Meet. Date. Fall in love. Become official. Spend most of your free time together. Get engaged. Get married. Have kids. Live happily ever after.
When you follow the timeline, you know exactly what comes next.
Are you falling in love? Then the next step is to become official. He introduces you as his girlfriend. You change your social media status to “In a relationship.”
Are you together all the time? Then the next step is to get engaged. You watch for signs he’s hiding a large purchase from you, the jewelry store receipt itself if you’re lucky.
You rate your relationships based on where you are in the timeline.
If you’re just dating, you want to be exclusive. If you’re in a relationship, you want to talk about marriage. If you’re stuck in any one stage for too long, you get frustrated. You want to reach the next milestone.
That process is so familiar to us that we take it for granted.
But seeing relationships as a series of goals, each moving you closer to your ultimate destination of happily-ever-after, can backfire.
Where a relationship is in the timeline says little about where it is in terms of what really matters: intimacy, friendship, trust, and respect. Those qualities are what gets you to happily-ever-after, not the wedding ring.
I think back to the Zen proverb that goes:
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
The proverb warns against focusing too much on the end goal. Whether you’re enlightened or not, you still need fuel to cook and water to drink.
These days, that proverb might look more like this:
“Before marriage, wash dishes, do laundry.
After marriage, wash dishes, do laundry.”
Regardless of whether you’re wearing a wedding ring, the activities that consume your time remain the same. You still have to go to work, buy groceries, keep the house clean, and get a good night’s sleep. Marriage won’t change that.
So, instead of setting your sights on reaching that next relationship goal, set your sights on building a good relationship. When you two are best friends as well as lovers, your relationship moves forward effortlessly.
But there’s a problem with good relationships…
There’s no extra social status associated with being in a healthy relationship. Nothing to “check off” to show you’ve arrived.