Loving a man who cannot stay has taught me more than I ever imagined.
I looked at him with big eyes. “I will never do this again.”
He stroked my arm. “Do what? Be with someone who will either disappear or die?”
I broke into hysterical laughter. It is fated: I will always love someone who will either disappear or die, eventually. To love is to brave separation, heartbreak, risk, pain, death, and a thousand other things.
I am in love with a guy who is not here to stay. We met in our travels. While he cannot give me promises of ‘happily ever after,’ every minute we spend together is filled with depth and shared vulnerability, with a good dose of laughter, tears, and silliness. I’ve learned so much. And while he is clear that his life right now is not conducive to a committed relationship, I want to create something more long-term and steady.
The question has been spinning in my mind for a while: How long should I stay in a relationship that has no future? And in my search for the answer, this is what I’ve discovered to be true for myself.
1. To love is one thing. To be in a relationship is another. They’re two separate things.
This is such a key distinction. I love him so much, and know I will love him forever. Love is not of the world of form. I know it in my bones that my love for him is constant, even if we fight, even if I never see him again. Love is timeless. It is who we are. After our bodies disintegrate and all the stars go out in the sky, it is what remains.
That kind of love I’m talking about is not even romantic. It has a spiritual essence. It’s how I feel when I look into the bottom of his eyes, or a baby’s eyes, or at the orchids blooming outside my window.
When we feel the warm sensation of love in our hearts, that cozy feeling of deep connection to all things, of being wide open and touched by life, we forget that we are the one who created those feelings. That feeling of love is generated from within us.
It just happens that the other person is there. So we happily attribute that feeling of love to that person, innocently mistaking them to be the cause of it. That’s not how it works. Love is what we create, feel, perceive from the depth of our own psyche; the other person (or animal, thing, object) is only a mirror reflecting that back to us.
I have loved many men, both romantically and non-romantically. I realize the immense capacity of my heart to open up, to hold, to nurture a person and a relationship, time and again despite past wounds. That’s just what I do, and it’s so reassuring. As I gaze into my lover’s eyes, I know I will love again—someone else, someone I’ve never met, while holding my love for him intact.
We human beings have been blessed with the divine capacity to love everyone and everything, so that we can exquisitely discern whom to partner with in a relationship. I still love some of my former partners, despite not having any desire to be in an intimate relationship with them again.
That we love a person does not necessarily mean that it is healthy or beneficial for us both to be in a relationship. That it works for us to be together now does not necessarily mean it’ll work for us to be together forever.
I’ve found that in order for a relationship to thrive, in addition to that warm mutual feeling of love and connection, there have to be shared values and vision. We may have differences, but what matters most is that we are committed to growing together, remaining part of each other’s lives and nurturing the relationship. If one party is unwilling or unready, it’s not going to work. On the other hand, shared willingness and hunger to make it work can trump any geographical and logistical challenges.
Conversely, not choosing to be in a relationship with someone does not mean we don’t love them. It just means we love both of us enough to let both have what our hearts truly desire, what we secretly yearn for but are afraid to admit. It means giving ourselves a chance to be surprised by life, a chance for the divine to step in with something far more magnificent than past-based, habitual thoughts and behaviors. This leads me to the next revelation, which seems paradoxical at first.
2. There is no shame while I’m in this relationship that “has no future.”
I’ve read enough personal growth books and Pinterest quotes to know that if I love myself enough and take a stand for what I truly desire, I will not settle for less. I know enough. I’m wise enough. Then why am I still hanging around this guy?
The epiphany comes when I realize that there is no need for any more shame, self-blame, or berating. We stay in a relationship until we choose not to. We are together until we’re not. Perhaps there are lessons this particular relationship offers. Perhaps this is exactly what we need to experience right now. This relationship is perfect, because that’s what’s happening right now.
I don’t need to make it mean anything about me I don’t need to make up a story about my lack of self-love, self-esteem, or personal power. I will continue to do what I do, until I choose something different. Not attaching meaning to the relationship status lets me off the hook and grants me the spaciousness to just be.
Giving myself that freedom and permission allows my intuition to flow more freely, enables me to hear the whispers of my wisdom, helps me make moves as they occur naturally instead of staying stuck in my head. Adding interpretations to what’s happening only piles more thinking onto my already busy mind and makes it increasingly difficult to discern the nudges of wisdom. It is not from rumination but from the quiet space of a quiet mind that the answer will reveal itself.
There is nothing wrong with a relationship lasting only a few months, but for the stigma we give it inside our heads. We want something different and long-term, but that doesn’t mean a short relationship is a bad relationship. Just because we want something else doesn’t mean what we’re having is inadequate.
3. A relationship’s success is not defined by its length. It’s defined by how much we allow ourselves to open our hearts, get vulnerable, learn and grow, and positively impact each other’s lives. Every relationship has its beauty, grandeur, and glorious messiness. Every relationship offers us a glint in the huge kaleidoscope of love and of being human.
A lover once told me, “I can’t offer you forever, but I can offer you now. Do you want it?” It struck me: There is only now.
What is “forever” but a mental construct? Forever is just a continuous flow of nows, strung together. If I’m offered love, connection, emotional intimacy, and everything I long for now, and now, and now—every moment of my life—is it not good enough?
I will enjoy my time with him now, love and adore my messy beautiful self now, and choose to walk away when it occurs to me now.
Everything happens not in a meticulously planned future move, but in this very moment. I deserve the best relationship possible, with myself, with life, with everything it has to offer: magic, madness, mundanity, all of it right now.
Emily Nature helps smart, successful career women have fun in the game of love and relationships.