After more than five years of dating, Lena Dunham and Jack Antonoff have ended their relationship, despite earlier telling the world they were headed towards marriage. They owned a house and dog together and had dated and lived together for five years. Now, the ending of any relationship is painful and disruptive for the people involved, but this serves more as a cautionary lesson for men and women who get into relationships with people who just won’t or can’t commit.
Life is too short for people who want to get married and have a family to spend years spinning their wheels on a relationship without shared goals and no real future. Girls and guys, let this serve as a warning — you can’t change people. If you’re marriage- and family-minded and your significant other isn’t, end it now, cut your losses, and quit wasting your time. All you’re doing is prolonging your heartache, frittering away your youth and fertility, and missing out on time that could be spent with your actual Mr. or Mrs. Right.
The Twenties Are a Time to Start Settling Down
Dunham was in her mid-twenties when she started her relationship with Antonoff. That’s not an uncommon age for millennials to enter a serious relationship with the person they hope is their soulmate. Past high school and college, in a job that will hopefully turn into a career, and easing into a livelihood that might support a family, your twenties are a time of moving from the immaturity and selfishness of childhood to young adulthood.
This is the age that the little girl dreams of happily ever after, of that imagined fairytale wedding with the beautiful dress and sparkly crown. Women dream about and plan their wedding for years before meeting their groom, with many brides-to-be setting out plans around 13 years old. More than just idle daydreams about dresses and cakes, playlists and dances, women sometimes also start saving for that wedding years before meeting the man they hope to marry.
Weddings and marriage aren’t just a childish obsession but also a passionate topic with deep cultural significance. We march and protest over who can and can’t marry, and Dunham and Antonoff said that they were postponing marriage until gay couples could also. Except we’re more than three years out from Obergefell, and gay marriage is legal in every state. This grandstanding didn’t end in wedded bliss for them, because the issue was never other people’s relationships.
Fortunately for most of us, we won’t have our love life missteps play out in the media, so the pain is kept private to our families and friends, but since Dunham has broadcast her life, we can learn from her mistakes. There are men and women who never want to get married. There are men and women who want to get married, but don’t want to marry you. There are also people who are not called to celibacy, and desire to spend their life with someone else. Still others say they want marriage and their own family but take no concrete steps towards making that happen.
It is a mismatch, and a sad one, when people who desire a family and a deep lifelong connection fall in love with someone who does not share that goal or desire, or shares that goal but doesn’t want it with them. Keeping up a relationship for years, hoping that things will change while time passes, is ultimately not best for either partner.
Lena’s loss is the loss of all who have ever loved someone who was less into them than they were invested in the relationship. This is the loss of everyone who has ever loved someone and spent years nurturing and building up that loving, imagining that it will grow into the kind of relationship that becomes a family that lasts, only to be left and see that person marry the next person he dates. This is the loss of everyone who has ever wondered Why me? or Why not me?
The Biological Clock Is Real
No matter how invincible youth makes people feel, there’s also the inevitable truths of biology to be concerned with. During a woman’s late teens, twenties, and early thirties, her fertility is reasonably stable, and her chances of gestating a healthy baby are high, and chances of repeated miscarriages are low. However, “around age 35, the average woman experiences a drop-off in fertility that accelerates until her mid-40s, when her odds of a successful pregnancy fall into the low single digits.”
The often mocked biological clock has truth behind it, especially for those who hope for more than one child. It takes time to court, to fall in love, to get married. It also takes time to conceive and have a child, then to have another.
With what we know about the increased stressors and difficulties that can arise with having babies later in life, and how heartbreaking it can be for people who want children but can’t have them, it bears mentioning in discussions of dating long-term. If you want babies and a family, consider carefully whether waiting for years and years before starting to try is really in your best interests.
If You Like It, Get a Ring On It
Lena is neither the victim nor the hero of this story, because an ended relationship is a story where no one wins. Instead, this is a call for examining why some relationships work and others don’t, and how men and women can be smart about falling in love.
Women need to stop dating and falling in love with men who don’t want to get married, or who spend years keeping them waiting with the suggestion that they might, at some nebulous time in the future, be ready to settle down and start a family and a life together. A ring that never appears isn’t a promise, it’s a cruel tease, and five or ten years of a young woman’s life is too long to waste on a man who does not commit to her in a reasonable timeframe.
Women who want marriage and a family need to stop playing house with men who don’t want that. They need to quit playing wife to men they’re not married to and feeling confused why this doesn’t lead to what they really want—an actual marriage. Even with shifting morals and cultural views about cohabitation before marriage, there are statistical risks to jumping into playing family before actually committing. If you are actually ready to cohabit, you’re probably actually ready to marry. So if you’re thinking about cohabitation, it should be a signal that marriage is the likely next step.
Communicate Your Expectations Clearly and Early
Before investing significant time and emotional energy in a relationship, people need to be honest with each other, and with themselves. They need to set expectations for the present and the future, and set goals, then practice adult communication skills to see if those goals and expectations are compatible.
A relationship is more than chemistry or enjoying someone’s company over supper, it’s being able to be together in the best and worst of times. It’s being able to withstand the pressures from peers and other external forces on the relationship, and focus on building a life together. Marriage isn’t just something that happens, and a relationship that truly works takes hard work.
Men who are more interested in running from responsibility, in chasing adolescence and immature sexual gratification, or objectifying women through pornography, make poor spouses. They’re not adult men, ready to shoulder the responsibilities of a family both at work and at home, able to be a steady rock in the storms of life, but instead another source of volatility in an uncertain world. Women, for their part, often indulge their insecurities and are too willing to focus on their own wants rather than others’ needs, and unwilling to acknowledge the joy of self-sacrifice.
A wedding isn’t an ending, but rather a beginning. A relationship that is wrapped up in a wedding-day as the height of the relationship is doomed to fail. It misses that the beauty of loving someone enough to build a life together that will have valleys and mountains. Of course marriage will have good days and bad, but all of those will be had together, creating something stronger and more complete together. Marriage is a commitment, one that must be entered into with maturity and hope, and two people who both want it.