This doesn’t sum up every relationship in the world, but if you live in a modern, Western-style suburbia then you probably known someone whose relationships have followed this progression:
1. Anonymity. You don’t know your future partner exists.
2. Strangers. You meet your future partner, but you don’t know what their name is or who they are.
3. Acquaintance. You break the barrier of anonymity. They’re no longer a stranger, and they now have a connection to your life, even if it’s a part as small as “friend of a friend.”
4. Interest. Eventually you take an interest in one another. In this stage you act like cats sniffing a treat and deciding whether or not it smells good enough to eat.
5. The Hunt. After passing the smell test you make a conscious decision to pursue the other person. This is the chase. It’s exhilarating, expensive, sometimes unsuccessful, sometimes discouraging, and you have to exert a lot of energy pretending to be cooler and more collected than you really are so that you can compete against other people who have more experience pretending to be unbelievably cooler and more collected than you.
6. The Salad Days. Following the catch at the end of the hunt you gorge yourself on each other for as long as your stamina holds out. During the salad days children hold hands on the playground, teens make out in public and adults try to have sex in every room of their house.
7. The Trial Commitment. People tend to assume that once they’ve reached the salad days they’ve found true love. Contrary to what Disney or the pop music industry would have you believe, this is not the time to propose for marriage. Though at some point in the salad days you’re going to have to consider where your relationship is going. If the salad days don’t end as just a successful fling then the next step is a trial commitment.
You may have already considered yourself a couple, but this move ups the ante. You may transition from “going out” to “going steady” or from “dating” to “being engaged.” You’ll spend this phase looking at your partner more seriously, and you’ll probably pretend to act like what you think a serious adult who is in a committed relationship acts like.
8. The Breeze Days. If things go well and your lifestyle and personality are compatible with your partner’s then you will find yourself working together like a finely tuned machine. You’ll act like twins who are so in tune with each other that you can complete complex tasks together with minimal verbal communication. Like twins you’ll also develop a secret language of your own based on shared references and inside jokes. Life will operate so smoothly that time can fly by without you noticing it.
9. Deep Appreciation and Familiarity. One day you’ll roll over and see your partner lying next to you in bed and you’ll realize they know you better than anyone else, and you know them as well as yourself. You’ll have come to depend on this person like your right hand, and losing them would leave you more lost and helpless than losing your job. If there is a thing called love then this stage is it, but it can’t last forever. And the fact that you may have had it once with someone doesn’t mean you always have to have it with them or that either of you owe the other anything for having had it.
10. The “Washing Machine You Take For Granted” Days. It’s a wonderful thing if you can work with another person like a well-oiled machine, but when a machine works perfectly for long enough we tend to take it for granted. Even though you work well with the other person your heart’s somehow not in it anymore. You’re walking through your relationship and life on autopilot.
11. Full-on Boredom. One day you roll over and see your partner lying next to you in bed and you realize you’re tired of looking at them just like you’re tired of having to step around that damned washing machine you’re always bumping into on the way out the door. You’ll be surprised to find yourself actually bored of sex. You’ll fake enthusiasm during sex. You might even fake orgasms. You’ll yearn for the hunt and wonder where the magic in your relationship went. You’ll blame the other person when in reality the problem is that that’s what happens when two people share a pair of golden handcuffs for long enough.
12. The Pretend Days. You’re fully aware that you’re bored of the other person. You always think about someone else when you masturbate, but out of respect and obligation to your partner you don’t let them know how far your heart has drifted away from them. So even if you don’t lie to yourself about your feelings you lie to the other person to keep the boat from rocking.
13. The Onset of Resentment. You can only pretend to be happy for so long before it gets old and the cracks in the walls start showing. You’ll start dropping your mask more often and compromising less.
14. Outright Resentment. If you don’t talk openly to your partner, reassess your relationship, get some space, pursue separate interests or break up (if need be) then your resentment for one another will cross the line into open hostility. You may not act on this hostility yet, but you’ll feel it and be fully conscious of it. You’ll carry it with you all day and won’t be able to stand looking at your partner. Everything they say will sound like fingernails on a chalk board, and everything they do will be wrong. This phase has ended in murder and/or suicide for millions of people.
15. Bursting out of the Bottle. The hate-charade can’t last forever. Eventually the crack in the damn will burst and everything will come out. If this process is managed productively it can be a euphoric release that takes the weight of the world off your shoulders. If this process is managed unproductively it can lead to broken hearts, burned bridged and closed doors.
16. (A) Reconciliation or (B) Break Up. At this point your old relationship is over. You can never go back to the way things were. Your only choice is to start a new relationship with your partner or end the relationship. Below is a list of the steps of the stages your life will go in if you reconcile. After that is another list that starts back over at #17 and traces the stages your life will take if you break up.
If you take the path of Reconciliation:
17A. The Kicked Puppy Days. You may have reconciled your differences with your partner, but you’ve both just come out of a traumatic experience. One sweaty night and a few heart felt words aren’t going to fill those wounds. There will be a short time where you’ll both still feel hurt and ashamed of your past behavior.
18A. The Trial Recommitment. Once the dust has settled and emotions have calmed you’ll find yourself looking at your partner soberly. Both of your punishments may be over, but you’re both still on notice.
19A. The Recovery Days. If you’re both truly sorry for hurting each other and earnestly want to be together you’ll try to make it up to the other person. This phase of your relationship will find you going out of your way again to do nice things for each other and say nice things to each other. These will be days full of pampering and feel like stages 6 (The Salad Days) and 9 (Deep Appreciation and Familiarity) combined.
20A. Return to the Breezy Days. You can’t keep up that intensity forever. Life goes on. The best place you can go from here is back to the Breezy Days. Where you go from there is up to you.
If you break up:
17B. The Free Fall. If you break up with your partner at any stage of your relationship you’ll end up in a free fall. The intensity of the free fall experience for you will be relative to how long you’ve been with your partner, how strong of an emotional attachment you had with them and how strong your dependency on them was.
You will feel lost in space. You’ll feel disconnected from your environment. You’ll feel like you just stepped into a new universe, and you may or may not want to be there.
18B. The Landing. One day all the emotions left up in the air after your break up will come back down to earth. It’s like coming to terms with the fact that your dead relative really isn’t just sleeping in a box. They’re never coming back. Your life will go on, and you will be alone. Again, this can be a good thing or a bad thing.
19B. The New Underwear/Phantom Limb. So you move on with your life, but you’ll be so used to sharing a life with your partner that you’ll have some trouble readjusting to life without them. Sometimes it can feel like you’re missing a limb. Sometimes it’ll feel like you’re getting to stretch your limbs after years of being tied down in a contorted position.
20B. The Great Wide Open. When you finally get used to living on your own again and doing things your way then the world is your oyster. Life is there for the taking. Your plans may include hunting another partner or it may not, but either way you have a new chance to get what you want.
21B. Normalcy. The things you’re doing with your freedom will lose their novelty, and if you don’t keep your life interesting then the repetitiveness of your daily life will lull you into a dream state where you just go about your business on autopilot and not really notice time passing.
22B. Boredom. If you do the same thing over and over long enough eventually you’ll get bored with it. Technically you’ll have everything you need to survive. You may even have a giant television and a well-worn stack of awesome video games collecting dust in the corner of your living room, but you’ll feel an inexplicable sense of boredom and lack of satisfaction in life.
23. Desperation. After you feel bored long enough the boredom will turn to despair. You’ll put pictures of island beaches on your desktop background and/or screen savers and fantasize regularly about escaping the grinding, suffocating darkness of your normal yet “privileged” life. You’ll masturbate more, and you’ll have dirty thoughts about almost anything with two legs that walks past you.
24. Forever Alone. The longer you’re alone the older you get. The older you get the farther you’re removed from the dating pool. Eventually there comes a point where you just have to face the fact that you’ll be forever alone.
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