Relationships Are Like Trains
You’re in them as long as you choose to be — so be careful which ones you board
This is an excerpt from my new book, 2-Minute Pep Talks*. If you enjoy it, you can buy a copy for as little as $3.99 here*.
Relationships are like trains: You get on, and the ride begins. As long as you stay on board, the train will continue. Indefinitely. It doesn’t matter if the other party gets off. You’re on the train for as long as you choose to be.
I said “party” instead of “person” because we don’t form bonds only with people. We have relationships with everything in the universe: Places, jobs, possessions, even habits, memories, and feelings.
If your spouse divorces you, but you think about them every day for the rest of your life and never remarry, did that relationship ever end? I don’t think so. You’re still on the train. Sometimes, I miss silly little collectibles I owned 25 years ago. Occasionally, I still ride those trains. If running gets you through the stressful demands of college but destroys your knees after you graduate, the habit got off the train. You can stay on it, but running will no longer serve you.
Unlike on a hiking trip, when we know exactly at which stop to get off, it’s hard to guess when to leave a relationship. You can do so at any time, but where — or when, rather — is the right station? Is it the one-month mark? The three-year mark? Never?
If you ride a train long enough, at some point, it’ll go backwards. Or in a circle. That happens in our relationships too. We repeat the same patterns. We regress. The train will keep going automatically, but it’s our job to make sure it keeps going in the right direction, and that direction will have to change again and again.
The true danger of relationship trains, however, lies in an attribute they share with real ones: their speed. If you’ve ever ridden a train into a tunnel, you know what I mean. Everything goes dark from one moment to the next, but you can barely blink a few times before it’s over. Suddenly, you’re back in the light — and many miles ahead. In that sense, our relationships travel through time, and they drag us right with them.
When it comes to the connections we care about the most, said time tunnels leave us with nostalgia. Your family, partner, kids, and best friend — life always seems to cut these relationships short because, well, they can never last long enough, can they?
Much more problematic, however, are the time tunnels we pass holding on to our unreflected commitments. At the end of those, all we’ll find is regret. We often form new relationships thinking, “I’ll just move into this flat for now. I’ll find a better place soon.” “We’ll just get dinner and take things from there,” we might say, or, “This is just a temporary gig. I’ll do this job no longer than a year.”
“Just” is the most dangerous word in the English language. In a deliberate life, “just” must be struck from your vocabulary.
Every single one of our relationships matters, yet we often spend little time deciding when, where, and how we begin them — which trains we choose to board. As those trains zip through countless tunnels, those beginnings quickly turn into commitments, and commitments are what life is made of.
Suddenly, years have passed, and we wake up realizing we’ve lived in the past, hanging around on trains in which we no longer have a place. A dead-end job. A broken marriage. A relationship going nowhere.
We can never pay attention to every tunnel, but we can learn to be more attentive more of the time. Most of all, however, we can be more deliberate in which trains we decide to get on.
Be careful which relationships you board. No matter through how many tunnels they’ll carry you, may you find more fond memories than regret at each one’s end.
This is pep talk #45 from my new book, 2-Minute Pep Talks: 67 Jolts of Inspiration for More Hope, Comfort, and Love in Any Situation*.Pep talks are vitamins for your spirit: You don’t have to take them every day, but if you don’t take them at all, eventually, your soul will feel their absence. With 67 daily messages full of hope, love, and comfort, 2-Minute Pep Talks will make sure you maintain your inner balance.Whether you’re looking for a pick-me-up, new perspectives, or more fuel to accomplish your dreams — if you’re ready to regain that light, optimistic feeling we all used to have as kids, this book is for you.You can get the book on Amazon*.