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You Oughta Know

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I met “Jake” the summer between our freshman and sophomore years in college.  He was tall, blond, sweet, smart, Jewish, and a total dork endearingly nerdy.  He sent me flowers and made me mix tapes of cheesy love songs.  I wasted many good college years on him.  We dated for five years.  We talked about the future together.  We had the kids’ names picked out.  We were certain that we would spend the rest of our lives together.

Flash forward five years, and the relationship was over.  The short story: he was an asshole we simply had grown into different people who saw the world in different ways.  We should have ended the relationship in year two, but instead we made the mistake of staying together to vainly try to recapture what was gone.  And the longer we stayed together, the harder it became to leave, in large part because I had so much time and emotion “invested” in the relationship.

It took me five years to learn that relationships are not investments.  There is never a guarantee that you will see a return—e.g., love, happiness, marriage—for your “efforts.”  Bottom line for any relationship—whether it’s 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years—is you are probably better off free to meet someone new who can give you what you need to make you happy, if that is missing from your current relationship.

While obvious, the painful truth is that so many of us stay in not-so-great relationships simply because we have been with a person for so long we can’t imagine life without him/her.  And we are afraid to start all over again.

That’s not to say that there is an acceptable time limit for couples to date.  As someone who is very happily married to a procrastinating idiot wonderful man she dated for 5 long years, I don’t believe that the length of time couples date to be an indicator of future married bliss. But, it can be a red flag to deeper problems.

I can’t tell you what you should do.  But I can give you some of the warning signs that I, and my friends, have missed over the years.  Maybe if we had listened to our mothers been more objective, we could have saved ourselves time and energy.  Such as:

• One of you has cheated.  Beyond the whole “can I ever trust this person again” question, if one of you has cheated that’s a pretty good indicator that someone isn’t happy in the relationship and is seeking what he/she wants in someone else but doesn’t have the balls to break up.  Or, you just might be with an untrustworthy asshole, and who wants to be stuck with that?

• Your friends and family hate him/her.  The people in your life are far more objective than you, and can see what you can’t.  

• You hate his/her friends or family.  Don’t underestimate the power of in-laws have to make you miserable. Ditto with his/her friends.

• You are more focused on the wedding than on what comes after.  Weddings are one day.  You are going to be stuck with him/her for the rest of your life.  And divorce is a very sticky and expensive proposition. 

• You are afraid you won’t meet anyone else, or anyone as “good”.  Fear is never, ever a reason to stay with someone.  No matter how old you are, no matter how low your self-esteem there really and truly is someone out there for every person.  Do not let all those negative statistics about marriage rates for people in their 30s or older scare you into staying with someone not right for you.

• The sex is bad.  ‘Nough said.

• There is emotional/physical abuse or he/she wants you to change.  Get out. Now.

• You have dated so long the length of your relationship has become the butt of many jokes, and you stopped laughing a long time ago.  At anything.  If your sadness about not getting what you need is overshadowing any happiness you are deriving from the relationship, it’s probably time to move on.  

• You are clinging to the person he/she once was, not is.  Or vice-versa. 

• You can’t agree on any major values—e.g., having kids, how you would raise said kids, etc.  Love doesn’t always conquer all.

Whatever you decide to do, know that it is your decision.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this isn’t about the length of time you date someone.  It’s about how happy you are.  Sure, it sucks when you get that phone call from your ex that he/she is getting married, and you are still single.  My recommendation for that: tequila shots and Alanis Morissette.  But you oughta know that you WILL find someone else; smarter, funnier, sexier, and yes, with less back hair too.

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