… is that they’re hard. I think I may have subconsciously avoided long-term relationships for this reason for most of my life. I used to tell people I couldn’t imagine anything worse than domesticity, or the proverbial white picket fence, or the banality and routine—the grind!—of a long-term relationship or marriage.
Having been in one now for a good few years, I can tell you that parts of me still feel the same. In the first warm glow of love, you may think such feelings are impossible, but you understand over time how the patina of love can gently fade; how familiarity—little by little—breeds contempt, or at least disdain; and how easy it is to feel disconnected, and further and further away, from the person closest to you, physically and emotionally.
Despite all this, there’s always been a part of me that’s admired most those couples who stay together (in a relationship that’s worth saving, of course); who understand this is part of the natural order—the ebb and flow of all things; and who know that it’s possible to find your way back to your partner, no matter how lost you may feel, if you both care enough and fight hard enough.
No one’s expressed this better for me than William Himes at Quora, whose answer on the topic I wanted to share here:
What is the brutal truth about relationships?
You like somebody, you get to know them, you decide you’re compatible. This takes a different amount of time for everyone, but it’s usually not years. Then come the good days. You finish each other’s sentences. You judge your friends’ relationships for not being as healthy as yours. You promise to love each other forever.
Then one day you wake up and the infatuation is gone. You look at the person lying next to you and you don’t feel butterflies. You don’t want to jump their bones. You’d kind of like a day or two to yourself. And you pull away. You wonder if maybe you’re not compatible after all. You notice the way he always leaves his shoes right in the doorway and you’ve tripped over them eighty-five times. Or how she sometimes puts garbage on the counter above the garbage can. Just throw it in the can, damn it! It’s eight inches away!
You think, “Duty is an awful reason to stay with somebody. Just because I made a promise in the midst of infatuation doesn’t mean I need to keep it. She’s changed, and I’ve changed, and we don’t work together anymore.” And you break up. It’s the natural life cycle of a relationship. After going through it a few times, you come to a conclusion: humans, or at least you, aren’t meant to be eternally monogamous. Attraction dies after a while and relationships have this natural life cycle for a reason. Don’t stick with a relationship after the “love” is gone. It’s not right.
But another couple doesn’t break up. Another man says to his partner, “things aren’t working right now. Do you feel like we’re in a rut?” And she says “Yes.” And they say, “well, we promised to stick it out. Let’s try to do it.” And they go through the motions, even though the “love” is gone. He’s not feeling like planning a romantic date tonight. He’s tired and he wants to go to bed. But he cooks her favorite meal and goes on a walk in the local park. As they sit on a bench in the cool evening, she lies her head on his shoulder. He feels a single butterfly.
She’s thinking, “It’s sweet he made my favorite meal, I can try to be an attentive and affectionate date.” She puts away her smartphone. She knows he likes to watch the birds, and so even though she thinks it’s kind of dumb, she points out a hawk while she lies up against him. He smiles. She feels a single butterfly.
The idea of having sex, at least with each other, has been out of both of their minds for weeks, maybe months. After all, they fell out of “love.” But she figures, what the hell, it’s been a nice evening. We’ll see where things go. And he does too. And they have an even nicer evening.
He forces himself to listen to her work stories. She listens patiently while he tries to explain the problem he’s having with his program. They watch reality TV together even though she doesn’t like it, and then they decide to read a book at the same time and talk about it. He reads the damn thing, even though it’s one of those infuriating books with no plot. He admits he’s not into it, but he finds a couple nice things to say. She leaves a gift on his bedside when she gets up in the morning. They’re just going through the motions, even though they fell out of “love.”
And after a few months of this, they’re both happy. The butterflies, the infatuation, it comes and goes. Sometimes they’re just two people who live with each other and depend on each other. They do things they enjoy together, and things they don’t love together. They do things apart too, but always with the knowledge that somebody they care about is waiting when they get home.
And one day, he realizes the secret. They never “fell out of love.” “Falling out of love” is a dumb story people tell themselves to feel better about themselves. Sure, sometimes people reveal an entire personality they kept hidden during the opening stages of a relationship. Sure, some relationships turn abusive, or cold, or unendurable. But he was going to throw all of this away for a candy bar wrapper in the wrong place. She was going to throw all of this away for a second’s pause before entering her bedroom.
They were never out of love, because love isn’t something you fall into. It’s something you do.