There are times whilst dating when the rosy and golden glow of romance starts to fade and a cooler reality starts to creep into the cracks. Sometimes we may be discontent with the pace or the direction in which the relationship is going. Other times, we may find ourselves still hung up on something—or someone—from our yesterdays. Whether we feel pulled back by the past or pushed too far forward by thoughts of the future, we are failing to be live in the present with our partner and truly appreciate the here and now.
Plenty of us are familiar with the biological clock that can seem louder than almost anything else for some when they hit a certain stage in their life. I remember in my mid- 20s having babies frequently on the brain. All of my friends were having kids, so our gatherings (and my lap and arms) were filled with cute and laughing babies and toddlers who were growing exponentially in seemingly a blink of an eye. While I never pestered my live-in boyfriend about having a family, I had plenty of friends who were giving or feeling the pressure.
A best friend of a man I dated for years was turning 30, and his—yes, his—biological clock was seemingly sending off alarms. He had been dating his girlfriend for two years, and they had been through a fairly rocky journey. Still he was feeling “old” and had a really strong urge to be a father. Despite my boyfriend’s advice to the contrary, his friend proposed to his girlfriend. They wound up moving across country and buying a house together. We weren’t overly surprised when they broke up less than a year later. His strong desire to be a dad couldn’t override the irreconcilable differences between him and his fiancée.
Sometimes the pull to look into the future is a necessity to examine and reevaluate a current relationship. After dating a boyfriend for two years, living with him four days out of the week, I began to wonder where, if anywhere, our relationship was going.
“I want to have kids by the age of 35,” I’d tell him as a matter-of-fact. ‘I want to make sure I have enough energy to be playing sports with my kids.” I also said that I want to decrease the risk of serious complications that sometimes comes with age, which was a genuine concern for me health-wise.
“Well, we still have five years then,” he’d say, as if there weren’t very important steps that needed to happen in the interim.
Another consideration was, as a close, married friend put it, that my boyfriend “needed to sh*t, or get off the pot.” I wasn’t expecting a wedding ring in a month, but we hadn’t even discussed the possibility of moving in together. It didn’t seem fair for me to continue to be half-living out of the car as my closet, so that I could make sure I had my clothes always available for two residences. It didn’t seem fair that I was doing laundry and dishes, yard work, house renovations and picking out furniture for a house that wasn’t even mine.
He surprised me one romantic night by seriously wondering if our two very different cats would get along together. I said we could give them trial runs first. But that was the extent of that discussion. When I finally seriously posed the topic for discussion toward the end of our relationship, he offered up my living at his house five days as a great prize.
Soon I was a woman possessed with the question, “Des he want to be with me in the future or doesn’t he?” He’d always been small on words when it came to feelings, but I was starting to wonder if his jokingly(?) callous attitude toward marriage was a reaction to his friends continual disregard of the commitment or if he honestly thought marriage was doomed to disaster.
After numerous discussions that he tried to dodge, my breaking up with him in frustration and him begging for me to come back, we finally had the discussion that sealed it. “Sometimes I think of us living in a house years from now, with our cats playing together, but then I get scared,” he said. “All that stuff is just too grown up.” This was from a 40-year-old, with his own house and more than 15 years with the same company.
Peter Pan had nothing more to give me. Sadly, when I honestly thought about it, I had known for quite some time that this is how our relationship would ultimately pan out. He couldn’t understand why, but I finally decided to move on.
Yet there are times when you can’t seem to move on, no matter how much you try. You can date as many people as you want, immerse yourself as completely into someone new as you can—and even fall completely head over heels—but when there’s a lull, or a series of disappointments or heartaches, you realize your mind—and your heart—keeps drifting back to the past. Sometimes it takes facing that past head-on to realize that’s exactly where it should be left—behind you.
Sometimes you can become haunted by the past. A guy I dated briefly was with a woman for six years, including a year of marriage before he found out she had been cheating on him since the day they met. He had thought they were a perfect couple, madly in love, so obviously the news shattered him. When I met him, it was more than a year and a half since he left their marriage. He had dated another girl since. Yet it was obvious to everyone involved that he still carried his wife with him everywhere he went.
I heard about all the terrible things she did to him first, but through the course of our time together, I also heard the many happy memories he had of her. As much as he hated what she did, he still loved her. He wondered if ever would stop loving her and stop feeling like he had done something wrong.
When I heard this, I knew that he was still reliving his past again and again. Despite the fun times we had together, there was no future in the cards because there was barely a present. I was merely a diversion to help him through the heartbreak. When I ended even our friendship, I begged him to do what it took to find some healing and peace before he tried to get involved with anyone else; otherwise, it wasn’t fair to either of them.
Sometimes the past can serve as a safety float through the wreckage of an explosive relationship, something to which you can escape to keep you sane. Thinking too much about the drama and emotional abuse of the present can drive you nearly batty; reliving fond old memories or remembering there were other relationships in which you felt both safe and truly loved at the same time can help you from going dead emotionally.
The ideal, of course, is when you are actually living in the moment of a relationship in which you feel vibrant, accepted, appreciated, cherished, desired, loved and safe. It is very refreshing to now be completely present in a relationship, fully enjoying someone and the experiences shared. That’s where the real connection and contentment can exist.