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Long-term relationships not working out? Don’t despair, instead consider the positives of a short-term fling, says Juliette Wills
It’s human nature to look for a life partner. Swans do it too, and have an outstanding success rate, but swans are a bit less complicated than humans. Have you ever considered a short-term fling might be the answer?
We go through life looking for ‘the one’ and are often heartbroken when they turn out not to be. But then we do it again, repeating the same patterns and only believing that a relationship has value or is meaningful if it lasts a long time. What if I told you there is an alternative?
The joy of not-forever love
What if we were to change our perception of the long-term goal, and instead focus on enjoying short-term love? Maybe not even love, but a meaningful fling. One in which both parties know that it’s not forever, and are happy to forge ahead regardless?
What I don’t need is to completely lose myself to someone again. So I’m essentially looking to date men who I know aren’t suitable long-term
We spend a lot of energy looking for Mr Right when we might be better off looking for Mr Right Now. This is particularly true if you’ve just come out of a relationship that ended badly. Or if you’re in the throes of divorce (I tick both boxes, go me!).
While my friends yell at me to spend time on my own, I yell back that I’ve essentially been on my own whilst being married for 15 years. I’m ready to love, to be loved, and to have some fun along the way. Or even to separate the two. What I don’t need is to completely lose myself to someone again. So I’m essentially looking to date men who I know aren’t suitable long-term (but who also aren’t monsters, obviously).
Playing it on the safe side?
To that end I’m veering towards much younger men with whom I know a future isn’t on the cards. I’m OK with that. When I was 32 my boyfriend was – ahem – 19, so it’s fair to say that’s my thing. If, at some point, I decide that I do want a grown-up, more serious relationship, I’ll simply adapt and look for men who want the same.
I’m very emotionally-led, however, so whether I can pull off this cool-as-a-cucumber cougar persona remains to be seen. The other person will also have to adopt the same attitude. Fortunately, younger men aren’t generally looking for long-term love (at least not with a woman 15 years older than themselves). So really, all the emotional stuff will be on me. Gulp.
The expert viewpoint
“Some people may feel that it’s not worth the emotional investment or potential risks involved,” explains dating coach Billy Reid. Indeed, there’s always a risk that one of you will fall head over heels for the other, and upset the equilibrium.
…there’s always a risk that one of you will fall head over heels for the other, and upset the equilibrium
“If they’re experiencing a lack of attention or affection, the intensity of the fling might appear to fill that void. But if the dalliance is brief, it could continue to be missing after the fling finishes,” explains Reid.
However, Reid also outlines the positives of such a venture.
“A short-term romantic relationship can provide a sense of excitement and novelty, which can boost mood and self-confidence. Additionally, some individuals may find that a brief romantic encounter allows them to explore their own desires and preferences in a low-pressure environment.”
In other words, a short-term fling is like a French meringue – you won’t really know how it’ll turn out until you try.
Charlotte, a 48-year-old PR manager from West Sussex, had a whirlwind relationship with a man she met by chance on a train. She was recently divorced, and he was separated.
“I really fancied him and couldn’t remember feeling like that about anyone before. He told me he’d just split with his wife and wasn’t ready for a relationship, but that he was happy to have fun. I was infatuated from the first moment we kissed. It just felt like he’d been missing my entire life.”
After two months of a whirlwind romance and “the greatest sex I’ve ever had,” he started to back away. When Charlotte confronted him, he told her that he cared about her very much, but felt the relationship was getting too serious.
He constantly told me how sexy I was, which gave me a huge confidence boost. He treated me well, and he was honest
“I was devastated,” says Charlotte. “I cried for weeks. I’ve been having therapy and I’m now six months down the line. And instead of being angry with Mike, as I was initially, I realise now that he did me a favour.”
“He constantly told me how sexy I was, which gave me a huge confidence boost. He treated me well, and he was honest. I can now see that the relationship was good for me, and that I can’t be angry that it ended. We met one last time and wished each other well. My bar is set very high now for future relationships and that’s got to be a good thing.”
Would she do it again?
“Sure, if both of us knew from the outset that it wasn’t going to develop into anything serious. The attraction has got to be there, of course, but I don’t need to find my soul mate or perfect man right now, I need to have fun and just enjoy life. I have to accept that it will invariably come to natural end, but I feel more equipped to deal with that now.”
“Ultimately,” says Reid, “the benefits of short-term romantic relationships are subjective and depend on one’s own goals, values, and emotional needs. It’s important to approach any romantic encounter with clear communication and mutual respect, and to prioritise your own well-being and boundaries.”
When you only spend a few weeks with someone, you’re firmly in the honeymoon period phase
Boundaries are key, because the downside to short-term relationships is that they are harder to get over than long-term relationships. When you only spend a few weeks with someone, you’re firmly in the honeymoon period phase the entire time. Your dopamine and oxytocin levels are through the roof, endorphins are flying high and the person you’re with is endlessly fascinating to you. Because you haven’t worked them out yet (and in the case of short-term love, you never will).
While the positives are that there’s no chance of being bored, of discovering their flaws and of becoming unhappy, the downside is that because you don’t see their flaws, when you do split up you only have positive memories. You haven’t had a chance to resent them or feel anger, or vice versa. It may seem like a mad idea to split when you’re so enamoured by each other. But trust me, it makes sense.
We don’t stay in the same house or the same job all our lives. Our friendships are transient, too. If, when we need to take a step back, we can approach relationships in the same way, ie that they don’t have to be forever to be meaningful, we might just surprise ourselves. By entering into a new relationship without the pressure of long-term love, you might actually be more equipped for it when it does come along.
Juliette writes about football, F1, fashion, health and interiors for national magazines and newspapers. She’s also Bexhill’s new Town Crier (true story!), runs a pet sitting sideline and heads up her own creative agency. If she’s not at home she’s in the sea
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