Life After Dating: A Relationship Is Not Bubble Wrap

We live in a culture that values coupledom and biological families over anything else. This is especially true for women, who are seen as more relationship-oriented than men. We hold romantic relationships up as the ultimate end goal, the prize, the be-all and end-all. We tend to believe this regardless of whether a particular pairing is healthy or toxic, discounting the possibility that someone might actually be contented and fulfilled while single.

Being single and being in a relationship both have their pros and cons. I was chatting about this recently with a friend who recently lost her mom. She’s single and she said she felt particularly lonely grieving her mom’s death by herself. She wasn’t completely alone, of course; her friends and family were there for her. But she said she had wished she had a partner to lean on during the worst of her grief.

I just listened quietly when I heard this. I wanted to speak up, but I wasn’t sure it was the right time to say what I wanted to say. Personally, I believe that the good things in life — support, respect, happiness, joy — depend a lot more on having close friends and family, not the absence or presence of a partner. A partner is just one person; friends and family are a whole community.

My relationship is without a doubt the most supportive one I’ve ever had. I don’t keep anything from him, because I’m not afraid anything will scare him away. I feel loved and safe with him. But he’s just one person. He’s just human. I’m still a person who is vulnerable and imperfect. And a relationship is not bubble wrap.

Given the way our culture elevates coupledom, it’s easy to think like my friend thinks, that something — possibly everything — might be easier with a partner. It’s also tempting for single folks to assume that anyone who is in a relationship is gloating all the time about the rainbows and unicorns blowing our of her ass. But both of these ways of thinking are misguided.

Just about any problem you have as a single person you will have as a person in a relationship. If your mom is dying of cancer, she will still be dying of cancer if you’re in a relationship. If your best friend is an addict, your best friend will still be an addict if you’re in a relationship. If you’re going to get downsized by your company, you’re still going to get downsized by your company if you’re in a relationship. The crappy parts of your life are still going to be crappy. This is true if  you’ve been dating for three months, if you’ve been dating 10 years, or if you are married.

It’s true, of course, that our partners are there to help us navigate life’s choppy waters. A husband probably knows that his wife needs a cup of tea and a hot bath after she visits her sick grandma. A new partner might know how to fix whatever it is on your car that’s making a weird noise. And I certainly don’t mean to sound as if my own husband, with his intelligence and steadiness, has not added to my life immeasurably. Burdens are eased by our beloveds. But unless you’re dating Oprah, no one person can ever make your burdens go away entirely.

When I really think about it, I’m grateful that relationships are not bubble wrap, including my own. If they were, everyone would want to be in relationships all the time and no one would have to deal with anything. How screwed up would that — and we — then be? We wouldn’t know how strong we are. We wouldn’t know how much grit we have. We wouldn’t learn how to solve our own problems. Our vulnerability is part of makes us who were are — it’s why our friends, our family, and yes, even our partners love us.

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[Image of a sad woman hugging her boyfriend via Shutterstock]