Acknowledging that the time has come to pull the pin on a very long relationship can be remarkably difficult. If even people in abusive relationships find it hard to do, when every fibre of their being tells them that getting out is the only positive option, it’s little wonder that this torturous decision can seem overwhelming when love’s just run its course. But no matter how often we put ourselves through it, we somehow always manage to forget that facing the inevitable actually has its upsides.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a new relationship. And then later, when you realised it’s love—wow! It’s like sunflowers and ducklings and a warm, fluffy towel fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night, all rolled into one.
New love is so good that it makes you forgive—if not forget—every bad thing you ever experienced in your last relationship. The poor treatment, the abuse, the being taken for granted, the ever-diminishing trust, that it became a chore… then a struggle… then something you just couldn’t wait to be away from.
Then you realise that this thing is so much better than anything you’ve ever experienced before. You wonder why you ever spent any time at all thinking that you had what you deserved and that what you deserved was no more than what you already had.
When your new love feels that good, you begin to realise that the reason you became so unhappy before, so unsettled, so troubled and so very rebellious was that, in fact, what you were capable of finding was so much more than what you’d settled for.
With each year that comes and goes, you continue to marvel at the strength and resilience of this wonderful relationship, that just keeps getting better and better. With each anniversary, you recall that you’ve still not spent a scheduled day apart in two years, then three, then four.
It’s seemingly forever onwards and upwards. Learning and growing together. So many experiences—together. You even go off and explore the world together. You start to wonder if the fact that you’ve never had a single bad word to say about any aspect of this relationship might actually be slightly unhealthy.
As the years continue to roll by, without even realising it you begin to wear your relationship like a comfy old pair of slippers. You’re now so interwoven that it’s a case of ‘two become one’. You’re intrinsically linked. Other people almost treat you as a single entity. You, yourself, even find it hard, sometimes, to separate one from the other.
Then one day, more than a decade into the world’s greatest love affair, a comment is made. You don’t even notice it at first, but something keeps niggling at you, in the back of your mind. Then you start replaying the comment, over and over, wondering where it came from and what it meant. It’s not a good feeling. You haven’t heard that kind of comment before… well, at least, not since that last horrible relationship. But you brush it off. Misunderstanding. Misheard. Misinterpreted. Must have been one of those.
As time goes on, things keep changing. Slowly but surely the realisation dawns that not only are you being less involved in those changes, but also you don’t even always agree with them. Then it occurs to you that you’re not even being consulted about them any more. Then you realise that you don’t actually feel heard at all any more.
That wonderful, reassuring sense of mutual understanding and support and security that was once almost omnipresent—where did it go? When did this happen? Why is it so?
Like false repressed memory syndrome, you do your level best to force those feelings back. You must be wrong. You must be imagining things. You’re just confused. Or stressed. Or tired. Or something.
Then you realise you’re spending more and more unscheduled time apart. Not because you have to, but because you want to. At first, it’s just because other things take priority every now and then—that’s what you tell yourself. But then other things keep taking priority over and over again. Before long, those other things become less priorities and more the things you’d actually rather be doing.
One day, you’re horrified to discover yourself wondering what it would be like to be in a different relationship. But you quickly put it out of your mind, because it’s just not something you want to think about. And besides, after all these years, you couldn’t even begin to imagine finding anything like what you have now. Coz, after all, you remind yourself, you probably have what you deserve and what you deserve is probably no more than what you already have.
Then you have one of those mirror moments from the movies—you know, where the camera lense zooms in while the actual camera pulls back, so your own reflection gets closer while the room surrounding you looks like it’s moving in the opposite direction? That kind of effect is what you experience. Because what you just heard yourself think was truly shocking.
That’s when you realise that the time’s come. You have no choice but to acknowledge what you’ve known, but have been avoiding, for so long. It’s hard. It’s going to hurt, you know that. But you realise you’re trapped. It’s a no win situation. There’s nowhere left for you to go. You realise it’s time to admit defeat. You’ve failed. The whole thing’s turned toxic. There’s nothing good can come of it now. You have no option but to get out.
Your beautiful affair is over. The love is gone. You no longer want to be there. However much—and whoever—it might hurt, you just have to do it because there’s no going back. That ongoing self-imposed state of inertia is no longer an option.
And then, just like that, as if by magic, suddenly you feel better. Heartbreak and relief in equal measure. Acknowledging to yourself what needed to be acknowledged was enormously cathartic and it’s allowed you to think more clearly about what to do next, and all the other things you need to do from here.
Australian Air Hostess Tegan Jovanka was always my favourite Doctor Who companion as a kid. I’ve actually taken something she said in her very last episode with me throughout my life: “My Aunt Vanessa said, when I became an air stewardess, if you stop enjoying it, give it up”.
I didn’t have an Aunt Vanessa, nor did I ever become an Air Stewardess (despite probably harbouring a secret childhood longing to be one), but I’ve kept the rest of Tegan’s parting words tucked away in the back of my mind, ever since the very first time I heard her say them more than thirty years ago.
Because, as good as this glorious new love I’d found seemed at the time, I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t blindly expect it to carry on forever. As wonderful as it would’ve been if it had—and believe me, after this many years, sometimes it actually does feel like it’s lasted forever—I had to face facts. I had to make sure I went into this thing pragmatically, with eyes wide open and with one very important statement as my mantra: if you stop enjoying it, give it up.
It’s stopped being fun, Doctor.