Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Three Month Rule

My exposition of my Three Pint Rule the other day (namely, I need to have approximately three pints of beer - or equivalent - under my belt before I can start to play my best pool) brought to mind some other similar theories I have hatched over the years, most notably The Three Month Rule. (Three, as we know, is a magic number.)

As a great believer in the idea of love (almost, indeed, in a mystic notion of a seemingly pre-destined, 'paired soulmates' kind of love; my friend Richard once dubbed me "the least curable romantic I have ever met"), I sometimes become rather disillusioned when I see so many relationships around me that are plainly based solely on comfort and familiarity rather than anything deeper; in fact, many relationships seem to survive on little more than inertia - a fear of change, a fear of the unknown, a fear of the possibility of having to spend some time single again. In many of these cases, you know that the relationships aren't particularly satisfying to either party and are almost certainly going to fall apart one day, yet sometimes they limp on for years before that rupture comes. You wonder why the parties are persisting on this doomed path, rather than making a clean break as soon as possible and giving themselves the chance of finding something better.

My view is that you should generally know if a relationship has 'legs' after about three months. In the first couple of months you are easily swept along by the novelty of it all (and by the gratitude for having found someone willing to sleep with you again, if you've been through a long drought), by the first flush of passion, by the excitement of discovery (getting to know your new partner, both sexually and otherwise). Plus, of course, you'll probably be having more sex during that period than you will in the whole of the remainder of your relationship, even if you should stay together unto death. But after that length of time, you have got to know each other pretty well; you're starting to settle down into cosy routines; the initial infatuation is probably waning slightly. If, after three months of intimacy, you don't know whether you're 'in love' (and I mean the quieter, more sustainable version of that concept rather than the ephemeral compulsion of being 'in lust'), then you're not - and you're never going to be*. If you're still not sure whether this is someone you could have a long-term relationship with, then you probably shouldn't try.

It's an extreme position, I know. And I have built all kinds of allowances and exceptions into it - principally related to the degree of contact or intimacy that the partners share (and this is crucially affected by their geographic location, how far apart they live). If they're seeing each other almost every day and/or moving in together right from the outset (not something I'd recommend!), then the three-month guideline might actually be shortened to as little as six or eight weeks. If, on the other hand, the contact remains relatively infrequent, then that crucial decision-making timeframe might well be doubled or trebled. When you're living far apart from your partner, contact is inevitably reduced (I suppose the three-month period is based on an assumption that the couple are seeing each other almost every weekend and two or three times during the week). And I have found that even within the same city - in a large city like London or Beijing - the hassle of travelling to a distant district can put a brake on the development of a relationship: even when you're only living 4 or 5 miles from each other, you might often find yourselves not getting together more than once or twice a week. [In this age of instant communication, a lot of people are trying to persuade themselves that relationships can survive and even flourish on remote contact alone: telephone chats, text messages, e-mail, instant messaging and so on. I am deeply sceptical. I only know of one "long-distance relationship" that led to a marriage - and that marriage didn't last.]

Another invitation to controversy I throw out to the lurking hordes.....

* I know a lot of people suggest that 'love' can develop slowly over time, sometimes even catching people by surprise after they've known each other platonically for some time. That doesn't seem to happen for me. I am a 'bolt of lightning' kind of guy: if I wasn't smitten early on (maybe not quite at first sight, but certainly within the first one or two meetings), then it's not going to happen. The few times I have started seeing nice, bright, attractive girls who really seemed to like me - but there was no thunderbolt - and I've persisted in the relationship hoping that the feelings would grow...... they didn't; I felt awkward and insincere; I eventually felt that I'd been wasting their time and mine; and those were particularly tricky situations for me to extricate myself from.

I believe this 'gradual development' theory of love has in fact been largely or exclusively put forward by women of my acquaintance. Maybe it does work that way for the female of the species. For us chaps, I fear, it is rarely or never so. We need the thunderbolt.

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