I sometimes hear my clients plea with their spouses or significant others in a desperate attempt to save a dying relationship. They say things like “You are throwing away 22 years together for another guy?” or “How can you waste 15 years of my life by leaving me?” or “I had to stay with her, or 34 years of my life would have been poured down the drain!”
Judging from the many times I’ve heard comments like this, it certainly seems a common belief that ending a relationship after a significant, if undetermined, number of years negates the entire history. The relationship is rendered a colossal waste of time, effort, money, and, of course, love.
But does this mindset have any merit? Is it reasonable to conclude that your 52-year marriage was meaningless because your husband left you after he reconnected with his high school sweetheart on the Internet?
Permit me please to talk about third grade. When I was eight, life was good. My teacher liked me and made me an example of what good students do. Math, English, spelling, social studies—everything—came easily. My grades were all A’s. Athletics were fun, and in my mind, I excelled in the sports that mattered to me. My classmates were easy enough to get along with; there were no major conflicts to speak of. Family life was good; health was good. There was enough to do and eat. By any system of measurement, third grade was a good year.
Then June came and third grade was over. A few months later, fourth grade began and year after year life continued its predictable pattern. Some years were better than others, but none was as good as third grade. Still, I never considered going back to third grade to justify its worth or the impact it had on my life. It was a good year, but it’s okay that it’s over.
So why can’t relationships be like that? Must a grade school friend always be a “best friend,” or is it acceptable to downgrade the relationship to acquaintance at some point because of geographic or philosophic changes? Is it okay to love someone and then realize over time that what you loved was only your inaccurate perceptions of your loved one?
Of course it is. There is no need to regret the time spent befriending or loving merely because it didn’t last forever. Some things in life are only for a season—some a very short season and others a longer time. Life is all about change and loss. As a result, life is full of sadness.
A vacation is not a waste because it lasts only a week. A championship season is not in vain even if the team doesn’t win the trophy the next year. A relationship is not meaningless just because it doesn’t last until death do you part. There is much to be gained in loving, even if it culminates in losing that which you’ve loved. Relationships, like life, are less about the destination than the journey. Sometimes people change what they want in life, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t invested or that they never loved in the first place. It is often painful to lose a relationship, but that doesn’t negate the joy that was once there.
The adage bears repeating: “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I learned that in third grade.