“What am I allowed to expect?” This was the question I kept asking myself in the waning months of my previous relationship. We had been together for five years and appeared to be on the conveyor belt to matrimony. It was a foregone conclusion, despite our constant friction.
I’d been through many relationships before, so I knew that rough patches were transient. I was experienced enough to not fret at the first sign of trouble, and I was confident enough to help my partner through her feelings of doubt. Over time, we built a strong foundation for our relationship that helped us navigate the many, many obstacles that got in our way. On one hand, that sounds like an amazing bond, and I felt like I had found the secret to a lasting relationship.
But the obstacles weren’t external; they came from the friction of two incompatible people trying too hard to coalesce. After so many breaks and repairs, the relationship started to resemble a hobo’s suitcase. We patched it up with tape and scraps, but it kept falling apart on an almost-daily basis. Eventually, what had been a source of pride - our ability to stick together through shitty times - began to feel like a burden. I started paying attention to all the little problems, keeping track of the big ones, and asking myself over and over: “What am I allowed to expect?”
Pop culture will give you the impression that the average relationship is fairly rocky. Usually hinged together by some form of pride or momentum, two distinctly different individuals grapple with each other in a subdued, drawn-out battle to see who will give up first. They sabotage each other's futures through compromise and obligation, remain bitter the entire time, and cling desperately to their memories of the beginning when it was all sex and romance. This was supposedly what I could expect for myself.
Luckily, my relationship deteriorated to a point where I was confident that, no matter how little I was allowed to expect, I wasn’t getting half it. I broke up with her.
Upon this turn of fortune, I almost immediately found myself in another relationship. I really do mean “found myself” - neither of us expected it to happen - we were just having fun and we suddenly realized that things were working better than we ever could have imagined. This confounded us both because we simply didn’t think it was possible to be so congruous with another person this easily. But that’s when I finally had a good answer to my question.
What am I allowed to expect? A lot.
I used to say that that compatibility was overrated and adaptability was key to a lasting relationship, but I also felt lucky to be where I was and I didn’t realize that things could be better. My last girlfriend and I were not naturally compatible at all, but we made it work for a very long time because, despite our many differences, we romanticized the stubbornness of sticking together through all the rough spots. I thought that time and familiarity would erode our mismatched edges until we rested against each other like stones in a wall. What we experienced instead was a perpetual grind between two diamond-hard wills until we both were dust.
If you’re not getting what you need out of your relationship, do yourself and your partner a huge favor and just break up already. Culture your independence and wait for someone who brings out the you in you. The happiest moments of your life, happier than you ever thought you deserved, are waiting.
New York City