Relationships Don't Have To Be Long-Lasting To Be Meaningful, Experts Say
There’s a major misconception around relationships that continues to persist, and I’m here to clear it up. The assumption is this: The longer you date someone, the more profound your connection is. But experts say relationships don’t have to be long-lasting to be meaningful. Because there are many ways in which a dating experience can have an impact on you, whether it lasts for a few months or a few weeks. Not only that, but what you take away from a short-lived romance may come in handy for your future relationships.
According to 2018 research conducted at the University of California, there's virtually nothing separating the connection that’s felt at the beginning of a short-term relationship versus the connection in a long-term relationship. Researchers surveyed over 800 people across a wide age range, and after asking those participants to reproduce the events and experiences they had at the start of both long-term and short-term relationships, they determined that romantic interest increased in pretty much exactly the same way, no matter how long the relationship lasted. At some point, that interest plateaus or declines in the short-term relationships, but in the beginning, it’s basically an identical experience.
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles, the significance of a relationship is not dependent on how much time you were together because regardless of whether it lasts, it can still be a learning experience.
“The meaning may vary depending upon how fulfilled you felt, even though it didn’t work out,” he tells Elite Daily. “It can also have value if you learned new things about your capacity to both express love and receive love. A short-lived relationship can also help you to feel more self-confident and maybe even restore your faith in the fact that you could feel love again, despite one or more past hurts.”
In other words, a short-lived relationship can still teach you a lot, much of which will likely benefit your love life in general.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you dated an extrovert for a short period who was eager to see you every day, while you only wanted to hang a couple of times a week. From that experience alone, you may have not only discovered how important it is for you to have a certain level of space, but also learned how to set healthy boundaries. Alternatively, if you were left feeling skeptical and guarded after being ghosted several times, and then had a short-lived relationship with someone who was totally upfront with you from start to finish, that experience may have replenished your trust in a profound way, thus allowing you to open your heart to others down the line.
Dr. Brown also notes that short-term romances can highlight what qualities you value in your love life.
“By experiencing different relationships, you can gain insight into what we look for in a partner,” he explains.
For instance, perhaps you met someone on an app, felt a genuine connection with them, and dated for a few months. Even though you ultimately went your separate ways, the way that person freely expressed physical affection with you (in a way you’d never experienced before) made you realize your true love language. Now, going forward, you know that you value physical touch in a relationship.
So, it’s clear that a short relationship can still be impactful. As such, it’s important to acknowledge that the ending of a short-lived relationship can still take an emotional toll on you as well, whether it’s because you had high hopes for your short-term romance, were blindsided by the breakup, or for another reason entirely. Even if you were never “official,” when something doesn’t work out, you may feel disappointed, confused, or just straight-up sad.
“It’s completely normal to grieve the loss of a short term relationship,” says board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman. “Human beings are built for attachment, and we experience these as losses.”
Our society perpetuates this idea that unless you achieve your “happily ever after,” then your romantic experience isn’t successful. But experts say there’s no such thing as a dating fail. Even if a short-lived relationship showed you what you don’t want, that’s still super valuable information for the future.
“It’s important to not view the end of a relationship as a failure,” says Dr. Brown. “Relationships are pretty much like everything else in life, they are experiments. Some relationship experiments only last for a short while. Others last a lifetime. Some experiments don’t give us the results we want. Others bring us more happiness and joy than we could have ever imagined.”
It’s unfortunate that long-term relationships are often respected as the epitome of #goals, whereas short-term relationships are often seen as insignificant. The truth is, any relationship can be meaningful, regardless of its length, especially if it leads to growth and self-discovery. By acknowledging the value of your short-lived relationships, you may be able to appreciate all of your romantic experiences more, regardless of whether or not they last. Remember: Only you get to evaluate the worth of a particular relationship because only you know how it has changed or affected you. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how long a flame flickers — for a period of time, it provided you with some light.