Some of our strongest ties to even the flimsiest of relationships are based on what we experienced or even hoped for in the beginning. When we’re living in the past because the present has too many code red realities biting at us, we end up spending a great deal of our time trying to recapture the feelings we experienced at the beginning. Or we try to recapture the person we believed or assumed them to be. Sometimes we’re even trying to recapture what we thought was our best self in those moments. It’s for these very reasons that we may find it hard to recover from a relationship that didn’t even happen. We struggle to get over the loss of our hopes and expectations.

We like how we felt and acted at the beginning of the relationship, and we want to make that happen all of the time. Yes, even if the reality of the present doesn’t lend itself to this. This means that we can spend an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of the entire relationship trying to turn back time. We’re trying to turn the minority of the relationship into a full-time gig. Of course, we lose track of time. When we took up this vocation, the good times were in a different context.

Here’s an example of how this plays out:

Let’s imagine that we’re saying that the first three months were “fabulous”. Maybe it was “almost too good to be true”, “everything we’d hoped for” and like “the long-awaited reward for all of [our] trauma”. In month four things go off the boil. By the end of that month, though, we forget that it’s a relatively new relationship. We forget that contextually, alarm bells should be ringing if the relationship has gone into a rapid decline or we feel as if the person we met has disappeared.

Instead, by focusing on the ‘beginning’, ‘good points’ and ‘good times’, we reason that the relationship was great for three-quarters of its duration. We might even, at this point, reason that contextually, this person’s three-out-of-four-month record is better than another of our relationships. We’re still focused on the idea that the beginning is the relationship and the happy ending.

Focusing on how great things were in the beginning allows us to ignore what we’ve learned about this person.

If this continues on into month five, the ‘good’ still outweighs the not so good.

In month six, we reason that it’s half great, half not-so-great. We figure we’re capable of getting three good months out of them. Even though it’s not the beginning anymore, we reason that we should be able to get another ‘good run’. It’s a bit like when stars do those Las Vegas shows for however many nights for a few months; we’re now waiting for the ‘next run’.

Of course, we forget that three dodgy months at such a relatively early stage in the relationship is problematic. Sure, we might get another ‘good stint’. However, it would be fair to deduce that we could get another dodgy few months. We also forget that people unfold.

If six months in, a romantic partner is showing a low commitment and consistency stamina along with contradicting values, we’re going to be in for a hard slog. These are signs of incompatibility and emotional unavailability. These factors will only add to what is already a busy plate of two people trying to get to know each other and co-create a relationship. 

Still, when it’s half and half, even if in terms of the bigger picture it’s a relatively short period of time for it to be this way, we’ll feel invested. We’ll look for a return on investment.

Let’s imagine that we’re now 9 months in.

While we have some highlights, we basically haven’t been able to consistently recapture the beginning. We’ve gone from being in a situation where we could rationalise that it was mostly good to it being almost 67% not-so-good or even straight-up bad. We’ve then spent six months of a nine-month relationship fighting to recapture the past. This is all while struggling in the present and possibly denying, rationalising, and minimising so that we can keep chasing the past.

The more time that goes on, the more out of context the beginning looks.

We’re in a relationship of diminishing returns. And we’ll know it because we’ll have less self-esteem and energy than we entered into the relationship with, even if they weren’t that high in the first place.

I’ve heard from so many people who’ve stayed in relationships for years based on the first few days/weeks/months or the first year. Some are clearly waiting for a happy ending.

Films and fairy tales peddle this concept of falling for someone and battling adversities. Think commitment resistance, being treated like a hooker, being ignored, fighting an opponent, aliens, freak weather in a metropolis and other such puff. And then these adversities are resolved and the people live happily ever after around ninety minutes or so. The media and popular culture also peddle the myth of the ability to love someone based on a first impression. You know, gained via the eyes and initial feelings aka love at first sight aka the libido and lust version of Mystic Meg. No need to rub a crystal ball; just follow the gravitational pull of our pattern or even our libido.

We can’t squeeze all of the adversity into our own fairy tale or film. There’s no ‘quick fix’. Not only does it infuriate us when we can’t get instant results or take shortcuts, but the reality is that even if the beginning is brilliant, we can’t base an entire relationship and our desire to stay based solely or primarily on the beginning.

As soon as we start living in the past about a relationship, we’re talking about something that’s effectively over.

It means that the present isn’t satisfactory. We want to feel safe in betting on the potential, so we try to get reassurances that the beginning will happen again, letting us revise ‘the ending’. For this reason, when we won’t get to work in the present, that beginning we get so obsessed with is also the end, just not the one that we expected.

If we’re going to truly work at a relationship, that work is here in our present, not in trying to make the picture in our minds true.

The first step to addressing issues within our relationships is getting into the present. This is where our attention is needed and also at its most valuable and productive. We can only really know what we’re in and what we can address by being willing to be conscious, aware, and present in our relationships. We have to be connected to ourselves right now.

The past is done so we cannot effect any great change there. Our time is now. When we’ll disregard the present, including our needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions, our reliance on our perception of the past to shape our current thinking and actions leads us to a great deal of pain. We’ll blame ourselves for why the beginning is different from the middle and the end. We’ll also burden ourselves with inappropriate responsibilities for trying to put things right. That is not even the beginning of the most appropriate use for our time, energy, efforts and emotions.

Ultimately, we can’t spend an entire relationship at the beginning just so that we don’t have to truly get to know a person and let them know us, or so that we don’t have to deal with reality and things being less than perfect. If we want mutual love, care, trust and respect, we’ll have to step into reality.

Your thoughts?

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