It’s either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. For some inexplicable reason, you’ve managed to fall for someone who's just passing through on his or her way toward somewhere else, or someone who has plans to move away.
I’m well-versed in these cruel circumstances.
Case #1: The humanitarian to whom I sold a suit and surreptitiously and boldly slipped my number into the pocket. After four-hour dinners, wandering around the city and playing guitar for him on my living room floor, the harsh reality set in: He was moving to Rwanda to work with orphans — for two years.
Case #2: The scruffy beverage director who was staying in Boston to train the staff at a new bar in Fenway but who lived in Denver on a ranch with his St. Bernard.
What I accidentally managed to master is expiration dating.
Remember your summertime camp boyfriend? That girl you met on the cruise with your family in junior high? We’ve been facing these unfortunate circumstances for a long time, but they become more difficult to accept as you get older and start to imagine a future with someone.
People in their 20s and 30s are often still moving around, figuring out where they want to be and what they want to do. The chances are high that you'll meet someone who catches you off guard and piques your interest, but he or she just isn’t in the same place or on the same page.
It’s easy to look at this situation from a negative perspective, but I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot one can learn from dating with an attached use-by date. So, when bad timing casts a shadow on your potential bliss, how do you deal with it?
You let loose.
The truth is, there’s something innately comforting about expiration dating. Since the timeline has been pre-determined for your relationship, you’re free to be more honest, more open and more authentically you.
You don’t have to play it cool in the beginning, or hide your flaws, or panic when he or she doesn’t respond to your text messages. After all, it’s going to end, anyway, and you know exactly when. It’s a ticking time bomb; there is no reason to fear the breakup because the endpoint already exists.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. Because you are unafraid, you may find yourself growing closer to this person, in a shorter span of time. You let your guard down far more quickly, and as a result, it’s easy to get attached just as quickly. So, what happens when you get addicted to something that will definitely disappear?
You let it continue to burn.
The strangest part about expiration dating is that despite what the name suggests, it never spoils. Though there is certainly an existent deadline, your affair doesn’t have a chance to fizzle so it never truly ends. The fantasy lives on far past the person’s departure, as you wonder how things may have transpired under different circumstances.
For a while, it haunts you. Then, slowly, you find it reassuring. Since you weren’t able to see it through, it never got ruined by petty jealousy or resentment. The spark never died; it’s still smoldering and will reignite any time something reminds you of special someone.
It’s possible that you’ll stay in touch with the person. It will shock you how long you can keep loving someone, even when the person isn't around. It may make you feel uncomfortable. Let it. Despite all the cynical thoughts you’ve had about whether or not it’s possible for love to endure, this will teach you otherwise.
You let it hurt.
Inevitably, the withdrawal comes. Even though you knew all along that the person would leave, it’s difficult when reality sets in. There was probably a very small part of you that, deep down, thought a miracle might happen and the person may not go.
There’s definitely something to be learned from the complexities of expiration dating. It’s not perfect; it’s as painful as it is passionate. You are just two people who, for a short period of time, are completely hung up on each other. You don’t get to find out why your story ends; you don’t have the chance to cheat, or lie, or grow apart. Life swiftly intervenes and brings things to a screeching halt.
So, what can you take away? What are you left with, besides the "what ifs" and the "if only's"? Maybe the lesson is simply that we should approach all of our relationships as if they have expiration dates. If we can pretend that there’s nothing to lose, then maybe, we could throw 100 percent of ourselves into our relationships, rather than tiptoeing carefully around emotions and cowardly concealing our vulnerabilities.
Maybe then, we can finally learn to love radically, heroically and recklessly — the way we should.
Photo via We Heart It