The fear that our partner will find someone 'better' than us


Clementine Ford

"This is the universal nightmare of almost everyone who's ever fallen in love and then been unceremoniously tossed out ...

"This is the universal nightmare of almost everyone who's ever fallen in love and then been unceremoniously tossed out of it."

Even if you're not a fan of Lena Dunham's HBO show Girls, there are certain scenes that can reach a hand out to squeeze your heart in the most painful of ways. For Girls, those feelings have most often been found in the painful moments of young adult loneliness or loss.

Season's three finale saw Hannah being accepted into the prestigious writing program at the University of Iowa, with viewers wondering what this would mean for the relationship between her and her boyfriend Adam. Halfway through season four, the emotional and artistic demands of the course have prompted Hannah to quit and return to her comfort zone in New York. Unannounced, she arrives at the apartment she shares with Adam to find that he has taken up with a new woman.

Mimi Rose Howard is everything that Hannah is not - thin, conventionally beautiful, artistically successful, calm and in control. As she stands there in Hannah's kitchen, it's clear that the power dynamic has shifted. If Mimi Rose feels awkward about the situation, she doesn't show it. Instead, she offers to go out and get juices for everybody. It's a message of benevolent superiority, one that says, "I'll give you two the space you need to discuss things right now because that's the kind of generous person I am. But I'll be back, because this man is my territory now. We are the team and you are the interloper."

Mimi Rose Howard and Adam in Girls.

Mimi Rose Howard and Adam in Girls.



This is the universal nightmare of almost everyone who's ever fallen in love and then been unceremoniously tossed out of it. That in the end - after you have laid in the dark with someone whispering secrets and sweet nothings, fought bitterly and made up passionately, sat quietly and comfortably in their company and looked ahead to a future that invariably includes them - that in the end, they'll stand in front of someone else and say, "I didn't know it was possible to love someone the way that I love you."

When I was 24, I fell deeply in love with a friend of mine from university. I still remember the blissful feelings of romance in first bloom. On our first date, we climbed over the Botanic Gardens' fence after closing hours and had a nighttime picnic in the shadows cast by the far off street lamps. He'd climb into my bedroom window, bringing with him the rich scent of springtime jasmine. In those first weeks, I teased him good naturedly over his affections, telling him that he did this or that because he was passionately in love with me. He always protested - until the night that he didn't. I lay there in the dark, terrified, the silence stretching out like a tense rubber band. Before it could snap us out of the realm of possibility and back into the safe present, I replied, tremulously, 'I love you too.'

This was the most defining relationship of our short lives so far. We explored first love together, until the moment we were forced to go through first heartbreak. I felt bereft at the thought of him finding someone else - someone who excelled at all the things that seemed so beyond my grasp. Things like patience, kindness and beauty. I imagined him with someone physically smaller than me, but bigger in all of the things that I thought mattered. I didn't want this love that had been so important to me to be subsumed by something and dispersed into nothing.

Of course, we never truly lose the things that matter. My first love did go on to find something that allowed for greater growth with someone else - but then, so did I. And I'd like to think that we both played a part in each other's ability to do that. We have stayed with each other in so many ways, not least of which is the inescapable fact that it was with each other that we first learned about what love could look like and what it could mean.

There comes a time when we have to let people go, and be content in the knowledge that their story must inevitably merge with someone else's. After Hannah finds Mimi Rose in her apartment, the viewers are taken into Mimi Rose and Adam's world. They've argued because Mimi Rose hadn't told Adam about an abortion she was planning to have. Adam yells and stomps and complains that she doesn't need him. He's come from a relationship with a woman who he has loved but whose need for him is so much in contrast to Mimi Rose's. After telling him how much she cares for him, Mimi Rose says, bluntly, "I don't need you," before going on to say that she wants him, which is something better altogether. The two return inside, having determined that they both want to see where this thing goes.

Love is not always about us. If we are lucky, we have the people we need for as long as we need them. If we have loved them, we owe it to them to wish them well when that love comes to an end. We should want their stories to keep growing in richness, just as we hope for our own to do the same thing.

A musician friend of mine once wrote a song about an ex-lover who demanded her promise that she love them forever. She sings, "I will love you honestly. Not twenty years, not thirty years, not forty years, not forever….but every single moment of our time. Yes, every single moment of our time."

Love is not always forever, but that doesn't mean that it's a failure. We have time with people, time in which we occupy a secret space of honesty and beauty. And when that time is up, we have to set each other free and understand that it's okay if the chapters that await them are more exciting than anything that's come before. Because maybe ours will be too.