Problems Unique to Long-Term Relationships


Do we want to be in a long-term relationship, or do we want to be single forever? Do we want all those nights alone, or do we want the constant demand of responsibility for another person’s needs, desires, and – ultimately – happiness? Perhaps by illuminating some of the problems unique to LTR’s, we can better judge if we’d like to have one. I have a feeling the answers aren’t going to be so cut and dry, though.

That “What’s Wrong?” Can Turn Into a Major Argument

“What’s wrong,” you ask your partner after (perhaps incorrectly) perceiving that something about their manner just seems off, like maybe you did something to hurt their feelings, or maybe they don’t love you as much anymore… like maybe you’re going to lose them. “Nothing,” your partner will respond, failing to make eye contact with you, or touch you in a reassuring way. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just tired.” “Yeah, but… you were tired the other day and you weren’t acting like this. Are you sure there’s nothing wrong? What’s wrong?” “Nothing’s wrong, I told you,” your partner shoots back, visibly irritated. “Well, why are you upset now? Why are you getting upset about me asking if something’s wrong?” “NOTHING. IS. WRONG,” your partner says, now red in the face. The ‘argument’ escalates further until you’re spewing out all your insecurities about the relationship and how s/he’s not meeting your needs, then you actually transition into this lecture about how your partner is way less considerate than you are and about what Love and Relationships are supposed to look like. All because of “What’s wrong.”

The Couple at the Bar With Nothing to Talk About Scene

Picture it: a late-20s guy and a late-20s girl, sitting across from each other at happy hour, waiting for their happy hour-priced appetizer to come, vodka tonics in hand, just looking at each other. One says something, the other misunderstands, the first corrects the misunderstanding, and the other says “Oh, I thought you said…” The first anwers, “Nope, that’s not what I said…” The couple falls silent once more. Both just want so badly for the appetizer to come so they can start stuffing their mouths for an excuse not to talk, and in the meantime, are forced to avoid eye contact, quickly smile when eye contact is accidentally made, and try to think of something to talk about. The two are stymied further when the server comes over after ten more minutes to inform them that sorry, they’re actually out of what they ordered today, but can she get another appetizer for them? Happy hour prices will be honored. The whole scene is fairly excruciating for the two, and induces both to not focus on ‘the joys’ of being at a bar with the one they love but on the fact that they have nothing to talk about and that this actually represents an existential red flag: Unsatisfaction.

The Incessant Need to Feel Satisfied

If the two parties in a long-term monogamous relationship are at all aware of the concept of an existence limited by time and the fact that ‘to commit to someone’ = ‘to believe that the relationship will last until one person in the relationship dies, thus excluding – theoretically – any chance of romantic union with an individual outside the relationhip and implying that this person in front of you – this face, these breasts, this mouth, this ass, this voice, this brain, this set of problems, this quirk, this nervous tick, this required anxiety medication, these parents, etc. – is undeniably going to be a constant which you will face for no less than 12 hours a day and will actively demand attention for the rest of your life,’ then there is often this pervasive, incessant feeling in the relationship that the couple must feel satisfied, and that if the couple does not feel satisfied, then something is wrong, and there is cause for great, Wagnerian existential despair, because the relationship is theoretically one they have chosen to live the rest of their lives in. This issue is further exacerbated by one of its natural consquences: the hyper-awareness of whether or not one is fully satisfied. This awareness in turn causes the ‘user’ to be intensely critical of himself, his role in the relationship, his partner and his partner’s role in the relationship, as well as analyze the relationship by comparing it to cultural narratives for happiness, satisfaction with one’s long-term mate, and other couples. In sum, all this hyper-awareness, overanalysis and incessant judgment basically leads to a big, revolving ball of metaphysical shit that really can dampen the mood at the dinner table.

The Terrifying Duality of Commitment to Commitment

As explained above, commitment in itself is sort of an epic life change if you are to adhere to its requirements. So in essence your commitment itself is… a commitment. Like, you have to commit to being committed. I can’t tell if I’m being redundant or not – probably. The idea I’m unsuccessfully trying to get across is that committing is freaking terrifying, and not committing is equally horrendous. What if you don’t commit? The narrative is that you’ll eventually get too old and too set in your ways to have the savvy, prowess and/or desire to date and find a suitable mate and that you’ll spend the rest of your days an unsatisfied spinster/ creep and die a cold death alone and without anyone to pay for the funeral. What a terrible but ultimately convincing narrative. But commitment is just as scary.

The Mutual Experience of Boredom

“What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” “I don’t know… I don’t want to do anything. I’m not actively sitting here wanting to do something. If I wanted to do something I would do it.” “Well… what should we do?” “I don’t know what we should do.” “Well, what do you want to do?” “I told you, I don’t like, want to do anything. I don’t have something for us to do, I’m sorry.” “We should do something though… we can’t just sit here.”

After a certain amount of time in a relationship, there is just like, not that much to do anymore. You’ve already done all those crazy things together just to prove that you were a person capable of doing crazy stuff, you’ve already stayed up all night fucking, you’ve already drank each other under the table on numerous occasions, you’ve already explored drugs together, you’ve already started your own clothes-hawking side business together. Yet there remains this expectation that you must be doing something all the time, and if you’re not… if you find yourself without anything to do at all, bored and listless, it’s that red flag again: Unsatisfaction.

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