Does a relationship have to be going somewhere to be valid?

I’ve been thinking about relationships recently. Shocker. Someone said to me in passing that all their previous relationships had ‘failed’. I asked what they meant by failed; what constitutes a failure as far as relationships go? He said that they had all ended and therefore none of them had succeeded.

This is interesting to me. Not that I consider this to be a ‘wrong’ point of view, but my perspective is so different that it feels alien to me. Though it does seem to be a common conclusion in our culture, that when a relationship or marriage ends it therefore ‘fails’. I find it a bit sad – no judgment meant, just literally it saddens me. Where did the notion come from that a personal connection has to be permanent to hold value? Almost all experiences in life are somewhat temporary, including life itself. We wouldn’t refuse a holiday to a wonderful destination on the grounds that we weren’t moving there to live.

Relationships, both romantic and platonic, shape us and help us to grow. Every relationship I have ever had has contributed to who I am now, so in my mind, even the really challenging ones were important and incredibly valuable. A happy, easy relationship can bring joy and companionship, but a difficult relationship can still teach us important things. Things like boundaries, when to say no, what our own needs are and how important it is to meet them. Sometimes tough relationships can teach us to protect and nurture ourselves.

There’s a term for the view that a relationship should have longevity and be forward-moving: ‘escalator relationship’. It means that the relationship is always heading toward a goal. In western culture this seems to be the norm: you meet, you date, you fall in love, you move in together, you get married, you have kids etc. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a beautiful process. But is a static or unconventional relationship any less valuable? I’d say not. There’s a vast difference between static and stagnant. A relationship can be profound and joyous without needing an end goal. Every day we grow and evolve as people, so even without the escalator, we are still developing and learning. And two (or more) heads are usually better than one for expanding one’s thinking.

I’ve had a few really important relationships so far, but I’ve also had a few short romances that have profoundly shaped me. One connection wasn’t even a romance – I met the person in question only twice. But in those two meetings, they completely challenged my thinking and turned around my perspective of what a relationship should look like. Purely because they had a different view of it, and of the world. A view that I hadn’t considered and that resonated with me. That was a really valuable connection for me, despite it not being vastly emotional or long-term. The connection didn’t last but its impact did. And that is a great example of why a relationship, friendship, or romance with someone ‘different’ from ourselves can be so enlightening. Someone we might not otherwise have connected with as we often subconsciously consider a different background, class, age, personality type, experience level, orientation etc to be a barrier.

When it comes to relationships, I try to value quality over quantity. I’m truly grateful for all those who have touched my life and there isn’t a single connection I’ve had that I consider a failure – though some certainly had challenges I would prefer not to repeat. Until the day I die, I hope I keep learning and evolving, and it’s the people that have come in and out of my life that have taught me the most. So thank you to all the wonderful (and challenging) souls I have met so far, and those I’m still to meet. I hope you will consider our connections a rare gift like I do!

2 thoughts on “Does a relationship have to be going somewhere to be valid?

  1. This is a really good and important point. The idea that a relationship ‘fails’ if it ends means that presumably a relationship ‘succeeds’ just because a couple stay together, even if they hurt and hate each other, which can’t be right!

    I can’t help feeling that I’ve failed in some previous relationships, in that I’ve let my (ex-) partners down by how I’ve behaved, but it doesn’t seem right to blame the relationship. I’ve learned and developed from each one. But not everyone wants to learn and grow over life — which seems sad to me, and also a bit ironic if those peopl also see a relationship as ‘failing’ because it doesn’t rise on the expected escalator.

    1. I think we’ve all felt that we’ve let someone down at some point, but the truth is when that happens it is symptomatic of a misalignment of values, needs, or expectations. We cannot always be what our partners want us to, nor can they be everything we want them to. But we can learn from those experiences and either adjust our future behaviour or consider whether that particular relationship had become a mismatch and it is right that we are no longer in it. And I agree entirely that staying together only works as long as it works. Once a relationship starts to stagnate or become toxic it is definitely time to reconsider things – whether that is ending it or changing it.

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