Ah, my old friend, the Toxic Relationship Backslide. Here, the ‘will they, won’t they’ dynamic of reconciliation and estrangement that prevails in all notorious sitcoms (see: ‘Friends’, ‘How I Met Your Mother’, and ‘Gossip Girl’). Operates on the basic premise that emotional angst is not only romantic destiny, but is desirable. Huh?
Even the fairly inoffensive, steady and ‘safe’ characters of Ross Geller and Ted Mosby were made to be emotionally superior yet unavailable.
Unattainably goofily aloof, and basically the early iteration of the Nice Guy meme. Yet who somehow end up inconceivably holding Jennifer Aniston and Cobie Smulders for ransom over about twenty seasons. I smell a fault because somewhere along the line between Jane Eyre and Love Island society has got it fixed in their mind that this too-ing and fro-ing is actually the goal. That any relationship worth its’ salt must make it through an arduous fanfare of valleys and troughs together.
While this is undeniably true in principle, this idealisation of what is actually the emotionally manipulative insistence that pain will bring strength in a relationship needs to be stopped in its tracks. Even if you’ve put years of work into it, or both grown as people together. Even if there are children involved or logistics might otherwise indicate that it’s easier to stay and settle, you have to be able to leave. Sometimes, admittedly, it can appear that there is little leeway between what we need and what our social duty demands of us.
But I assure you that you will know when you make a decision that makes sense to you. We must separate ourselves from the notion that it’s somehow selfish to think of yourself above a poorly disguised sexist duty – ‘he needs you’, or, ‘what about the kids’ – that you ‘owe’ it to yourself to ‘give it another try’.
When the relationship is less smooth-sailing and more turbulent, that’s no reason to put the anchor down: it’s telling you to jump ship.
Whether the emotional turmoil that a past relationship offers you is intentional, mutual or otherwise, and however much it may appeal in the short term cathartic release of old passions. We can’t continue to allow the past to grip us in place. It’s perfectly valid to reflect on and learn from historical relationships; that’s a definitive principle of life.
However, you can’t look to the ‘on again off again’ relationships on tv as the norm or the logical solution. Most relationships aren’t written in the same sparkling endgame destiny as a 10 season scripted television show where characters grieve for a twenty minute episode and are sleeping with another superstar by the next advertisement break.
It’s hard and emotionally traumatic and you need to listen to your own needs.
Relationship drama is rocket-fuel for long running sitcoms that might otherwise be on viewership life-support – unfortunately, life isn’t TV, and you aren’t Jennifer Aniston.
Maybe Rachel would have been better off getting on the plane in the end, and Robin just moving on. We’ll never know, but those scripts have been written. Looking in the future, we must see relationships clearly and acknowledge which are springboards to leap forward, and which are trapdoors.
We need to be able to say: ‘This time, my goodbye is final’. And to truly mean it.