Learning Together

A friend recently said something that bothered me. And in some ways, it is depressing: all relationships end in break-up or marriage. Hell, a lot of marriages end in break-up. It makes romance seem futile. Yet in many relationships, there does come a point when the novelty has worn off and the nebulous idea of commitment is the only way forward. A lot of Harvard couples stall at this tipping point.

Why? We aren’t commitment-phobes. There are people here who spend more time planning Women In Business conferences than I would my wedding. If anything, we over-commit. What makes these Harvard relationships go kaput? What value do we place on these partners, who were lovers, roommates, pset buddies, best friends, all at once?

Part of the issue, I know, is the perpetual haunting of “options.” As Harvard students, we’re concerned with the possibility of missing out on something better. This is true for jobs; it is doubly true for romantic choices.

But the bigger issue, I think, is inertia. We feel like we aren’t getting any closer, and we’re worried about investing too much in relationships that won’t ultimately pan out. We worry about wasting our time. But between having fun and till death do us part, there is this incredibly positive thing called learning. And we’re pretty good at it.

Learning is great because it’s an active process. It leaves both parties richer than before, regardless of whether the romantic bit works out. It is truly “what you get out of” a relationship. But learning takes work. It takes resisting the urge to be homebodies. It takes going out when the easiest thing is staying in and watching a movie. It takes defying relationship weight. Learning means introducing your girlfriend to an enlightening lecture on Hidden Markov Models, or a new sushi place, and new friends. It’s embarking on a journey of constant self-improvement  and self-enjoyment and doing it together.

I say this because a relationship is the best motivator and the best source of rapport. You’re hardwired to want to impress your partner. You’re practically forced to learn their family histories and academic interests, their strengths and foibles, their favorite sexual positions and late-night snacks.

And all this before you can even get close to something like love.