I can’t remember who it was, but I once heard a comedian tell a joke about relationships that went something like this: “Figuring out who to marry is easy. If you like someone and think you could spend your life with them then just sit down and eat some raw chicken together. Then, lock yourself in a one bathroom apartment together for the next few days. Soon there will be vomiting and explosive diarrhea everywhere. If during that terrible time, you share a single laugh with the other person then you should marry them.”
There is something valuable about pressure testing a relationship before you commit to a life* with someone. Relationships are fucking tough, but they can start our really easy. Hell, years can go by before you realize you are incompatible with someone or that they aren’t on the same path as you. If most of your experiences with a person are rosy and happy and relatively stress-free then you won’t know if you will be able to deal with the tough blows that life can send your way.
I’m not saying you should eat a raw chicken though (besides my vegan ethics, that is gross). You should probably live with someone, be around them when things are bad, and go on adventures together. You should know what the other person acts like when there is no money and no plan and when things are completely out of anyone’s control. Do you still share a laugh? Or is it constant pain? Do you turn to each other and grin because you know that as a team you can fucking conquer anything? Or do you look to the other person and feel like they are making things worse or dragging you down?
Pressure tests aren’t really about surviving a scenario, they are about enjoying it because you are with a compatible person. If pressure testing your relationship means you barely get out intact, maybe there is someone else out there that is more compatible? When I moved in with my ex-fiance (I wish I had a better title for that relationship), it brought to light a ton of things that we didn’t know before living together. Things seemed easy and rosy when we were in a long-distance relationship because every moment we spent together felt special. Living together ended the “honeymoon phase” and we realized that we weren’t compatible… we were sexually incompatible, had different views on relationships, and wanted to live different places and have different lives. All those things seemed easy to overcome when we lived apart, I think we both figured the other person would eventually “come around”, but that wasn’t the case.
Now, if we had stayed together I am sure we would have found a way to be happy(ish). The mind has an amazing way of adapting to a situation and making the most out of it or even enjoying a situation if changing things seems impossible (see: Stockholm Syndrome). Maybe I would have eventually fallen in love with Myrtle Beach, SC and enjoyed whatever shit job I found. Maybe continuing my education would have seen unnecessary and my political activism at the time felt worthless (in some senses it was, but in other’s it really helped me grow). Maybe the idea of complete monogamy with vanilla sex once a week would have eventually been enough to make me happy.
Or maybe not. Maybe I would have stuck it out for a decade or two before ending the relationship with feelings of hatred and resentment towards the person I loved, leaving me with mountains of debt and no real support network.
I’m glad I’ll never know. I’m glad that my relationship went through a pressure test that we failed. It would have been worse if we survived but didn’t end up stronger because of it. Anna and I have had lots of pressure tests. Biking around a country with someone for two years and living in a tent with them brings out stress. Not knowing where you are sleeping each night or how you will find a coffee shop to get work done can cause friction. Being within 15 feet of someone for years at a time eliminates the honeymoon phase pretty quickly. And now we are facing a new pressure test, living in a stable home and dealing with all the issues that come from that. But, despite the pressure, we’ve come out stronger and filled laughter and genuine love for each other.
If a relationship isn’t making you stronger then it might better to end it. If incompatibilities exist (or develop… we are all changing people) that is something to be taken seriously now and not pushed to the side with the hopes they will resolve themselves. It sucks when things end, but it is better to turn around when you see a dead end than to drive over a cliff just because you’ve committed yourself to that road for so long.
*I actually think committing your life to someone is foolish. We all change and grow through our life and it is impossible to commit to loving someone when you don’t know who they will be or who you will be down the road. Anna and I certainly hope that we remain compatible and loving for a long time, maybe even life, but we aren’t committed to making a relationship last until death if we aren’t happy in it. A successful relationship isn’t one where it lasts until someone dies, a successful relationship is one where both parties build each other up and are reasonable enough to end it if that is no longer the case.