Forever.. it sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s the kind of promise we want to make to the ones we love. It’s the kind of promise we make with shining eyes and optimistic hearts.
Forever is a beautiful idea, a wonderful goal, but it’s not a magic spell. Simply saying the word doesn’t make the relationship or the happiness last until the end of time. Forever is like an exotic plant, it can put up with some neglect, but not for too long. Forever won’t wait around forever.
I know about the challenge of Forever first-hand. A lot of years ago, I promised forever to someone and I believed it. She believed it. We both were very sincere and sure of our love. Unfortunately we had no idea how to make forever happen. We were young and full of optimism and had no idea what life had in store for us. By the end of our relationship, 10 years later, not only was the Forever we’d promised each other a mere shadow of itself, we’d forgotten most of the reasons we fell in love in the first place. I hardly recognized myself anymore and she seemed to be someone else as well. I really had believed in Forever — my parents married young and are still happily married. I let that belief guide me into being a shadow of myself. I gave up most of me in order to keep that relationship going, to keep her happy, to keep up appearances. Most of our friends believed we were the super couple, maybe she believed it as well, but I knew we were rotten on the inside, hollow and empty of meaning.
After that spectacular failure, I was really anti-relationship, suspicious of any kind of absolute — not just ‘forever’, but ‘everything’, ‘always’, ‘never’. That feeling held sway into the beginning of my next relationship, the one I’m still 16 years later. My wife and I made the decision to become exclusive partners, to concentrate our energy on our relationship and on achieving our shared goals. We loved each other deeply but our relationship histories weighed heavily on our minds and we agreed that Forever wasn’t something we could rationally promise. To this day, we don’t promise forever, we promise to keep working at our relationship, to not give up on each other. And for us, that’s what works. There have been a few times throughout the last 16 years when that promise was put to the test, but every time we came back together and did the work necessary to stay together. And not just together, but happy and successful as a couple.
With all that preamble, the astute reader may now have a furrowed brow.. haven’t I been using that word around here lately? Have I not liberally sprinkled that into comments and twitter conversations with regard to Roxy? Have I suddenly been sprinkled with optimistic fairy dust? Have I forgotten the lessons of broken relationships past? No, I haven’t forgotten, instead I’ve learned a lot and I think I understand a lot more about Forever now.
We can’t utter ‘Forever’ and have that be the end of it. We can’t even stand in front of witnesses and utter a lot of words meaning Forever like some magic spell that will seal our pact to the end of our lives, and have that promise hold through the strength of those words alone. Forever takes care and feeding. Forever needs attention and hard work every year, every month, every day. Forever will forgive some shortcomings but take it for granted for too long and it will abandon you like a good-time friend once the money runs out.
I have no problem promising forever to my wife at this point, I have faith in our ability to work through our difficulties and maintain the quality of relationship we’ve enjoyed over the years. Likewise, when I promise forever to Roxy, I’m promising to work with her on this relationship as long as it has meaning for us. I understand that Forever doesn’t come on a silver platter, fully prepared and ready to enjoy. When I think of Forever now, I understand that my wife and I had it right.. we shouldn’t be making promises about goal, rather we should be making promises about the journey. We can promise each other a journey until we no longer want to walk the same path together. We can promise to help each other during the steep, rocky portions of the path and celebrate together when we reached the easy, pleasant sections.
I’ve come to understand that Forever doesn’t just happen, it has to be earned. And not only that, I don’t have an unlimited supply of Forever because nurturing and tending serious relationships takes time and energy and I have a limited supply of both. That realization has been very humbling. I have a huge capacity to love multiple people, but a very finite ability to tend multiple committed relationships.
So, yes, I’ve come to a new understanding with Forever. I believe it is possible to make lifelong commitments but saying the words, making the promise, is not nearly enough. It takes hard work, patience, communication and dedication, and more than a little optimism and hope. But I don’t mind taking those steps every day, because I believe the journey is worth the effort.
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