Phi looks back, with some regret, on foregoing a relationship in his youth on the basis that the relationship had a sell-by date on it:

Question: would my present self counsel a different course of action to my past self?

Sadly, yes. I say sadly, because I still think my reasoning then was conscientious (or at least, that variety of conscientious that mothers tend to approve of). But I now know the alternative sucks too.

So my present self would say to my past self: go for it! Be honest with her about what your plans are, but if she’s still game for a date-stamped relationship, well then: she’s cute, and she’s making it easy! And face facts: alpha girl isn’t available, especially to your nerdy ass.

And believe me, you really, really don’t want to get to be 23 without having had a girlfriend, without having been kissed, on the grounds that you weren’t ready to get married the next day. Because when you’re 23, the girls, even (or especially) the girls at church, will expect you to have already done those things, and they’ll hold your lack of experience against you. A lot.

I half-agree with Phi on this. I agree with his advice, but I don’t think the new advice is worthy of sadness. Experience is a good thing. I specifically mean relationship experience and not (just) sexual experience. There comes a point of diminishing returns (and, perhaps, negative returns) with a lot of experience. But if you, like Phi and myself, are hardly in danger of becoming jaded and numbed by excessive experience, I believe that you take experience where you can get it.

It’s not just that future partners might “hold [it] against you,” but that experience breeds knowledge. Knowledge of yourself and knowledge of how relationships work. My road with Julianne was rocky early on and barely survived our first year for no other reason than I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what reasonable expectations were. I didn’t know the line between being consciously non-obsessive over a relationship and not taking it seriously enough. I didn’t have a clear idea of the distinction between “we’re having a fight” and “we’re breaking up.” Granted, some of these things vary greatly (and all of them vary a little) from partner to partner, but there are certain baselines.

More than that, though, you learn what your baselines are. I had to learn that the “girl of [my] dreams” isn’t worth it if I am miserable throughout. I had to learn what expectations I was willing to commit to and what was just “too much.” And a lot of this relates back to having to learn what kind of girl I wanted to spend my time with. There is the tendency at least among some guys to underestimate (in some ways) and overestimate (in others) what they want. Prior to Julianne, I really thought just about any girl who fit a certain criteria would do. She fit all of them and more. But I discovered, along the way, that there were scores of things that I had never contemplated. That I could be with a woman that was beautiful, smart, loving, and that still wouldn’t be enough because – much to my shock – I need a particular kind of these things to settle in for life. That some of the things that I thought were really important turned out not to be.*

My relationship with her failed anyway, of course, but for much better reasons. And, of course, every relationship failed until I met my wife. But they all failed for different reasons. I can’t say that I learned something from them all (I can be kind of dim sometimes), but I learned a lot.

Like Phi, I was pretty serious-minded growing up. Starting with a girl named Tracey, I immediately measured up every girl I dated for long-term prospects. Sometimes I knew it wasn’t there. Sometimes I chose not to care. Sometimes I cared when I probably shouldn’t have in part because I feared they were looking at forever. But particularly in a case like Phi’s, where everyone knows the score, I really don’t see much harm in plowing forward. Don’t do anything you will regret, knowing what you do about the finite nature of the relationship, but experience what you can. For guys like Phi (and, probably to a lesser extent, myself), you only get so many opportunities.

* – Which is why a girl holding it against you is not entirely unreasonable. Unfair to you, perhaps, but reasonable for them. If you had the opportunity to enter a relationship with someone that was clueless about relationships, or with someone that knows what they’re doing, you go with the latter. Clancy has benefited immensely from the fact that Julianne and Evangeline and a others came before her. The fact that her romantic history was more restricted was, if not a problem, something we had to work with in the early stages.

Category: Coffeehouse

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10 Responses to Expiration-Dated Relationships

  1. ? says:

    So how would you suggest that someone in his early 30’s who has never been in any kind of relationship deal with women holding that lack of experience against him? And please keep in mind that not every such creature is a regular at Star-Trek conventions. Some of us are just a mixture of shy, career-minded, physically average and/or unfortunately situated due to concerns such as job market for skill set, ethno-religious background, etc.

  2. trumwill says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice. The only advice I have – unhelpful – just keep pounding away at it until you find someone that doesn’t care. Women do differ.

    It’s not a hypothetical question for me. I know people – ones that would make good fathers and husbands – in that position. We were sure my uncle was gay until he married in his late forties.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    I read Phi’s original post, and let me tell you, his avatar of Raymond Burr is apropos…

    I think the problem with expiration-dated relationships is that students, IMHO, are too young and immature for relationships at all. Students should date as many people as they can and experiment with what they like. When I hear a 14 year old talking about his girlfriend, I cringe. He should be dating most of the seventh and eighth grade.

    For those concerned about jealousy, if this became the new standard then they would get used to it. With my imaginary children, I wouldn’t let them date the same person twice in the same month. I would tell Mike Jr that no matter how much he likes Amber, he better date Brenda, Clara, and Dana first before he sees Amber again.

  4. trumwill says:

    I would be more sympathetic to that viewpoint before it became more common for young people to be doing things that (I believe) they’re not ready for. I don’t think the jealousy is all that socially conditioned. Kids are a competitive bunch. Playing off girls (or guys, for that matter) against one another by trying to get them to do what they don’t want to do seems too likely now as compared to in times past.

    On the other hand, I wince when young people are in a relationship that’s too serious. Probably relating somewhat to my own experience. I also know some stories of met-as-freshmen (in high school) couples wasting years of their life because they are all each has ever known.

  5. trumwill says:

    Avatar reminds me, I finally have an answer to your “who would be my voiceover” question. I’ll write it up when I get time.

  6. ? says:

    I occurred to me too late that this old Dilbert strip nicely captures the paradox involved.

  7. SFG says:

    I would suggest serially dating fatties as a sort of low-end Lothario until you’ve built up enough experience (and if Trumwill sees a very nerdy analogy in the background he’s not too far off), but in a church environment where ethics are paramount I don’t think that would be acceptable.

    Yes, it’s horribly damaging to the fat girls/women to be dumped. Unfortunately, I can’t think of another way to gain experience. This is one of those arenas of life where you can only gain by making someone else fail or suffer. (It’s literally zero-sum, since if you get a woman someone else can’t get her, unless you’re going in for polyamory). Nice guys finish last, especially nowadays.

  8. PeterW says:

    “Playing off girls (or guys, for that matter) against one another by trying to get them to do what they don’t want to do seems too likely now as compared to in times past.”

    I’m curious Will, could you elaborate?

  9. trumwill says:

    Peter, nothing profound. Merely that in a more open environment, a girl that wants to stop at first base will have a greater fear of losing access to the boy to a girl willing to go to second base, when compared to a more closed environment. Girls with more than one suitor, and without the expectation of landing in something stable and monogamous (at least temporarily), can easily play the suitors off against one another in perpetuity. No girl is more demanding than one with options who doesn’t need to choose. I would imagine the same is true with guys.

  10. trumwill says:

    SFG, I have mixed feelings about that. In my own experience, getting together with a girl that you are not particular fond of gets old really, really quick. If you’re indifferent to losing them, you don’t learn a whole lot. Or you fear losing them, in which case you’re tearing your hair out for a girl that you shouldn’t even be interested in. None of my “I might as well” attempts at relationships turned out well. They’d hit a three week wall.

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