illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
The attached image regularly circulates on the internet, and often gets a load of "Awww! that's so cute!" comments… The last iteration I saw is
Plain and simple, the most common assumption in front of this picture is: that's the same couple through different ages…
But tell me: would it really, truly be 'worse' if persons accompanying you were different at different ages?
Should we dismiss all the good times that happened when we later split? Should we regret? Should we refuse to commit unless we know "for sure" it is 'forever' (which is likely to make us forever delaying commitment)?
If you have any sense in you, you're likely to say 'no' to the above questions. Now, pray tell, if you have a partner now, do you actually live with them in a manner compatible with appreciating each moment? Do you actually live in a manner not to regret petty fights, stupid arguments, hurtful words, etc? Are you vulnerable, or 'saving' love and compassion and perseverance and patience for a later date? When would that be?
The second most common perception is that the penultimate picture is 'sad'.
But nobody around you, nothing around you, no one, no thing will help you when you die. You're alone! But just as much, when you're dead, you're not alive… i.e. you're not the same person! Neither who will die, nor who you think will die, is who you are right now.
The 'person' who will die will have experiences you didn't have yet, will remember things differently from what you remember now, will see things differently… There might be some tendencies one can 'identify', maybe!, but these tendencies don't even exist independently of a context supporting them, which they influence and in which they arise (i.e. a co-dependently arising context).
There is nothing sad in the penultimate picture. That's how 'death' is.
You will die, that's part of the deal. You don't know when, that's part of the deal. What are you gonna do now?
Fight with a partner? Regret old partners and long for reunion? Plan perfect partners? Be blind to all the relationships you're currently in, simply because you assume you 'should' have another one (maybe a more sexual one, maybe a less sexual one… maybe a longer-term one, maybe a new one…)?
What is sad? Impermanence? Growing together (for the time it lasts)? And growing together again (not the 'same' together!)?
Or clinging to a idealised 'fixed' image that does not exist? And growing apart, because one does not want to appropriately respond to how the partner changes?
If you want to cling to the idea that the image is romantic because it's the 'same' couple, just look again: it is not the 'same' couple! You're projecting 'same'. The age, the context, the aspirations, the behaviour, everything changes! If it is romantic, it's because they embrace impermanence and self-less-ness!
The non-romantic version is "I cling to the image I had of you at 20, but now you're 40 and don't match the image anymore, let's divorce!" Or maybe it is romantic… because you can celebrate the time you had together and also let each of you grow without clinging to misery for the sake of a mariage certificate!
So maybe just drop the aspiration to romanticism. Just live! Just enjoy! Just kiss your friends, and strangers? Or is touch futile?
Don't regret the environment, don't linger in expectations and regrets, there's only now. Your partner might be gone tomorrow, or someone special might appear in your life tomorrow, who knows? How do you want to spend the day today?
You will die, that's part of the deal. You don't know when, that's part of the deal. What are you gonna do now? This may be your last day… this may be the start of a long stretch… Don't assume you'll die, don't assume you'll live; what do you do now? Don't assume! If you think you're alone, you're not looking hard enough! If you think you're surrounded by love, do you think that'll stay forever? In any case, time for showing a bit of appreciation!