• Hot Topic: Things that wind me up - thinking a relationship is a failure because it doesn't last

    Oh for God’s sake! I’m writing my Closer Magazine column for the week and answering a question about age-gap relationships.

    The person wants to know if I honestly think age-gap relationships work - she’s contemplating seeing a guy who’s 17-years older/younger (she doesn’t say which). “Is there any hope of it working out?” she asks...

    In her longer email (most letters to agony aunts are cut) she clarifies what she means by ‘working out’: a relationship/marriage that lasts a lifetime. My blood pressure rises just reading it. All day long, every day, I get emails, messages on Twitter, comments on Facebook - the joy of social media is there’s a constant drip-drip feed of it - from people feeling bad about themselves because their relationships ‘failed’ to make the distance i.e. the two of them sitting in rocking chairs, dentures companionably soaking beside them.

    “Am I a bad person because I don’t love my husband anymore after 20 years?”

    “I feel such a failure after my marriage ended. What’s wrong with me?”

    “What caused my wife to stop loving me after 30 years of marriage? Did I do something wrong?”

    Outpourings of angst and real pain from people who feel like ‘failures’ because their relationships didn’t live up to this mythical ideal that the only successful relationship is one that lasts forever.

    What bollocks! What dangerous bollocks! All these people feeling so dreadful about themselves when they’ve done nothing wrong. A relationship doesn’t have to last until one of you drops dead in order to be seen as a success! We need to move away from the ‘until death do us part’ theory of success and realise there are all sorts of different style and length relationships that work perfectly well.

    Some relationships have a use-by date. They aren’t meant to last forever. The fling with your college professor, for instance. You’re 18, he’s 45, the appeal is in the forbidden, the teacher-pupil aspect. It wouldn’t and doesn’t tend to survive once the dynamic is removed because it’s not based on anything but the dynamic. Does that mean the student or professor didn’t experience real love or joy (or fantastic sex) for the time the relationship lasted? (This is a fictitious example but let’s make it clear the professor isn’t married to remove the issue of infidelity complicating this.) It’s a familiar rite of passage relationship - one that we learn valuable lessons from, including the pain felt when the whole thing falls apart.

    I’ve had many successful relationships in my life along with some spectacular failures. My marriage I count as a success because I truly loved and felt loved by someone for seven years. Just because it ended doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful when it worked. I know people who’ve clocked up more than two decades of marriage, then split and call it a ‘failed marriage’. I’d call that an especially successful marriage in this throw-out age we live in.

    The sooner we start to redefine our definitions of what constitutes a successful relationship, the happier our relationships will be and the longer they will last. So, in answer to the original question posed by the Closer reader, the chances of it lasting a lifetime with someone 17 years older or younger than you is slim. Age-gap’s of 10 years pose few problems these days (apart from the children dilemma); more than that and you lose points of reference and usually find (note I said ‘usually’ because there are lots of exceptions) it all a bit tricky and fractious. Does it have a chance of ‘working out’, in that it might make both of you very happy for a while? My answer then is ‘Of course!’

    Let’s embrace love, not run away from it just because there’s a chance it won’t last forever.

    Tracey Cox Dare - What Happens When Fantasies Come True

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