I was 14. It was an October night and I had just lost my virginity to my ninth-grade boyfriend. I was in love and we were getting married, I told my mum. He was ~the one.~
Cut to ten months later and I was bored. Instead of listening to my feelings and ending the relationship, I stayed and was unhappy. The thing was, I had already told myself that it was going to be forever. So that was it, right? It had started out so strong, and for it to dissolve into nothing felt like an incomprehensible tragedy. Instead of accepting that things change and ending the relationship in a mature way, I lashed out to get out of the relationship.
This is one of my earliest memories of resisting the impermanence of life and love. I was consumed by the delusion of permanence.
The delusion of permanence
What the heck does that phrase even mean? In romantic life, the delusion of permanence manifests in the desire to know for sure that the love, or terms you have set for it, will last forever. Rejecting impermanence in relationships means you act out of the fear, instead of accepting that it is ok for relationships to change or end.
It’s the desire to pin down exactly what the relationship is in rigid unchanging terms. That’s not to say that having clear expectations and boundaries is unhealthy. Those are great! But when expectations are driven by fear of change, disappointment is inevitable. When boundaries are created out of fear of abandonment, our old patterns of trauma born behaviours are replayed. Either way, coming from a place of fear only creates more fear. And all fear at the end of the day, is a resistance to life, to impermanence and to transience.
This fear showed up in my first relationship, and unavoidably my second.
Ignoring red flags
At 16 I fell in love again. Again I told myself “this is going to last forever.”
I resisted every red flag that told me I should not be with him. We fought intensely in the first couple of weeks. He made me feel responsible for regulating his emotions. He was mean. But my desire for something that lasted was so strong, I rationalised the toxicity away. By prolonging the inevitable breakup, it became so much more painful. Now, I wasn’t just gracefully parting ways with someone who didn’t make me happy. I was betraying my idea of stability in love that I craved so intensely. I told myself that if we called it quits, we had never really loved each other. That it was all for nothing.
When the relationship ended, I began my journey to finally uncovering why I desired permanence so intensely in the first place. The reason is connected to both my personal identity and all of our collective identity.
Being curious about our obsession with permanence
For me, the part of my personal identity that desired permanence stemmed from the love lessons I learned from my parents. I never even saw my parents kiss. When my mum told me she was getting a divorce I was happy. Because of this, I subconsciously attempted to recreate the permanence in my own relationship that I missed in my parents’. The first step to accept impermanence is to investigate your wounds with tenderness. What parts of you have been hurt? What parts of you have told those wounds that permanence was the answer?
While we all have personal identities, we are also tapped into a collective identity. This collective identity is what agrees on an understanding of things like social behavior, and on larger abstract concepts like how to love, which is what we call romance. Love itself, in its very nature, needs no fear because there is no expectation. True love is the simple act of being divine and seeing that divine in someone else. it is unobstructed by worldly thoughts and desires like romance is.
‘Happily ever after’ messed us all up
Unfortunately, our collective agreement of what romance is does not teach us how to accept impermanence. In fact, it teaches us the opposite: that there is one special someone out there, and that when we find them we can stop looking and be happy – permanently. TV, film and other tenants of pop-culture play large roles in the collective identity. Just look at Disney’s “Happily Ever After” trope. One could easily argue that they invented romance!
The truth is that the society we live in does not teach us how to be emotionally mature and connected to the complexity of our truth. Allowing a relationship to grow, or even end, means you’re listening to the relationship and what it needs. This requires you to be in tune with yourself and your partner’s energy. This kind of presence keeps a relationship healthy and vibrating at a higher level of consciousness.
Freedom in impermanence
Honestly, I feel cheated. I was taught to put love in a box called romance, for so long! I thought I knew exactly what a partner was supposed to mean to me. Now I know it means whatever you want it to. Now I’m ok with the fact that people come and go. I know that even if they stay, they may change beyond recognition and so may I.
Of course, no one is perfect. When I get caught up stressing about my current relationship it looks like me worrying about the future instead of staying present. Again I’m asking myself: What will I do if I move away? What if we get bored of each other? Will I just never have sex with anyone else ever again?!
Accepting impermanence tells me these kinds of change are only scary because I have been trained to idealise a very specific and constricting idea of what love looks like. It’s ok to get bored of someone. To take breaks and reinvent yourselves. To grow apart and then back together. It’s ok to get things we need from other people, from platonic intimacy, from ourselves!
With this knowledge, the work I do going forward in my current relationship is to stay present and be grateful for each moment we have. After all, the fear of impermanence is strengthened by the memory of our past and anticipation of our future. If we stay present in each moment, which is all we really have, those things fade away. Staying present doesn’t mean we never think about our futures with partners, or that we always take people back after wrongdoings in the past. It means we make decisions from a place of peace and for the now.
Accepting impermanence isn’t just a decision you make once, it’s something you carry into all of your everyday life. It means realising that everyone is walking their own paths. That you know you are walking your own, winding and changing as it may. It means that you got you, and that is more than enough.