How long can you stay in a relationship? Two years? Three years? Ten, maybe? I'm terrible at long-term relationships. I've never been in one that lasted more than a year, all things considered; and even then that period has been spiked with turbulence and uncertainty.
My friend B told me she starts to feel restless sometime during the third year of a relationship. That seems like a fair amount of time, right when the thrill of discovery wears off. After the rush of falling in love and the secret thrill of shared intimacy, the third year of a relationship leaves you with a simple human being. Nothing more or less. The great universal answer becomes a stupefying anti-climax.. Spending time together can be fun and exhilarating, but it must also start to feel like genuine work. It's the moment the love adrenaline wears off and the weight of the yoke starts to make your neck sore.
Realizing a relationship is going to require work and patience isn't such a terrible thing, but the three-year marker is when many people figure out just how much effort that really entails. It's when you realize the really hard stuff is yet to come. So it's natural to ask yourself if you really want to put yourself through all that for the person you're with. The answer is "no" more often than we like to admit.
Of course this is all conjecture, since I don't have any direct personal experience to reference. I've never gone that long because I've never found someone I knew in advance I wanted to fight for, and who also wanted to fight for me. I get nervous when I'm dating someone and I don't feel my metaphysical babies tingling in the ether. I fall in love easily, and hard. Being with someone and knowing I'm not in love with them makes me deeply uncomfortable. I worry that I'm pulling some sham on them.
But then, what begins as ambivalence and unassuming fun can just as quickly become fond familiarity. In the absence of other options, and not having any particular motivation to seek out new ones, a simple fling can turn into piece of luggage; a burden that's cumbersome but filled with caring nostalgia, if not quite passionate love. I went through this with one of my first girlfriends. We started seeing each other in the summer. We hooked up lots, laughed together, and teased each other. There wasn't any thought of relationship in my head. I didn't really understand what was happening, but I didn't stop to think about it.
Until I stopped to think about it. It had been three months and things were changing. It felt like the teeth in some universal gear had been moving all along, but only now was it becoming apparent. The improvised fun was becoming predictable. The jokes were starting to ring hollow, picking up hard edges that hadn't been there before. I wanted a relationship, but I thought that was something that inevitably happened. I didn't realize it was a choice you have to make; to look someone in the eye and agree to stay with that person to the exclusion of all other romance.
I started to think about whether or not this was the person I wanted to be in a relationship with. Things had been fun and easy but the accumulated weight of those brief few months started to build into a looming expectation. Where is this headed? I started to wonder if I wanted to commit further to a person who I had never had a serious conversation with, whose teasing felt like it was turning into bickering. I didn't want it. She seemed hurt. She said she didn't understand why we couldn't just keep having fun together the way we had been.
We could have. But I kept thinking about all the things I would have to close a door on to do that. I didn't want to do that for her. So I left.