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The Stigma of the “On-and-Off” Relationship

Photo by Angie

Photo by Angie

(Ed note: Once again, we have guest blogger Angie! An engineer by day, food blogger on nights and weekends, and an all around thinker no matter the time in San Francisco. Enjoy her brave, bold, and strong take on this oft snubbed topic.) 

Two and a half years ago, my boyfriend of eight years and I broke up. For the following six months I didn’t eat a lot of food, exercise at all, or date anyone. About a year after the breakup, I started seeing my current boyfriend. And thus began a bit of a roller coaster ride that I was not prepared for, and which I honestly never imagined would happen to me.

With hindsight now on my side, I can say that there were a variety of serious problems at the beginning. New boyfriend had been through a really hard breakup a few years earlier and had never really had a serious relationship since. He was consequently not yet ready to trust someone romantically. I, on the other hand, had expectations of the familiarity and ease of a long term partnership. He was often callous and unkind. I was often needy and upset. He tried to push me away. I pushed harder to get closer. You get the idea.

About six months into this drama act, he broke it off, leaving us both heartbroken. A few months after that, his name popped up on my cell phone. I answered. He was having a particularly bad night and wanted to talk. I cautiously went to go see him, which led to a passionate reunion.

So we started dating again, this time pointedly stepping away from the roller coaster. We talked things out, made clear decisions to avoid miscommunications, and agreed to meet in the middle on certain expectations. Eight months and a week-long vacation together later, we’re happy and doing well.

All this has made me dread the question, “How long have you guys been together?” What do I say? Tell that whole damn story every time? Just lop the first half off like a dead tree branch and say eight months? Round right up to a mildly exaggerated year and a half? I’ve been thus far inclined to say, with a compromise of accuracy and brevity, “about nine months off and on, then the last eight months on”. I’m not sure how people take this. But I do know that one thing people could see is a drama-filled, juvenile sort of relationship.

People are entitled to their opinions, and to a large extent I don’t really care what they think. But, sometimes it’s sad to think that my relationship isn’t entirely up to snuff in someone else’s eyes. And, with all the tales of genuinely bad relationships floating around (in the media, on TV, with your closest friends and family), it’s tough not to wonder sometimes if you’re being blinded by your own feelings and simply not seeing the huge flashing red signs that say “THIS IS NOT WORKING”.

All that aside, I do think there are great relationships that start off poorly. I know that all relationships have ups and downs. And while it sucks to start on a down, it doesn’t mean that the ups aren’t there, or that they’re not worth working for.  In the end, it’s each person’s task to make this evaluation, weigh the costs and benefits, and to choose the path that is right for them.

As with anything, there are lots of reasons for things to be the way they are. Some people have on-and-off relationships because they are attracted to drama. Others might not be able to step back and see their relationship as it really is, and make decisions based on that. And others simply address difficulties and resolutions by breaking up and getting back together, which perhaps is sometimes needed to ensure the longevity of the relationship.

As for me, I don’t know if this particular man is “the man” for me or whether I’ll marry him and make a million babies or not. All I know is that I have a connection with him, both physically and emotionally, and that I knew from the beginning that he was a really good man who just had a few things to work out. We all have a few things to work out, and we always will. It’s just a matter of whether we have the patience, wisdom, and thoughtfulness to improve and change ourselves and our relationships to be ever better. And since I think he does, and that I do too, I’m willing to weather some of the downs to see where the ups might take us.

And so far, I like what I see on the horizon.


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