How to navigate a relationship with an expiration date

Ice cream and tears and movies, movies and tears and ice cream: we are all very aware of how breakups go (and how much delicious sugary food they tend to involve). Sometimes a breakup will blindside you. But other times, you know exactly when the split will happen and why – like the day after your college graduation, for example, because you’re both moving to different states to start jobs.

Knowing the breakup is coming almost makes it harder than knowing it isn’t; seeing it approaching in the distance often makes for a tough time in the present. Hopefully, because of the nature of the breakup, the split won’t be messy or angry, and will instead be wildly romantic and bittersweet. Until then, it’s not always clear how to manage a relationship with a visible ticking clock, and how best to experience it to the fullest. Here’s how I did it.

Come up with fun, unusual things to do together – and actually do them!

This is a basic rule of thumb for most relationships, not just those with an expiration date. Those weird, extra special memories are the moments we live for, and they’re what you’ll remember most fondly. I often find myself affectionately thinking about a thunderstorm-y summer night spent sneaking around a fancy hotel in cocktail attire and no shoes with my high school boyfriend. The nights we lay on the couch are much hazier in my mind. When your relationship has an expiration date and you’re no longer in a we-have-an-endless-amount-of-time-and-possibilities-and-adventures-to-explore-anything-and-anywhere-we-want kind of relationship, it’s no use procrastinating those fun things you’ve always wanted to do but have set aside in service of hanging out on the couch. While hangouts at home are amazing and sometimes exactly what you need, those many instances will probably blur together and become a lump of dim memories – whereas the unique shenanigans will stay sharply in your memory for a long time to come.

Try your very hardest to ‘live in the moment’

As a nostalgic worrier, I find this next to impossible to do. I’m always thinking about what’s going to happen next, or smilingly remembering yesterday’s joys. But it’s so important to try to accept things for what they are and be happy in the current moment. Even just trying to do so is more productive than being upset about the future, trust me; I’ve spent a great deal of time in both positions.

Divide your time between friends and your partner

It’s natural to want to spend a lot of time with your partner, and sometimes to choose your partner over your friends, because while your relationship has a ticking clock, your friendships probably don’t (or don’t appear to). You’ll want to cram in as much time with your S.O. as possible, and that’s totally cool – but make sure you nurture your friendships as well. That way when you need friends the most, you’ll know where to find them.

Don’t completely ignore that it’s happening

While convincing yourself to live blissfully unawares might make you feel better for the time being, pretending the situation is different than it is sets you up for a harsher blow come expiry time, and prevents you from making rational plans and decisions with your S.O. about how best to manage the breakup and the time leading up to it.

Discuss how/if you will remain in each other’s lives

Some couples find it easy to be friends with one another right after a breakup, especially if they’re no longer living in the same place. Personally, staying in touch makes it way more challenging for me to get over my former partner, and while the post-breakup loneliness and sadness aren’t easy to weather, I like to take a break from communication for a while (a month or two is usually safe) before getting back in touch. It’s completely up to your own preference and your partner’s, but it is certainly something you should talk about with him/her before you go your separate ways. You don’t want to be getting “I miss you”s all the time if it makes things harder for you, and you don’t want an unexpected radio silence if you were counting on his/her continued presence in your life.

Do things for YOU

If you don’t want to be a part of conversations where your partner is discussing his/her future plans (that may not include you), don’t be. If it makes you upset to talk about the breakup, don’t pretend it doesn’t. “Fake it til you make it” does not apply here, guys. Maybe the situation really sucks and gets you down sometimes. That’s natural. Be honest with your partner about how conversations concerning the future are making you feel. It’s in his/her best interest, and yours too, to work out a way to make you feel more comfortable in the present.

Be rational with your decision-making – but let yourself dream

If you already know for sure you and your partner are going separate ways (moving to different countries, etc.) and the decision has been made, that’s that – at least for now. I’m a strong proponent of closing the relationship door all the way, but leaving it unlocked. Who knows where we both might be in five years time? If you’re not sure where you might end up in a few months and are considering following your partner to whichever city or school they’ve chosen, it’s wise to reflect on any potential decisions with the possibility that your partner will be out of the picture. For example, if there’s a job you sort of want in the place your S.O. will be versus a job you think you’d love somewhere else, imagine what your sort of job life would be like if your S.O. wasn’t in the picture for whatever reason, and see how the two options level up.

Don’t resent your partner for the forthcoming split

Maybe it was a mutual decision, but maybe it wasn’t. If you find yourself feeling consistently angry or hurt with your partner for what they decided is best for them going into the future, take a step back and honestly assess whether your mood and feelings will get more positive or more negative as you get closer to the expiry date. You may recognize that this resentment is a fleeting emotion attached to the worry you associate with an upcoming breakup, and you’ll manage to work around and through the negative emotions. Alternatively, if you decide your mental health and your relationship will suffer, it may be time to frankly consider whether the remaining time of the relationship will be worth the achy discomfort you know you’ll continue to feel.

You can always just end it

It might be the hardest (and bravest) option, but sometimes, if you know that the relationship’s positives can’t outweigh the impending-breakup’s negatives, it may mean it’s time to cut the cord. Your happiness and health are two of your most valuable assets, and if your relationship is draining you of both, or if your partnership has begun to sour, or if you can tell already that continuing the relationship under stressful circumstances will only affect your productivity and general wellbeing, it could be smartest and cleanest to let it go. Disclaimer: make sure not to let go of a good thing just because of what might happen in the future. Collect all the happy memories you can with this person you love, and cherish your moments with them.

Kick ass and take names

Stay proud of yourself, and whatever you do, don’t self-deprecate. If your partner was the one who decided on the breakup (or, really, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the decision), you may feel some instances of insecurity in which you question the time you’ve spent with your S.O. so far, question his/her level of true feeling for you, or even question your own worth as a partner. For the love of pete, don’t let yourself think that way. You’re the same badass woman you’ve always been, despite what fate decides to throw your way. You know it, your partner knows it, and the world will soon know it – beginning a new chapter of your life will not change that.

Sophie van Bastelaer is a Belgian-English-American currently undergoing her fourth year of university in Canada. She occupies her time baking excessively, singing sometimes, watching an absurd amount of TV, attempting to play guitar, washing her hair, and writing things she hopes affect people as much as other people’s words affect her. Check out her ramblings, ponderings, joys and questions about social media, health, and cliches and more on her blog:

[Image via Fox]

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