We Don’t Want to Know That It Might Take a Few Heartbreaks to Find a Good Relationship

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“I like your piece on how good relationships can have problems,” she says.

“Thanks,” I reply.

“After I read it, I found myself wondering something. Why do we convince ourselves that it’s so clear-cut? Why is it so easy to jump to the conclusion that just because a relationship is flawed that it’s unworkable?”

“Probably a little different depending on the person making the assumptions,” I reply, “but I think there’s definitely something attractive about the idea that what makes a bad relationship bad is obvious.”

“Oh?” she says. “Why’s that?”

It’s because we set out looking for a relationship looking for it to be successful. We don’t set out thinking that it might take a few heartbreaks to get there. That’s basically the opposite of what we want to believe — that there might be agonizing trial and error involved. That not only might we have to find someone to be with but we might have to do that multiple times before we finally find a combination that clicks. And in the process of figuring out if it’s working, we might temporarily invest ourselves in someone or something only to find that it’s not for us.

“It’s too much to contemplate all at once,” I say. “If we were more honest with ourselves, we might get too overwhelmed to even try.”

She laughs. Tells me that I’m on to something. “I’m a good example of that,” she says. “I’ve been through some really awful ups and downs over the years. These days I’m happy, and it’s all been worth it. But if you’d stopped me at any point on the way here and asked me if it was worth it or going to be someday, I probably would have been in no mood for that question. I would have just ended up depressed from being asked that.”

I nod. “So given all this, we end up convincing ourselves that there are universal signs that can be easily spotted from a distance. Basically, we long for red flags that can be seen from space,” I say. “When we should probably be on the hunt for green flags and sorting out the difference between unworkable and annoying but I can live with this.”

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