August 4, 2021

The 90-Day Expiration Date: Why so many Relationships Die after 3 Months.


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At 51 years old, I’d rather not see myself as the guy who can’t hold a relationship for more than three months.

But since I keep going in and out of relationships every three months, delusion would take far too much effort.

I see my lady friends post photos of their boyfriends with testimonials about how they know just the right thing to say and when to swoop in with the warm embrace and wipe tears away and go, “Shhh…shhhh…shhhh…” 

God, how I wish that was me sometimes.

I have to admit that when I see those posts with those men who are so adept at communication and intimacy, I just assume their parents were likely college-educated and thoughtful—people who were excited to care for and nurture their children, instead of the kind that put red Xs through every day on the calendar as they waited out the 18 years that they were legally liable.

It is common for me to walk through life after one of these breakups with some of the most defeating self-talk:

>> “I suck at relationships.” 

>> “I need to read more self-help books.” 

>> “I need counseling.” 

>> “I’m too self-centered to care for another person.”

And while part of that—or a lot of that—may really be true, I’m typically in the worst position to judge myself so soon after a romance crashes and burns. Let’s be serious: how can a person possibly see themselves objectively moments after the obligatory 45-minute phone call where they receive an inventory of every awful thing about themselves? It’s a fragile time and not a time to be making any important decisions.

The truth of the matter is that many people have relationship patterns and attachment issues that will ensure Match.com and Tinder will be in the black for years to come. I don’t know the exact statistics, but I can attest that I have seen the same women on the same sites for years. The profile goes away. The profile comes back. I am certain that women could say the same thing about men. And same-sex couples, too. But why?

Here are five possible answers to why the three-month expiration date is a thing:

1. Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Style

This is the sort of problem—or challenge if you need to see everything in a positive light—that will stay hidden just about long enough to get through the first three months. Speaking from personal experience, I crave romance and love but practically shut down when things begin to get heavy and emotional. If I am dating someone who has an Anxious Attachment style (which is most often the case), I can practically write the script for how things will eventually break down and end. One person needs reassurance; the other person is petrified of vulnerability. The Anxious Avoidant feels duped and angry that they’ve been misled and the Dismissive Avoidant just wants the emotional discomfort to end as fast as possible. Before you know it, you’re both forking $50 over to Tinder and blocking each other.

2. Honeymoon Addiction

This is generally the uncharitable diagnosis I get from most of my female friends:

“You are just another one of those dudes who refuses to grow up. You want all the fun, but you want to bail as soon as things get difficult or the slightest bit boring.” 

I’ll admit, there’s likely a case to be made for this, but there have been times when I have stayed in relationships for years. One such relationship was with a woman who had the exact same attachment style as me. This has always led me to believe that our survival skills and developmental trauma play a bigger role than anything else. Still, we can’t dismiss this possibility of straight immaturity altogether.

3. You Finally Know Your Partner

Online dating can be so exasperating at times that when you finally have coffee with someone you have the slightest chemistry with, the motivation to close the deal will cause some people to not just put their best foot forward but dress that foot in $2,000 Jimmy Choo’s. There’s really nothing wrong with that—until there is. What is a person supposed to think when all the sweet gestures that were so much a part of the initial courtship start getting phased out one by one? In this case, the scorned will want to make a break for it before things degrade any further.

4. Fear

Undoubtedly, the “pink cloud” of new love can go on for several months and even a whole year, but typically, three months is the point where a relationship becomes “real.” The average commitment-phobe will start to look for an escape hatch—and, of course, there’s always one to be found. This will manifest as a seemingly insignificant fight that invariably leads to the curtain coming down on the whole sh*t show. We’ve all been there—most of us on both sides of the equation.

5. Unresolved Issues

People get lonely. People get horny. People overestimate their own resiliency. It is not unique for someone to be combing the websites and the bars for a partner long before they have gotten over their last breakup. This is the sort of thing that can be stuffed away for a little while (say, maybe, three months), but it will rear its destructive head and set fire to what seemed like a very promising romance.

So, fellow travelers, take heart. If almost every relationship you’re in starts going sideways after three months, there are tangible reasons.

Sometimes it’s you; sometimes it’s them. And sometimes (be realistic), it’s just hard out there.

In my honest opinion, I would lay most of the responsibility at the feet of seemingly incompatible attachment styles. I say “seemingly” because, when the motivation exists, two people can learn to muddle through it with a little counseling.

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