one who can do something about it. If you don’t, you lose the right to be bitter and make your partners/partner miserable.

I’m not saying you should throw in the towel the second everything isn’t rainbows and unicorns. However, when I talk to someone about a relationship and they spend the majority of the time telling me things that are wrong, and then the next few times I see them the same thing happens, maybe the end is nigh.

We stay in toxic or stale relationships, in part, because the alternative of having to start over is worse. That story needs to change because toxic and stale relationships will inevitably end. Why not cut it off immediately when it’s done instead of dragging the relationship out to the point where lawyers are needed to break up and children have to be divided?

I know from experience breaking up is easier said than done. I also know I am so happy that three years and two months ago I walked away from a relationship that was over because if I hadn’t, I would have never discovered the wonderful life I have now.

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