Is It Okay To Have An Expiration Date On A Relationship?

By Emma McGowan

While the romantic in so many of us likes to believe that love lasts forever, the truth is that some relationships have expiration dates. For example, when I was 19 and traveling in Europe, I had a two-week love affair that I’ll never forget. He was a Southern, religious military man on leave and we shared more than one bottle of wine on the Spanish Steps after meeting in a dingy hostel. From that point on, we were inseparable. I fell for him with an intensity that I think might only be possible when you know your time together is limited — which is to say, hard. When he left me in Milan, I cried in the park for two days.

That wasn’t the first relationship I had with an expiration date — and it wouldn’t be last. When I was a younger teenager, I had a policy of dumping my boyfriends before the summer started so that I’d be free to mingle as I chose in the steamier months. Later, when I was 24 and living in Argentina, I had what I like to a call a “not-boyfriend” — “not” mainly because he already had a girlfriend, but she was living in Korea. I knew she’d be coming to join him in Buenos Aires in a few months and that would be the end of our dalliance.

Loving Harder With Limited Time

Both my military man and Buenos Aires boo are examples of expiration dates actually enhancing a relationship. The constraints of limited time meant that we loved harder, lived more intensely, did things that maybe we wouldn’t have done. In Argentina, I was able to explore an open relationship — something I’d never done before. In Italy, I got to know a man who I would never have met in my daily life back home. I look back on both of those relationships with fondness and still stay in intermittent touch (by which I mean the occasional Facebook message) with them.

But not every expiration date enhances a relationship. Ones that are clear to both people — like I’m leaving the country in two weeks or my primary partner is moving here in five months — create boundaries within which you can move freely. On the other hand, expiration dates that aren’t clearly stated can keep a couple from getting closer. I’m talking about that times that one party is thinking, “I’ll break up with them after Christmas,” or “This will end when she gets a new job.”


Expiration Dates Should Be Clearly Marked

Those one-sided expiration dates are cruel and cowardly. They leave the person who doesn’t know there’s an expiration date hanging over their head confused and misled, as they’re likely to proceed as if everything was normal. I’ve been in that situation, too — my college boyfriend got a job in Spain and didn’t tell me for an entire summer. By the time he finally did, our relationship was already collapsing under the strain of me knowing something was weird, but not what it was. I was so relieved when he finally told me that I didn’t even object to him leaving- but those months in between were hard.

So when it comes to relationships with expiration dates, just be honest. When both parties are on the same page, it can be a really cool opportunity to explore. But when they’re not? One of you is just being a jerk. 

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