Why do we expect relationships to work instantly?

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After being single for almost seven years, I am now in a new relationship. It’s weird to say that out loud. I think after a certain age, particularly after one or two epic failed and catastrophic relationships, it’s easy to lull yourself into accepting you may never re-partner: Nah, it’s too hard. I’m too set in ways. Nobody will ever be able to take on all of me. I’m way to complex. And guys I dated reinforced my apathy, my latest fling declaring he was not up for my emotional baggage.

So when my now boyfriend came into the picture, the dynamic was so disjointed and confusing I just assumed he was just another one-hit-wonder. He didn’t seem that keen. He would take ages to respond to my messages. We weren’t spending that much time together. And the whole thing felt like a friendship. He couldn’t possibly be the right guy. If he were it would be instant. Friends advised me that he “wasn’t that into me”, that he was a snail, and that I should move on.  

But the truth was we needed time to open up. Seven months down the track and it’s only now that I feel like we’re comfortable. Even the way we agreed to be in a relationship was awkward. I just suggested we try it out. And it really helped things (after some hesitation!). But the truth is, up until very recently, it’s been really hard. And it still is. 

When you break it down though, based on human psychology, why wouldn’t it be? If you’ve had your heart smashed to pieces in the past, if you’ve been let down by a partner you trusted with your life, why wouldn’t it take time to trust again? And the older you are, the more baggage you’ve got, the more there is to sift through – how fun!  

Relationships are a constant process of opening up, trusting and compromising. While single, I had my routine, my structure, the way I did things. I had my social life and my “me time” – I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I didn’t have to check in with anyone to ask if they have plans for dinner tomorrow so I can plan out my meal the night before. I just had to worry about my own meal.

Carving out a space for a new person isn’t easy. It was like adding a new best friend to my two best friends and my life was already at capacity.

I wondered recently why people aren’t really honest about what relationships are like on the inside. I love my boyfriend and I want to share my life with him for as long as it lasts, but I can admit it’s fraught with challenges. Yet every day I make a choice to keep working at it, and I guess that’s what makes it rewarding. By choosing him I am sacrificing my single, free self. I am inviting complexity into my life in exchange for comfort and love. I am not afraid to vocalise this. Many people are however, painting a pretty portrait to the outside world. I wondered why.  

Is it because we define people’s self-worth based on whether they are in a relationship? Do we think that if they are, if someone else has chosen to love them, then they are worth more? So therefore, if you admit that your relationship is challenging you are somehow admitting you are a failure of some kind?

I think there is a real danger in believing that when a relationship is difficult it isn’t normal. Of course you need to have the foundations like great communication, empathy and understanding, respect, a healthy gender balance and honesty. These are qualities I knew I had from the get go with my boyfriend.

But maybe if things are too easy, it’s a sign that things aren’t so good. Maybe the signs that a relationship is healthy is that there are challenges and problems that you work though, both individually and as a couple, to evolve and grow into the best people you can be.

And I have embraced it. Relationships can last months or they can last a lifetime, either way, when people ask me how things are from now on I’ll tell them it’s f—ing hard, but worth it.

Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance writer, actor, performer, theatre and film maker and the author of Love and F— Poems. koralydimitriadis.com. @koralyd

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