There’s Two Ways To Make A Relationship Last For A Long Time. One Of Them Involves Being Casual.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The other day, I wrote a whole essay on my therapist’s statement “A relationship’s strength is measured by how well it survives trauma.”

Which, as I said, doesn’t mean a weak relationship any less meaningful, or impactful. It just means when the rubber hits the road, you won’t have that relationship any more.

Now, that had the unfortunate side effect of implying that the longest-lasting relationships were the strongest relationships. But there’s another way of ensuring your relationship sticks around for a long time:

You do everything you can to avoid putting stress on the relationship.

That’s how a lot of “friends with benefits” relationships work – you very specifically show up with the intention of having a good time, and if you have any problems, the relationship is designed to leave you no room to discuss them without automatically becoming the asshole. You shape your whole relationship around this concept that there’s no emotional ties – and even if ties develop, the agreements you’ve had require you both to conceal your feelings.

You can keep a relationship going like that for a long time. But you do it by ensuring that you keep trauma far away from it. It’s like building a bridge out of toothpicks and Elmer’s glue and then ensuring you only let Matchbox cars drive over it.

Other long-term relationships survive by compartmenting – that cliche of the old married couple who does nothing together, him hunting and her going off to book club, ensuring they don’t disgrace themselves in a divorce both of them see as unacceptable by minimizing their time together. They don’t really support each other so much as stand next to each other – but for them, that’s better than violating what they see as the sacrament of marriage.

Again, they stretch it out by reducing the load.

Which is a balance that, I think, every seriously mentally ill person has to face at some point. As someone with severe depression, if I go to my wife to handle every bit of the trauma that just accumulates in my brain from day to day – harmful thoughts that appear without anyone having to do anything bad to me – then I’ll wear her out, constantly dumping on her. So I extend our relationship by finding other ways to vent, and only coming to her when it’s serious enough to deal with.

(This isn’t theoretical, by the way. We almost got a divorce in the early years of our marriage because I brought every distress to her, and became such a pain in the ass that she fell out of love with me. If you have light enough mental issues that you can bring every trouble to your partner I am glad for you, but there’s a subset of mental illnesses where asking your lover to handle all your problems shifts your relationship into a caretaker mode – and while there’s some overlap, there’s a huge difference between “loving this person” and “being obligated to suppress your needs to look after them.”)

So you can make a relationship last longer by putting less trauma onto it. But there’s an important caveat to this:

**Not every relationship needs to handle *all the trauma*.

There’s a weird idea in Western culture that a relationship should be designed to be a vital support mechanism. And admittedly, most people find supportive relationships to be more fulfilling in the long run…

But there’s nothing wrong if you just want the sex from someone, as long as both of you are okay with that and not just settling for the sex because you think that’s all you can get.

There’s nothing wrong with having light friends who won’t be there for your darkest hour – sometimes you just need someone to talk about your hobbies with.

There’s nothing wrong with light relationships, so long as that’s not all you have! Having a support system that also incorporates elements of “This person makes me laugh” isn’t a bad thing, so long as you’re realistic about who’s who. I mean, I try to be a good friend to many, but if you need me to help you move, I’m not that guy.

But I’ve known some people lightly for years, and those relationships have been great because I know where we stand. The buddy I go to movies with (at least in the covid-free times). The sexy friend who I occasionally exchange lewd snapshots with. The comet who I visit whenever I’m in town for a night of shenanigans.

Are they Serious Relationships? No! But not every relationship needs to be Serious. Some of the more enjoyable relationships can be those buddies who you go years without talking to, then suddenly cross paths and catch up with effortlessly.

Will they show up at the hospital to take care of you if you have a heart attack? No. But should that be your standard to keep a relationship going?

So yeah. I wouldn’t suggest the “loveless marriage” route, because that’s asking people to forsake other serious relationships to hew to a pact neither of you is made happy by. But as for the rest, if you find yourself constantly overloading your buddies until they leave you, maybe it might be better to find a few staunch allies you can rely on, and then consider starting all your other relationships as “casual friends” until you see whether they organically grow into load-bearing friendships.

Those relationships won’t support much – but that doesn’t mean they support nothing! Just make sure you know what you want.

1 Comment

  1. Carolina Siquot
    Dec 22, 2020

    Once again, thank you for writing this! Your words are guiding me through many of my polyamory doubts and you have a great way of expressing your ideas. Keep it up!

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