Last night, a friend and I were idly chatting on GChat when she sent me the news: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver have broken up after 25 years together. I don’t know Arnold and Maria personally, and I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly drawn to them as a couple. But I do know the news upset me more than I would have expected it to, because, as my friend put it, “If Arnold and Maria can’t make it after 25 years, who can?”

Substitute “Arnold and Maria” with “my best friends,” “my parents,” or any other couple you admire, and there’s a pretty common sentiment: When a couple breaks up, it’s really hard on the third party. AKA you.

To a single person, a stable couple represents a beacon of hope, a glimpse of what’s to come, an assurance that yes, there is a happily ever after. We need them to keep us going through discouraging dating times, and to remind us what we’re working dating towards. So when this couple you’ve put on a pedestal breaks up, it’s easy to grow completely disheartened with the idea of love.

But here’s something to keep in mind when you find yourself unmoored by someone else’s breakup: are we focused too much on happily ever after? Should we content ourselves with “Happily for a long, long time”? Is a relationship only an inspiration if it’s unending? Does it have to be til death-do-them-part, or can we we look up to and admire relationships that, for the better part of multiple decades, really did seem to work?

I’m not sure what the right answer is, but it’s an interesting question to consider. As you continue your search for a relationship, what sort of longevity are you looking for? Obviously “forever” is an ideal answer. But if it came between having someone for the better half of my life and then breaking up, or being perpetually single, I’d probably choose the former option.

And another thing to keep in mind as you see stable couples break up: you never know what’s going on behind closed doors between a relationship. So maybe while you were envious/impressed with their comfortable, happy relationship, they in turn were envious of your carefree, single lifestyle. The grass is always greener. Enjoy what you’ve got while you have it — and above all, don’t let other people’s life choices determine how you should feel about your own.

 

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