The under-appreciated value of short term relationships

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Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

It's possible to feel more in a few months with one person than in a few years with someone else. So why do we judge ...

It's possible to feel more in a few months with one person than in a few years with someone else. So why do we judge relationships by their length? Photo: Stocksy

"It's a match!" Tinder proclaimed. And the app was right – from the moment I walked into the bar for our first date and spotted him, I was smitten. Three weeks after we met, I lost my job and from there, the intensity of the relationship skyrocketed, culminating in "I love you" after two months of dating. I fell in love faster and harder than ever before – it may have seemed reckless to others, but it felt unstoppable to us. We spent all our time together and the chemistry was wild, but the passion also manifested itself in fiery arguments. It was tumultuous, with incredible highs and crashing lows – and before I knew it, I was alone again.

The breakup was the worst I've experienced. It was the kind of heartbreak I hadn't felt in years – I was hurt not only emotionally, but physically too, with constant sharp pains stabbing my chest. I barely slept for weeks and kept wondering "what if, what if, what if…?"

My longest relationship lasted five years. This one lasted just under four months.

I know what some of you are thinking, and I struggled with it too. "You were only together for four months? That's nothing! Why are you so sad?" I was worried what people would think about how devastated I was – I'll admit I've thought the same about others coming out of short-lived relationships. At 27, I felt like a lovesick teenager going through my first breakup all over again. Had we been naïve to declare love so quickly? Was the fact that it didn't last long an indicator that nothing we felt was real?

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But despite how much I tried to shake them, the feelings were undeniable, both during and after the relationship. To quote heartbreak queen Taylor Swift, I was a crumpled up piece of paper lying on the cold hard ground. For the first time in years, I was feeling – and boy, was I feeling hard.

Why do we sell ourselves short emotionally? Why did I feel like I shouldn't be allowed to feel grief to the depth that I did? Is there a correlation between the length of a relationship and how much it meant or how strongly you felt? (Spoiler alert: no.)

Women, especially, are expected to rationalise our emotions. We feel too much or too little; we're hysterical or we're heartless. In the wake of the breakup, I inadvertently began to cast doubt upon my own feelings and tell myself I shouldn't be feeling them at all – that I was too sensitive, too sentimental. But as time passed, I acknowledged that everything I felt was valid, and that it's possible to feel more in a few months with someone than a few years with someone else. It's all about circumstance, and denying yourself the opportunity to listen to, process and understand your own emotions is a great disservice – because if you don't believe yourself, who will?

In the age of disposable online dating, finding a genuine connection is hard. I was surprised I'd found one at all, and even more that it unfolded in the way that it did. Despite the brevity of our time together, we made emotional progress that I had been unable to in much longer previous relationships. We both agreed that it felt like we'd experienced a year or more worth of "normal" relationship time in our four months, and it hurt so much when it ended because of the loss of unrealised potential.

Where prior relationships had gradually fizzled with the knowledge that they had run their courses, this one burned bright and exploded before we reached "serious" milestones – meeting each other's families, travelling together, all our distant daydreams. We were building something together and decided to stop when we realised we didn't have the right tools to create a structure that would stay standing – but what we managed to make in our limited time was special and enlightening all the same.

The world conditions us to believe that anything less than 'happily ever after' constitutes a failed relationship – that, to paraphrase Dan Savage, the mark of a successful one is being together until one person dies. But I don't consider my short-term relationship a failure, because it taught me so much about myself, other people and love. I came out the other side knowing how profoundly I am able to care for and trust another person, after years of holding back – and that's one of the most significant things that's happened in my adult life.

I've learned never to doubt the depth of my feelings, or the significance of my connections, just because they don't fit a mould of what others deem meaningful. They say the brightest lights burn out the fastest – but I'll always remember how it illuminated me.