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What is the purpose of a relationship?

I am about to reach 30 and have had several relationships with the guys in different ages, nationalities, family or cultural backgrounds, personalities, etc. (Here I’m specifically talking about a romantic relationship). As I approach what’s considered “the right time” to get married in my culture, people start to ask me “my plan to get married” all the time. From some point of my life, whenever I mention I am seeing somebody, the most often question I get asked is if we have a plan for the future, which usually means a marriage.

I often get an impression from others that it’s time for me to stop having a “casual relationship”, but to get married. Their questions have rarely been about what kind of person I am seeing and want to have in my life, but about when I am going to get married. How on earth do I know when I would get married when I am not even in a relationship or unsure if I think who I am seeing can be my life partner? Do other people just magically meet a life partner they have been looking for around “the right time” to get married!? Or do they just get married with somebody they happen to go out with around this time? To be honest, I also thought I was supposed to seriously think about a marriage every time I was in a relationship until the last one.

I tried really hard to settle in every relationship without really thinking about what it all means to me and my life. When my unfulfilled wish of settling in a relationship only left me a bitterness over a break-up after another break-up, I started to wonder what the purpose of having a relationship is. Is it just to get married and settled with somebody before I become too old? If a relationship doesn’t turn into a marriage, is it a failure? Should I only date a guy who promises to marry me?

Why Do We Have Relationships?

I was deeply involved in a serious relationship for about 3 years until recently. I wanted to finally settle and have no more break-up. I wish he was the right one for me to spend the rest of my life with so that I avoid all the hassles and heart-breaking experience of a relationship. If I think about it now, it was quite a reckless and illusionary thought. In fact, I wished, but didn’t really ask myself if he was the right one or not, nor considered what changes this choice of settling could bring to my life. I just wanted to settle as if it is the ultimate goal of a relationship to achieve and it would magically bring happiness to my life, saving all the problems I have had in the past relationships. It is a life-changing decision to promise such commitment with somebody. But how come I just tried to recklessly jump into it? Obviously, it was in part because (I thought) I loved him and wanted to be with him. But there were definitely more reasons that that. I couldn’t be bothered to go through all the emotional fusses of a relationship from the scratch again.

Also, the end of a relationship has felt like a failure every time. Obviously, a relationship is one of the important areas where I want to achieve a success in my life. I’ve always worked hard to achieve it, so isn’t it only fair of life to reward me as much as my efforts? I know it doesn’t sound right to view a relationship from the perspective of success or failure, but isn’t a sense of a failure honestly what we all feel about a break-up to some extent? Most of all, a break-up has always left me enormous emotional pains and everybody seems to agree that we are supposed to suffer from the end of a relationship for a while, if not a life-time. Of course, it is painful to lose somebody who used to be significant in my life as well as the part of me I shared with him.

Does a break-up always have to be considered as a failure?

Do I honestly believe that there is no value I can find from it? Not really. I don’t think I could be who I am today nor I could be aware of what I am writing in my blog now without the experiences and lessons I learnt from my past relationships. How about a sense of loss which I believe is at the core of all the sufferings and pains caused by a break-up? Am I really losing something? Yes, the imaginary expectations I have about our future together. But it is not something which actually exists or happens yet, so it doesn’t make sense to lose something which doesn’t even exist other than in my mind. In reality, I’ve actually gained something every time, the world I’ve created together with somebody.

We wish this shared world just disappeared with our pains and all the residual memories after a break-up, but it does remain as part of our life, in the face of the end of a relationship. How about the actual person I was once in love with? Isn’t it unquestionable that we lose them when a relationship is over? But have I ever “had” that person in my life? If I look back at all my past relationships, nobody was never or would be mine, regardless of whether a relationship continues or not. Indeed, it is that illusion of owning somebody which creates sufferings in a relationship most of the time. When a romantic relationship comes to an end, it means that we won’t share the world to the same intensity as before. But not only does the world created together remain within us, but we could still share some parts of our life and love each other like we do with any other friends in our life. It is really up to our decision if we lose somebody after a break-up or not.

But more importantly, I realized all the painful meanings attached to the end of a relationship are mainly due to my obsession with the results of a relationship. If I only focus on the “end results” of a relationship as a marriage, yes, all the emotional work of a relationship is a hassle, particularly when the results are not achieved. Also, if the purpose of a relationship is to achieve certain outcomes like settling or getting married, the indicator which tells you whether a relationship is successful or not is really simple. You either succeed in getting married or not. However, it would be quite silly to believe that a marriage itself will be an end of a relationship. There are thousands of couples having unhappy marriages and getting divorced because they idly believe they don’t need to work on a relationship anymore. A marriage gives some sense of stability and security in a relationship, but it doesn’t mean that it would magically work out itself without any efforts. Nothing would work that way in life. We work on a relationship not to get married, but to make it “work”.

Setting a marriage as the end goal of a relationship and focusing on achieving it have greatly created anxiety about the unpredictable future of a relationship and fear of a failure. Obviously growing fear and anxiety are not a sign of a working relationship, and, in hindsight, they have stopped me from being fully present and loving the other person in a relationship, not to mention fully enjoying a relationship. Aren’t we in a “romantic” relationship because of and for love? Whether in a marriage or not, the ideal purpose of a relationship I believe is to love, to have fun/joy and to grow, not just physically but of course mentally and spiritually as well.

Although I haven’t fully admitted it until now by being too preoccupied with the marriage stuff, having a relationship has always been like travelling the new world to me. I explore his world, my world encountering this new world of his, and the world created by us travelling each other. If I think about all my past relationships from this new perspectives of a relationship, it has never been a failure, but a beautiful journey of exploring the new world. Sometimes I couldn’t travel for too long or too deeply in some of the relationships, but it was still all worth exploring another world of somebody, mine and ours. There was nothing right or wrong about it, but every single moment of those trips was just beautiful and special. I still hope to find a life partner not to get married, but to share as much love, fun/joy and growth together as possible. Travelling doesn’t mean that it’s only for a short-time.

Indeed, life itself is a journey to explore. As we continue to grow and change as a person and have different experiences throughout the journey of our lives, the world to explore is endless. It would be more than great if I could do it with somebody for a life time. I don’t have a relationship to “settle”, but only to explore the journey of life with love, joy and growth.

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Guest writer for Love Openly