I’m the sort of person who checks the expiration date on every item at the supermarket; I want to know in advance precisely when it will all go bad. If only it were as simple to determine when a relationship will end, before making the decision to jump in or walk away. Wouldn’t that be swell? We’d be spared the heartbreak of lost loves that mercilessly rip out our hearts and gnaw at the tendrils of our souls. Or perhaps, being only human, we’d go all in anyway–despite the foreknowledge of doom–refusing to believe what the tea leaves told us from the very start.
I’m reluctantly coming to the conclusion that every romantic relationship has a pre-determined expiration date. It may be a week, a month, a year, or 40 years–but like life itself, where the inevitability of death is present at the moment of birth–the end is the conjoined twin of the beginning. If we knew where to look, we would see it, deeply encoded there within the relationship’s DNA: the exact moment when the flame will eventually die. It may go out in a passionless whimper, hesitant and sputtering along like a car running out of gas. Or it may end with a catastrophic bang, amidst the sturm und drang of a blazing love that has irrevocably annealed into hate. (Which of these scenarios leaves the deeper scar? Impossible to say).
No one wants to contemplate the demise of a relationship while they’re caught up in its heady, passionate, glorious blossoming. That’s why so many couples forgo a marital pre-nup. Who wants to consider the possibility that lovers may end up bitterly parted long before they’re dearly departed? Cole Porter broke it down for us, in his wise, witty, almost nonchalant way, in “Just One of Those Things”:
If we’d thought a bit, about the end of it, when we started painting the town, we’d have been aware that our love affair was too hot not to cool down. So goodbye dear and amen. Here’s hoping we meet now and then. It was great fun, but it was just one of those things.
Mr. Porter, that’s exactly how I’m feeling right now, post breakup. It only lasted a few months, but it was intense. I knew from the start that at some point it was going to end. There were problems. There were red flags. But mostly it was delightful. Until it wasn’t. One day (during a texting exchange–yes, I know…) it suddenly hit me: this is over. I wasn’t shocked or devastated. My reaction was oddly clinical. But still, I was unprepared–because unlike the quart of milk I’d purchased that morning, this expiration date wasn’t available to me in advance. The breakup was the slow kind–bucking and coughing until finally, it just stopped dead. There was no more gas left in the tank and no gas station in sight. Time to hitch a ride and go home. No anger; no recriminations; no regrets.
Will I pay attention to the warning signs next time? Probably not. More likely I’ll just seek out a gypsy who’ll examine the tea leaves and tell me what I want to hear.
It really was great fun. But it was just one of those things.