Why Do the End of Mini Relationships Hurt So Much?

On a recent meeting with a friend, I learned about the last woman who’d broken his heart. “How long had you gone out?” I asked, expecting to hear a story about several years of shared holidays, family vacations, and marriage talk.

His answer: Two months

“Two months?” I exclaimed. “But how can you know someone in that short of time?”

“It didn’t matter,” he said. “It hurt more because it never got a chance to play out.” When his previous long-term relationships had ended, he explained, he felt a sense of peace because he’d known why. They’d run their natural course. Maybe he and his exes had tried to fix them. But the point was that they tried.

But with mini-relationships, he felt a sense a loss about what could have been. And in his fantasy, it could have been amazing. Now he’ll never know.

Mini relationships are a frequent phenomenon of online dating. Perhaps you were lucky to hit the sweetheart jackpot with your first match. Or maybe you’re such a savvy judge of character and compatibility that you go on dozens of first dates. Unless you’re sure your match could be your spouse, you take a “one and done” approach to dating. However, chances are you’ve had a couple short-term relationships in your search for love.

These little liaisons range from a handful of dates to several months. Unlike long-term relationships, the reasons why short-termers end tend to be less clear and more unsatisfying, especially if you believed “We could have been so good together!”(Take your pick: Not enough attraction. Not enough chemistry. Wrong timing. A terrifying red flag that appeared after the seventh date.)

And it’s important to recognize that it can be painful when these relationships end – even if they were based on “what could have been” or “who you thought the other person was.” You liked someone. You put your heart out there. It didn’t work out, and that hurts. And despite people’s advice to move on to the next match, it’s okay to wallow in it for a while.

I mean for “a while.” Just because your promising three-monther fizzled out is no excuse to give up dating for the rest of the year or corner someone at a party with claims that “online dating is only for losers and super-duper losers.”

You’ve got to stay positive! I’m going to suggest some reasons why mini relationships can be beneficial for your dating life.

1) You got to the chance to connect with someone.

One of the most common fears of people who haven’t been in a relationship in a while or who are re-entering the dating market after a long marriage or relationship is that they’ve “lost the ability to date.” Of course, that’s not true! But that frisson of excitement you experienced or series of soul-baring discussions you engaged in are proof that you’re back on your game. Knowing you have the ability to create chemistry is empowering.

2) You ended something that wasn’t working.

Maybe it wasn’t your choice, but if the relationship wasn’t happy, you would have eventually come to that conclusion. The point is that you didn’t continue to invest time in something that couldn’t or wouldn’t move forward. If you’ve ever been in a relationship that you wished had ended earlier, this is proof that you’re getting better at recognizing what’s not working to free up your dance card for a better match.

3) You had the chance to part ways with love and grace.

Okay, I know this is a lame consolation for a bruised heart. But if you believe in dating karma (and you should!), all these shorties provide good practice in speaking your truth and wishing each other well. That’s extremely important, especially if you’ve got a bitter divorce or bad breakup in your past. You’re setting new standards for yourself and changing your relationship narrative. Whenever someone asks about your dating life, you can say, “I’ve gotten to know some great people, but we weren’t matches in the long run.”

Dating is a process. Part of the journey is learning to identify what you do and don’t want in a partner. When you learn to enjoy and exit mini relationships, you’re preparing yourself to meet the person who will be in it for the long haul.

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.

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