In an episode of Sex and the City, Carrie finds herself unsure about a fling with a guy who’s only in town for the week. “Whatever happens, there’s an expiration date,” she complains over mimosas — and thus the term ‘expiration dating’ was born.
For many of us, when we’re enjoying spending time with someone, it’s easy to shrug off the pink flags and tell ourselves that these are simply Future Me problems; bridges to cross when we get to them. But when we know what we want and what we don’t, does it even make sense to date people that don’t fit in with our plans? That’s where expiration dating gets complicated.
What is expiration dating?
Referring to the act of dating someone you know it won’t last with, expiration dating can be a fun and low-stakes way of getting your intimacy fix without the commitment. A bit like casual dating, the main difference with expiration dating is that there isn’t really any uncertainty of where it’s going since you already know the answer: nowhere. Whatever the reason, something — or many things — stand in the way of it working in the long term.
Say they’re about to go away for a long time, or they don’t want kids, or maybe you both want to settle in different locations and can’t compromise. Hell, you might even just know deep down that you’re too different to really work out in the long term. The factors involved in why a relationship may be filed away as temporary are countless. There are the practical limitations, the ones that put a physical barrier between you, or the ones that don’t necessarily pose an immediate issue, but you know you won’t be able to ignore them down the road. And then there are the more significant limitations that might take a while to even see, like personality clashes and disparities in values. No matter the reason, something puts a ‘Best Before’ date on the situation which can be both liberating and fraught with heartbreak.
The key to drawing that line really comes down to your own perspective and what stage of life you’re in. If you’re in a place where you know you want something more serious, then dating with an expiry date can become more fraught than fun. You’re enjoying yourself on borrowed time, maybe even banking on things changing or magically working out when the writing’s on the wall.
On the other hand, if you’re keen to have some single romantic fun and only really have the time and emotional capacity for something low-maintenance right now, then it’s kind of the perfect situation.
How long can expiration dating last?
Expiration dating doesn’t have to be bound to a short window. You might be with someone for years, all the while knowing that the time will come when you no longer serve each other’s needs. The thing to keep front of mind with expiry dating, however, is that it is terminal. And when you’re having a good time, it’s hard to know the right time to face the ending. Even if you’ve accepted that it will eventually end, when you’re in the thick of all the fun, no time feels like an easy one to go your separate ways. Letting go of something that makes us happy can feel impossible. It doesn’t really make sense, right? But in delaying the inevitable we only run the risk of deepening the hurt.
And try not to let the rose goggles trick you into self-sabotage. Remember, the ephemeral nature of the relationship can heighten its intensity. Just as we romanticise the job we’re about to leave, so too do we glorify short-term relationships. Try to stay true to what you know and don’t get caught up imagining future plans for the two of you. It’ll just make it all the worse for the both of you and you’ll be left with a whole lot of resentment — not to mention the missed opportunities that could be better suited to what you want. If you feel like you’re just postponing the inevitable, trust your gut, and accept the difference between fleeting comfort and genuine romantic compatibility.
How do you deal with expiration dating?
Be honest with yourself about what you want. As much as you tell yourself that you want a relationship, are you really ready to give up the single life? Or vice versa: maybe it’s easier to tell yourself (and all your dates) that you don’t want something serious, when deep down that’s not your heart’s desire.
Breaking your own heart is bad enough, but you’re not the only one in the picture, and you also need to consider what the other person in the relationship wants. Even if you’re both aware of the issues at hand, are you on the same page that these are deal-breakers? You don’t want to be stringing someone along who is ready for something serious, or convincing yourself that they are when they’re really not.
Even though it’s temporary, dating with an end date in mind doesn’t make it pointless. Relationships don’t have to be long to be meaningful — we can still learn and receive more from one person in four weeks than we might with someone else in four years. Ultimately, there isn’t really a right or wrong answer, and it really comes down to whether or not you’re both on the same page about the relationship. If you’re both happy to carry on, there’s a lot to soak up before the chapter comes to a close.
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