failure at relationships can still mean awesomeness

“I’m afraid of failing” is what The Suitor had confided in me once upon a time. “And so are you, Stephanie,” he said plainly.  It’s called projection.  I wasn’t afraid of failing.  I was afraid of rejection.  But that’s just relationships.  No, wait.

Tonight I went to Country with my friend Beth.  We decided over Rioja that our bartender Eric looked like a Chaz, so he responded to it the rest of the night.  “So Chaz, when you get a moment, two waters, please.”
“You look like a Stephanie, but Beth, you don’t look like a Beth.”
“What do I look like?”
“Like a Monica.”
“Cool,” I added to their conversation, “‘Cause her brother Ross is sitting behind her.”  David Schwimmer was sitting at a booth behind us.  It’s funny how you completely forget certain people exist until you see them again.  By the time Beth and I began to drink our obligatory waters, we got to talking about our other friends, friends we have in common.  Which got me to questioning things.  When is it too soon to move in together?  I know the pat answer, “it’s different with everyone.”  Blah.

In the past few months, I’ve received IMs declaring, “we’re moving in together!”  But you just met.  “Just” being two months of non-stop.  Intense relationships sometimes burn out.  Been there; failed at that.  Others work when the timing is right.  We all know how this goes.  There should be a rule about this kind of thing.  Something to stick on a calendar that pops up when you’re ready for the next step.  Six months sounds good.  “But it’s just gut instinct,” I hear.  The problem, sometimes, with following our gut is that we’re following a pattern, and “gut” feels like comfortable, which is what we know, which is familiar, which sometimes leaves us on the corner of Sobbing and Stupid again.  So it’s scary.  So there’s Rioja and friendship to guide us through.

“Well, it’s important to him.  He’s ready, and I don’t want to insult him by saying no.  Maybe I’ve been treating him like the twenty-three year old guys of my past.  But he wants to move things forward, not to milk my udders for free.”

Then, in the same week, I’m dealing with another friend who’s tapping her foot, waiting, shaking her udders in his face.  “At the one year mark, if he doesn’t ask me to move in, I’m moving out of us.”  I hate this.  I hate when women are forced into manipulation mode to get their needs met.  I guess I really hate when two people aren’t at the same place at the same time, especially when my friend is left wanting more.  I get angry for her because I’ve been there.  And it feels horrible. She deserves to be with a guy who’s falling over himself to be with her, to hold her hand in public, to kiss her like he means it.  I hate that she wants more than he does.  I don’t want that for my friend.

When you want to be married, and he doesn’t… doesn’t move the relationship forward, doesn’t mention moving in. When can you just end things without feeling regret?  Can you walk away without feeling like a failure after a year of dating?  My friends have been going through this.  And it makes me a little angry.

Here’s what I’ve learned.  I remember IMing with my friend after The Suitor and I had a big fight.  “Do you think people would still like me if it were just me?”
“What?!  What are you talking about?”
“I mean, would I still be okay, if it were just me again?  People kind of expect us, but would I be a failure if it didn’t work?”

It’s amazing how we think of ourselves as failures because something doesn’t work out.  Yes, we see it as a learning experience.  We see it as “for the best,” but really, deep down, we worry that we’re failing at this.  At being with another person.  At making it work.  Instead of realizing, maybe it just wasn’t the right person.  No, screw maybe.  You’re not a failure when a relationship ends.  The same way you’re not a success when one begins.  Too many women are beginning to measure their worth on the merits of their relationship.  “But I was the only woman in that room without a ring on my finger, and it just…”  NO.  Stop that.  I’ve been her, too.  I’ve been in and out of “us,” the kind of “us” with a ring.  It didn’t make me more of anything.  And it didn’t make me less once I was alone.  You’re failing yourself when you measure you that way.  Instead, value yourself on the strength of your female friendships, on the wise old women you can turn to for guidance.  On your ability to make people laugh, or think, or know that you’ll always be there for them.  Even when they feel like the failure.


  1. Funny you say this: "Instead, value yourself on the strength of your female friendships, on the wise old women you can turn to for guidance. On your ability to make people laugh, or think, or know that you'll always be there for them. Even when they feel like the failure." It's EXACTLY what I've been doing lately.

    I went through a horribly disappointing breakup a few months ago, and, aside from taking off to Australia for a month (the best remedy I could ever recommend–it may be running away but there really is something to going to literally the other end of the world for gaining a bit–ok a lot–of distance), I've been priding myself on the ability to give back to my friends what they gave me in those first awful days. One of my close friends has been going through some bad stuff, and knowing I've been able to make her feel better, even just by bringing over lattes and playing with her dog, is something that has made me feel good in a not so good time.

  2. Yes, Stephanie. Success in life should be measured on the amount of passion you exhibit each day for all aspects in life, not just for one person. I love this post; I bet Katy (Maness) Roberts is reading this and smiling as well!

  3. "You're not a failure when a relationship ends. The same way you're not a success when one begins." – This is my favortie part of your post. You are so right! I wish more people believed this. Keep up the amazing work Stephanie. I am looking forward to the book.

  4. IMVHO, breaking up a dating relationship is not a failure, if only because most dating relationships don't last. the break up of a marriage maybe, since that is a lifetime commitment rather than a month-long commitment.

    And I don't get the moving in thing as a landmark of a relationship. I don't think a relationship is a failure just because you don't live together any more than a relationship is a success just because you do.

  5. Thanks for this post Stephanie. I've been the only one in the room without the ring or the baby many times. But, I can also nap whenever I want.

  6. "You're not a failure when a relationship ends. The same way you're not a success when one begins." –> I love this – it is so true. Why do we feel this way? Why do we feel like single = loser? I'd rather be happily single than unhappy in a relationship. Thanks for the reminder Stepahnie.

  7. In explaining my old, dysfunctional relationship to my current boyfriend, I told him that I felt, still feel, like a fool and a failure. Because it ended so horribly, because I stuck around longer than I should have, even though I knew it wouldn't work out. We weren't on the same page; we weren't even in the same book.

    And he said "You worked for something you believed in. You thought it was worth it, you compromised and you fought for it. That doesn't make you a fool OR a failure. He was the idiot, not you. It just means you were brave enough to be willing to try. And he wasn't."

    And it was the first time I'd ever considered that my failed relationship wasn't a scarlet "F," but maybe a badge of courage instead.

    Your post put pieces of that same sentiment beautifully.

  8. "…on the wise old women you can turn to for guidance…" as a happily single and content 33-year-old woman (dating three men), i believe that – when you're in your 50s – you will very much look back on your 30s and realize the carefree, exuberant, joyful, fresh, free, happy, angst-filled years that you seem to have wasted on worrying about men and relationships. it's just funny to me how much importance single women in their late 20s and early 30s put on men, dating, marriage, babies, etc. we have SO MUCH to offer the world. worrying about men and relationships is such a gigantic waste of time. ENJOY YOU!!! learn to be comfortable with Just You. you may have heard that before, but once you find it, it feels SO.D@MN.GOOD.

  9. Yes, yes, yes and yes. This "you complete me" attitude is so unrealistic. No matter how close you get to a person you NEVER really will ever know what makes their wheels turn. That is why I think it's terrible to feel like a failure when a relationship falls apart. It takes two people, two very seperate people to make things work and timing is 90 percent of it. I am so glad you wrote this post.

  10. This post couldn't have come at a better time! I recently went through the pain of realizing my boyfriend just wasn't wanting us as much as I did. As horrible as I was feeling and as much as I needed support, I felt like I couldn't turn to my friends, since they were all in seemingly healthy, great relationships and I didn't want to appear to be a failure to them by revealing my relationship troubles. Fortunately, I forced myself to push aside my pride and 'fess up to my friends. Even though I shouldn't have been, I was suprised at their overwhelming and unquestioning support. I now know what I should have known all along: that these are the people who will always be there for me and won't judge me if I'm the only one in the room without a boyfriend. I just feel so sad that I have been neglecting these wonderful girls all this time to be with my boyfriend….

  11. This is amazing advice and so important that it should be broadcast from the radio and pulled across the sky on the back of a plane. You are so right about how to judge one's successes. Sure, I don't have a boyfriend/husband/ring but does that matter at all when I have everything else?

  12. It's so true, Stephanie, what you wrote. All of it. I was in those shoes a few months back when a man i was convinced I was going to marry eventually broke up with me. I thought he needed time, but really it wasn't time – it was just we were in different places. I wanted marriage eventually and he wasn't in love with me. And trying to make sense of everything especially when you remember that he took better care of you than anyone else, and you realize that it's still not enough, trying to make sense of any of it just doesn't work. While this breakup was two months ago, I really needed to get away and couldn't due to work. Now, in Austin for a week, things are getting more and more crisp and clear. And when you think about it, this relationship being right thing – it only needs to work once :)

  13. My first comment ever. Right before I read this entry I finished sending my boyfriend of almost a year an email explaining to him that I have been giving more in the relationship and that I know he's going through stuff, but I deserve more. The email to him was prompted because I asked him yesterday for something that I knew he could give me and would cost him nothing and on top of that would make me happy. He said no. It reaffirmed what I've been feeling. It wasn't about the object that he wouldn't give me. It was about me knowing I deserve better. Then I read today's entry. There's nothing like getting validation for taking a stand. I've been holding on to this relationship because he needs me and I like feeling needed, but what happens when you give selflessly day in and day out and you get nothing back? I'll answer my own question – resentment.

  14. It's so true that many people find themselves in life-defining relationships when it's really that their lives should be relationship-defining (whether purging toxic friends, boyfriends and bosses, or feeling as though you're good enough to just be with who makes you feel good and you are the one defining you.)

  15. Go get that ring on your finger so you can be just like everyone else in the room. Tell me how that works out.

    Sure, we all have those moments, I'm one of my only friends still renting and that pisses me off more than a ring. Sure, I want a garage, a pool and king-size bed and a walk in closet (yes, I am salivating at the thought of it all) but life has taken me in that direction yet. I mourn that sometimes but probably a lot less than my friends envy my lifestyle.

    It's exhausting to wait for the "right time" but you lose so much more time cleaning up the mess you made when you forced something at the wrong time.

    Well, I guess that's been my experience at least. Whatever _THATS_ worth!

    (This comment was directed at you in anyway, just spurned by your writing. You just got me thinking…I've never been much of a feminist but I'm struck by the feeling that we need to empower each other to aim for so much more than a ring on our left ring finger).

  16. You had me at "I'm afraid of failing". Perfect timing with this (oh so true it's scary) post.

    Also, to all those who have commented today, it's amazing the community SK brings together and how each and every view point we see can fit together like the perfect puzzle. I look forward to reading you daily, as icing on the Greek Tragedy cake.

  17. Failure is not ending a relationship, failure is staying in an unhealthy relationship b/c sociey/family/friends think you should get married, etc. Success is realizing when it's wrong.

  18. So often, we compare being in a relationship to being single — either you're with someone or you're not. Why don't we compare Single and Happy to Single and Unhappy, and Together and Happy to Together and Unhappy? They rarely have anything to do with one another, the only caveat being that a happy relationship is generally favorable to happy solitude.

    I'm sure that will get me yelled at, but isn't that what we're all looking for, single or not — someone to understand and love us fully and forgive us without needing to tell us what we did wrong? Why must we be so cynical about good relationships? Why must we need convincing that being single is great? It's not the status that has value, it's who's involved. If who's involved is selfish, bitter and empty, no relationship — not even with oneself — will work.

  19. No one should determine their self-worth by *relationship status*. Failure has nothing to do with relationships—vise/versa. I had to learn this the hard way. I thought I failed at my relationship at one time, and realized I became a better person…without her.

    My ex-girlfriend gave me an ultimatum once. She said, “If you do ask me to live with you in six months, then we have to make some major decisions.” I broke up with her that very night. We were at two totally different places in our lives—but I wanted to share with her, get to know her better and see if we could connect eye-to-eye before making that big step. And it is a big step.

    Giving someone an ultimatum is a very manipulating thing to do to someone in my opinion. Why can’t people just ‘let things happen’ and ‘go with the flow’? I don’t understand it. They expect way too much out of their partners—when in actuality—they should be a little more accepting and understanding. I think those two ingredients make for a great relationship.

    Another thing is, you don’t have to be in a relationship to be ‘complete’. Many people are under the assumption that they have to be either living with someone or married by the time they hit 30 yrs old. This is not true. When they marry out of fear—it usually ends years after. (From what I see.)

    Sometimes a single person feels lonely. That’s fine. But think about this: It’s worse to be lonely and have your husband/wife sitting next to you. Being ‘lonely’ in a relationship is the worst feeling in the world.

    Failure is the word the devil uses to tear you down a notch. It’s a negative word. If you think you ‘failed’ at something…It’s just a way to do it better the next time around.

  20. Hi Stephanie,

    Great post today. I'm not really one to post comments publicly about myself, but I just wanted to give you a "hear, hear" from yours truly because this one really hit home for me.

    I've always known that being in a relationship doesn't make you who you are. Despite spending most of my time since I was a teenager in long-term relationships, I honestly do enjoy the months-long hiatuses of living in opposition to the status quo by being a single woman who
    actually sleeps well at night.

    Especially now that I'm 30, I feel like kind of a badass for not settling, when I see friends marrying guys that they would never have dated in younger years just because they are ready to move on into marriage and kids.

    The miserable, insecure single girl issues don't just come from low self-esteem or not knowing oneself, though. I've always been happy with who I am, but now that I'm 30, my family is starting to worry about me for the first time. It's like–"Listen folks, I'll tell you when I need any annoying advice about this!" Being single is not a medical condition. In a lot of ways, being single when I'm old enough to take care of myself in style is a lot of fun. I'm becoming more myself in a good way–taking photography classes, reading more, working out more, and being an excellent friend to people in my life.
    > And when I meet someone who I'm interested in getting close to and possibly marrying, I'll be coming at it from a calm, happy place. If it takes until I am 40 or even (gasp!) later to find the person who I'll be spending the rest of my life with, so be it. Love is not a race; life is not a race.

    Anyway, I hope you're having a great Thursday and that packing for the move is going well. Thanks for being Stephanie, and thanks for encouraging us to think. You rock.

    Your fan,

  21. Today's post reminds me of something Bonnie Raitt said to Oprah once, something I always think about as I become the last friend of my group to be in a relationship. When Oprah asked Bonnie why her marriage failed, Bonnie got slightly angry and explained to Oprah how any relationship that has been great for any amount of time is not a failure. People don't fail just because relationships don't last and if we set ourselves up to think that way, it will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Thanks for the reminder.

  22. This–"You're not a failure when a relationship ends. The same way you're not a success when one begins."
    And this–"I don't think a relationship is a failure just because you don't live together any more than a relationship is a success just because you do."
    –Are my two favorite lines. Both so true.

  23. I have known far too many girls like this. One in particular. I am always the single one, and every once in a while, I want someone. But I am fine, even great on my own.

    I don't like people who measure themselves based on what they have, not who they are.

  24. "So many people constantly search for the right person to complete their lives, instead of focusing on BECOMING the right person." I might have butchered that, but that's what this post reminded me of. When one starts to see all the good in their life, to really "live, love, laugh," life will become more beautiful…regardless of whether you have a ring on your finger or not.

  25. I think this might be why men are such a turnoff to me right now. I'm too busy falling in love with me to really care about being part of a we.

  26. I loved this post. I check in daily and when I read this post, I was blown away. You're so right, but so few of us realize it.

    Moving in with someone isn't a guarantee of the future, a guarantee of a ring. It's simply one more situation in which you have to keep a part of yourself that's you and not part of 'us'- not that being an 'us' is a bad thing, but to lose yourself in the 'us' is a bad idea, a recipe for disaster should it ever fall apart.

    As always, you made me think, Stephanie. I don't know that my boyfriend will appreciate it, but I certainly do.

  27. Thanks so much for your post, it was a good reminder of a lot of things that I often forget.

  28. your post led me to two thoughts:

    1. i must let my little sister read this. she is excellent as just her and sometimes she falls too quickly into believing she needs to be an "us."

    2. my husband moved in with me less than two months after we met. everything moved quickly – engagement, marriage. and though it happened quickly and without much thought, i wouldn't have done it any other way. because we CHOOSE to be committed despite any obstacle that comes along our path, we have grown together in a united and meaningful way. wouldn't trade the fights and differences for anything.

    you'll always be great as just you. but sometimes it is important to stay a part of an "us" just long enough to realize how much of you "us" really is.

    best of luck


  29. Does the suitor ever get tired of talking about and analyzing EVERYTHING, ad nauseum? and do you ever wonder what the rule is about how many times you have to question if someone is "the one", or if a relationship is "right", before you just conclude that if you have to ask these questions so many times, every time you have a fight, that maybe its not right (or he is not the one)?

    I am not being passive aggressive, and frankly its not even directed at only you, as i seem to encounter a LOT of women to whom these questions/topics pertain. I guess i just wonder when women will figure out that most guys (and by most i mean just about all) will ever realize that guys are pretty simple, we dont generally like to talk about emotional subjects, and we really dont like answering the same questions over and over. So when women ask us the same hypothetical questions, "would you love me if…", "do i look fat in…", etc., over and over, at some point we reach our breaking point, and have to move on.

    Thats when a womans girlfriends usually make the matter worse, because rather than being straight up and saying "you are acting like a psycho, no guy is going to put up with that shit, so change or you are destined to be single", they say "he wasnt 'ready' for a relationship", or "he wasnt willing to open up to you", or "you are just being open and honest, and if he cant handle it, then he was not 'the one'", etc.

    you did hit it on the head though, if you have to give someone an ultimatum about the relationship moving forward, then cut bait and fish elsewhere. if a guy wants to spend his life with you, and you are "the one", then he will take the appropriate actions. i just had a woman friend of mine today once again trying to convince herself that the reason the guy who she was supposed to go out with for her second date tonight hadnt called, is because he lost her number, his phone was struck by lightning, he got amnesia, etc. (all of which were backed up by her girlfriends). i had to explain to her once again that if a guy is interested in a woman (for another date, to cohabitate, to get married), he WILL take action. If he doesnt, there is no point in trying to bully, trick, or ultimatum him into doing what you wish he would do. Just face the truth (guys do it all the time, and we are honest with our friends in telling them that the reason that the women hadnt called back is NOT because she was kidnapped by al quaeda, she just isnt into you, it sucks and it might hurt, but thats the truth).

    OK, if this makes the cut, let the attacks begin. I think you (and most women) would be a LOT better off if you were just honest with each other, and occasionally faced reality, instead of creating delusional fantasies , which are supported by your girlfriends. Oh, and if you stopped asking questions over and over. I think i have said this before, but i will say it again. there is a reason that guys seemingly trade down physically (not as attractive, doesnt have a closet full of manolos, etc) on their second wife/girlfriend, is that there is a HUGE price to pay/tradeoff associated with looks/fashion. The second time we realize that we would much rather spend our lives with a cool, stable, non psychotic woman who MAYBE isnt quite as put together, than we would with someone with whom we have to have a Q&A about our relationship night after night.

  30. GREAT POSTS Stephanie (this one and the Ultimatum post). Can't ring more true to me. I, myself, and the singular among all we's. I do look forward to one day finding the right man, I am comfortable with myself in that singular sense most of the time. My discomfort stems from others discomfort. The pressure from them that I need to find my we. The concerned and even sometimes looks of pity. I think sometimes they are sincerely wanting the best for me – but other times, I think I serve as a reminder for them that they may have ended up in a we out of wanting the next thing in a relationship – not necessarily that person…and they hate that.

  31. Wow. You are so right about women often valuing themselves by whether or not they are in a relationship. I gave in to that pressure, had the big ring, the big wedding, the adorable baby (now 9 months) and now I find myself wanting to leave. I realize I love my husband but I'm not in love with him and it's a horrible feeling. As much as I know that it's hard to recreate the passion at the beginning of a relationship, when you are in love, that person always makes your heart flutter. Being in an empty relationship, even though my husband is a great person and a friend, is no place to be. I tried so hard to pretend everything was fine (still am in many ways) and what lead me to finally face this reality is that I met someone, someone who had been through what I had, and had an affair. I've never cheated on anyone in my life and the fact that I did, not only makes me feel guilty but it also made me feel so alive, something I hadn't felt in so long. I realize I need to get a divorce and I wish that wasn't the case. Ultimately though, I think having the courage to leave and seek out a happier existence is the braver route. I am still am plagued by the notion that I'll be a pariah…"She's not only single but a single mom, GASP" but I think you have to do what is right for you. Try to make yourself happy and follow your heart. And if you do, you won't end up in my shoes. Not that it's so bad, I have a wonderful child and wouldn't give him back for anything. It'll just be a new chapter…

  32. Stephanie, That was a very inspiring sentiment to all of us single 30 year old women out there. I'm going through all the same things and so are many of my friends. We need more pep talks like that about our self worth. We don't hear it often enough and many of us still consciously or unconsciously meausure our worth by relationship status. Thanks for the cool post!

  33. I am 100% with Steve. It really amazes me that women like that even have relationships. And truly, how DOES the Suitor deal with your constant insecurity and neurotic nature??

  34. well, a couple of months back, my wonderful boyfriend if almost 3 years, cheated on me, and ever since I found out about I have been asking "WHY", "What did I do wrong?" or "what could I have done differently". Thank you for you, b/c now I realize alot, but mostly I relize that it wasn't me. And I am a success in my life BECAUSE he is gone. I was strong enough to kick him to the curb. I never thought that I would be able to do such a thing, and with your postings that I read often, it has helped me to become even stronger.

    Thank you

  35. "What he offered, I didn't value. What I offered back, he also missed. We were two people who loved each other, but we had such different ideas about how to express it. The other people we sought out were really just a way of making the connection, somewhere, that we couldn't make with each other" – excerpt from the Anthology "The Honeymoon's Over" Feb 2007 "The way we really were" – Joyce Maynard.

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