Question: We’re approaching the end of the year, yet somehow I’m still meeting new people to whom I’m romantically attracted. Are short-term, whirlwind, often intense relationships a worthwhile pursuit, or should time pressures prevent us from giving it a shot?
I love this question because it’s almost universally applicable and one of the most oft explored themes in romantic stories — the “right person wrong time” effect; the idea that lovers are star-crossed because they met each other as someone is heading off to war or an arranged marriage or graduation or, simply, summer vacation. These things have been on my mind recently, especially as the school year comes to a close; distance, inevitable goodbyes, bad timing and the possibility encapsulated in the uncertainty of “next time.” I wrote last year in a not atypical moment of melodrama that, “Finality hangs over the school year at Yale, and Commencement ends not only where you call home, but who you call yours.”
For those of you who don’t know me personally, I grew up living and traveling aboard a boat. I’ve written extensively about the impact this nomadic lifestyle had on my personal relationships — namely, that I got very used to starting with the end in mind, to developing relationships with the intention to leave and, likely, never see the person again. Short-lived, intense and fated-to-end relationships were the name of the game. At times, they were intoxicating. Often, they were sad. Always, they were memorable.
I find that I reflect on these short-lived relationships with a greater fondness than those that played out for longer — they had so much possibility. There’s something extraordinary about the end being externally imposed. It’s not one person’s job to stop loving, it’s just time. Plus, you don’t have to grapple with flaws that unspool themselves over months and years, not weeks. Perfection is possible in the short-lived, which makes these relationships so simultaneously wonderful and devastating. I believe these short-lived and intense relationships are absolutely worthwhile and that timing is a pathetic excuse not to try.
So what does trying look like? An awful lot like reckless abandon. Throw yourself fearlessly into the limited time you have. If you’re having a movie-length love affair, do movie things — take walks, go on picnics, run through the rain, stay up too late and talk all night. Don’t avoid getting to know each other because you won’t be together forever. Feel the things you want to feel, perhaps on fast-forward. “Seeing the end as it begins,” as Taylor Swift might say, doesn’t mean you have to focus on the end while it begins.
But, when the time comes to say goodbye — and that time will come — do it with a full heart and try your damndest to let go. There have been moments in my life when years down the road, I remet someone with whom I felt I had unfinished romantic business. Without fail, the attempt to finish it — to prove that time hadn’t changed anything — went horribly awry and left me with a sense of futility and spoiled memories of the good times before.
I often wonder about the lack of finality these days. It feels like all business is inherently unfinished, that no situation has perfect closure. One can believe that they’ve moved on from someone, but with the advent of technology — the vicious and powerful pull of being able to communicate, all day every day, with someone who is far away — the person is always a little bit there, lurking in Instagram likes and on Snapchat stories and in the possibility of your phone screen lighting up with a text one day.
So, when your time together ends, decide how and if you’ll stay in touch. If you decide to remain in each other’s life, connect over Skype and FaceTime in addition to Snapchat or Instagram — life and love are far more dynamic than static pictures that leave far too much room for missed cues about feelings. Have long, late-night phone calls. Have short, hungover, mid-afternoon phone calls when you see something that makes you think of them. And write letters. Relics of a faraway person from a faraway place are irreplaceable.
True, it’s hard to ignore the tantalizing promise of a future “next-time.” It’s what the Chainsmokers sing about (sorry I’m basic): “Four years no call / Now you’re looking pretty in a hotel bar.” Don’t we all wonder what we’d say to the long-lost lover who we find in a bar years down the line? Will space and time eventually stop being an impediment? Balancing possibility and closure, romance and reality, feels impossible. Emerging in the space of too short a time are efforts to narrativize, to write a story that finishes, or continues, years down the line. I am the worst culprit here — it’s the short-term relationships that evolved into in-my-head marriages and lives lived out on the seaside. So, here’s my hypocritical advice that I won’t take and you probably won’t either: Resist the urge to narrativize.
Here’s the thing: When you enter into the short-term relationship, the inevitable end can lead to premature sadness. But that bittersweet goodbye is down the road. Don’t deprive yourself of a chance to get to know someone — intimately, crazily, all at once — just because of time. This is what these years are for. Throw yourself into this last month of school with all the fearlessness you can muster.
Ayla Besemer | firstname.lastname@example.org