How Long Do Your Relationships Typically Last, and Is That On Purpose?

How Long Do Your Relationships Typically Last, and Is That On Purpose?

Sometimes relationships end quickly for obvious reasons: Too much fighting. Or maybe he likes the band MAGIC! But when all goes well, have you ever noticed a recurring length for your relationships? Have you ever considered imposing one? Singer and actress Jill Scott did, and it’s six months. Let’s discuss.

Scott’s revelation came about in an interview promoting her latest role in Lifetime’s upcoming With This Ring (Saturday, Jan. 24, 8 p.m. ET), where she plays Viviane, one of three women (the other two gals are played by Eve and Regina Hall) who are “of a certain age,” she told ABC News Radio. “They’ve accomplished much in life, but they just haven’t found the ideal love.” They decide to put their heads together to get married within the next year.

Later in the interview, Scott says the film made she and her co-stars think more seriously about what they’re really doing in their relationships:

“For the married girls, it made them question and decide for certain that they made the right decision on who they married. They thought about it—not to say they hadn’t before—but we talked about that: why they chose to marry these guys,” she says. “And for Regina and I, the two single girls, we really thought about what it is that we want.”

With a divorce and broken engagement behind her, Scott says not only does she know what that is now, she also knows more quickly than she used to:

“I’m older now so I see a little bit better than I did before. My longest relationships now are about nine months. Actually, now it’s grown to six months,” she tells ABC News Radio. “There’s no need for me to waste my time or anybody else’s. I know by then. If you make it over the six month hump, you have done something. I must really like you.”

Over at the Clutch, a comment on the story caught my eye. Love.tweet.joi wrote:

If Jill thinks she can pick the right man in less than 9 months, she’s crazy. First of all, 9 months isn’t forever and people keep secrets and put on their best face for much longer than that. Yes, there are clues but the clues don’t add up until later. Hindsight is and always will be 20/20. 
I think she is hurt. She’s disappointed. If anything, she’s limiting the timeline on her relationships in order to prevent falling in love. There are two disadvantages to giving her relationships a timeline: 1, You don’t truly grow into friends. 2, You still don’t know that dude. These two things result in keeping the wrong ones and throwing away the wrong ones. JMHO. 
Jill – I got the brotha for you. You’ve already met him and he was married at the time so he didn’t holla. He’s normal and successful. Hit me!!

Uhhh, ok, but I don’t think that’s what Scott is doing at all. I don’t think she meant that she knows whether someone is The One after six or nine months; I think she meant she knows in six or nine months that they aren’t, and cuts bait, in order to meet someone who could be. Huge difference. And I gotta say, props, because this used to take me about two years, and that is how long most of my relationships lasted in my late teens/twenties before there seemed to be a clear realization that it wasn’t working.

I wouldn’t go so far as to make it a rule—to ditch after two years of dating simply because things hadn’t progressed. But then again, I wasn’t necessarily planning on them progressing all that far, so I didn’t approach most relationships as a path to the altar, more of an audition for potential long-term bliss that might or might not including locking it down eventually. Plus, I was in my twenties. I didn’t even feel my own mortality yet, as evidenced by the amount of Krystal I ate. But if I had been ready for marriage, I’d have easily stopped trying with anyone who seemed like an OK person but not someone I’d want to say, have a family with.

If you’re older, and you know what you want, and what you want is marriage, six or nine months seems to me to be plenty of time to give a relationship before moving on to meet someone who might be a better match. You ain’t got all night here.

And while I have to admit I often think reflexively of movies like With This Ring as totally and utterly man-snaggingly retrograde, the desire to get married and openness about it is totally healthy, and understandable. It’s how we portray it that’s fucked up.

Wanting to get married is not desperate or bad. Wanting a good, lasting, healthy relationship is not pathetic. Wanting to find someone to spend your life with does not make you codependent. What is shitty is that so many of the narratives that get through concerning this healthy, universal desire make it a thing only women want, and that most of us are single-mindedly focused on to the detriment of our actual personhood.

So that cleared up, I think most of us date with some concept of wanting it to “work out,” whatever that means to us. In that case, how long then does it take you to figure this out? I can spot a good boyfriend in minutes—quite literally my sisters and I used to joke that we always knew a guy could be a good boyfriend for us after talking to him for no more than five minutes, which is really about determining spark.

But not everyone thinks of spark that way. Some people think you should give someone you like ok a chance to grow into a spark-situation. Which I’ve never really been able to do. And there are theories about “how many dates” you should go on before bowing out. Some people feel like you should know somewhere between one and five dates if a relationship is worth pursuing. Some people base knowing if there’s more to someone or not on how much you get out of them those first three dates.

Is love at first sight even possible? If not, how do you know when there’s a spark to even keep things going? Dating coaches are more likely to encourage some self-reflection about how you really feel, and openness toward someone you like at all, over a specific number of dates you should pursue. But all that sorted and initial hurdles cleared, what about lasting love? How do you know when you’ve found that?

Because that’s totally different.

As Scott noted in her interview, “Getting married is one thing; staying married is something else.”

That’s absolutely the sort of thing a married or divorced person can say with confidence—and yet will maybe sound tone deaf to someone who still hasn’t found The One. But anyone who has ever had a bad relationship will tell you, no one wants to waste their time with someone who isn’t a good match, who isn’t going to make you happy in the long run. I say anyone who can call this sooner than later is doing everyone involved a favor.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

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