The Five-Year Itch*

Posted by JSYL on Monday, August 25, 2008 in
My friend sat behind a massive burger on an equally massive white plate. The kind of burger that's so big you have to use a knife and fork to eat it, in a cafe with wooden floorboards beneath you, waiters dressed in all black hovering above you, and artsy types sipping lattes with huge portfolios resting on their laps, beside you. But I digress.

So there's my friend, with the burger. She's just about finished sawing out her first perfect bite, and has lifted it to her mouth when she pauses, the juicy morsel suspended in mid-air.

"I am someone who is looking for love," she says, pointing her fork at me somewhat menacingly. "Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love. And I don't think that love is here, in this expensive suite, in this lovely hotel in Paris."

I was about to point out that not only were we in fact, not in a hotel at all, but in the aforementioned cafe, but also, that we weren't in Paris, or anywhere near its continent, when I realised she had just recited a line from the final episode of Sex and the City**. It should have come as no surprise to me, since every lunch, coffee break and window shopping session I have had with many of my friends in the past few weeks always seems to play out like a scene from that beloved television series. They're all suffering the symptoms of what I like to call the 'five-year itch'.

It's not that I know a lot of people who've been with their respective partners for the past five years. It's just that as we near the end of our five-year university degrees we're beginning to freak out over the prospect of entering the next stage of our lives. In a few months' time, we will find ourselves shaking our limbs free from the shackles, or rather, adjusting our eyes to the light outside the shelter of, a life in the public education system. We can no longer put off the Big Decisions our parents have been warning us of for years on our own, like which career path to head down, when we're going to move out, what we're going to eat for lunch. You know. The big life-changing stuff.

All of a sudden planning for the future involves a lot more than finding out who's free on Friday night. It's thinking about life like an adult- how to find a job to keep you fed for the next couple years, how to earn enough on a graduate salary to pay the rent for the next six months, and how to have enough left over for a holiday once in a while. And in amongst all these new long-term worries, is a bigger one: is my current boyfriend or girlfriend 'the one' I should be with? It's not that my friends are thinking of getting hitched right away. But the concept of marriage is no longer something 'old people' do. We've found ourselves on the 'Getting Old' express train, with no sign of 'Casual Relationship' or 'One Night Stand' station in sight.

And the truth is, it's not just about settling down. We've been through the shitty exes, we've had our hearts broken in all manner of ways. What we want is something solid. "Is he/she solid material? We want solid, but not boring. Holy shit. Is the guy/girl I've been with for almost all of my university life Boring? What if there's something, or rather, someone else out there who's better for me and I'm missing out by staying with Boring? Am I settling for Boring?"

Cue the friend with the weight of the world on her shoulders and what looks like the quarter of a cow on her fork. She could very well be a twenty-something year old version of Sarah Jessica Parker, with all the Carrie-isms she's spitting at me now, all the while letting a perfectly good lunch grow colder by the second. You see, there is nothing wrong with her boyfriend. He worships her, and she him. They're good together. Comfortable. And that's been fine for the last few years.

But now, on the brink of life as an adult, she's not sure if 'fine' is 'enough'. They bicker constantly about little things that never used to annoy them that much before, but all of a sudden, seem to be the fulcrum on which the fate of their relationship teeters forebodingly (Wow. Fulcrum was the best analogy I could come up with there. I am a massive nerd.) Those things that used to be endearing. Like the way he never gets her jokes, or how he's overly sensitive about certain things. I try reasoning with her but she is beyond logical thought at this stage. The burger is starting to look pretty damn lonely on that plate.

I blame the fact that we are members of the Y generation. Many of us are borne of families who through many generations have sacrificed so that we might have the opportunities they could not afford. We know we're on to better things, and we've been brought up, not only to work towards, but also to expect, the best for ourselves. So our main concern now, is whether what we have is what is best for us. Whether what we feel, after all we've invested in it, resembles that elusive Sex and the City dream: 'real love'.

I can't say I've ever been with someone long enough to contract 'the itch'. But I think that those of you who do have it, should stop scratching. Or you'll end up losing sight of whatever it is you've got. For all of Carrie's many theories about love, taught to us over six years worth of monologue voiceovers (my personal favourites including: "I've done the merry-go-round. I've been through the revolving door. I feel like I met somebody I can stand still with for a minute", and "...the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well that's just fabulous.") the woman still ended up wearing a wedding dress in the middle of the street, yelling, "YOU HAVE HUMILIATED ME!" at some guy in a limousine and trying her best to behead him with a small bouquet of flowers.

The thing is, I'm not sure any adult I know would really bother with a relationship for five years that is 'ridiculous' or 'inconvenient', nor would any normally functioning adult ever be physically incapable of living without another person, no matter how much they loved them. I don't mean to be the boring cynic, and I definitely don't know much about the 'L word'. But I'm pretty certain people change significantly over time. You can never be too sure if you're with an Aidan or a Big. But if you're honest with yourself, and ignore the self-inflicted onset of itchy adulthood, you'll be able to know whether the person you've got is worth taking that risk on for a little longer.

* I've hyperlinked references to Sex and the City for anyone who is not a fan. There will be a few: the product of many a late-night Youtube session. There are movie spoilers. Don't say I didn't warn you.

** [Alright, fine, the friend is a fictional amalgum of a bunch of friends' five year itch tales. None of the above anecdote actually happened. Except for the part about the awesome burger and the semi-pretentious-but-still-cosy cafe. That part did. And yes. It was a really good one, just so you know.]

Photos sourced from: http://www.hbo.com/city



Hi hun, love the entry!
You're right about people changing over time.
Even if you reach the stage of thinking your partner is the one, that may also change over time. I know people separating after 30 years of happy marriage so what chance do the rest of us have?
So that's like a 30-year-itch haha

ps: pink marshmallows definitely taste beter than white! pink tastes like strawberries while white is like vanilla.. whether that is dependant upon the brand of marshmallow or the placebo effect I'm not too sure

yes fabulous blog indeed =)

I think these days people just want more out of their lives, or want to know for sure what they have is all that is out there.

In our parents' generation it was about working hard and everything for the family, getting the opportunity and making the most of it because in those days any small break was something of a milestone. For examples, migrating to Australia was something in itself a huge feat.

Those events have such little impact on what we tend to think about on a day to day basis, as everything is pretty much at our feet. I guess that is the problem, there is always something else out there to sway us backwards and forwards, until of course we draw the line in the sand and just stop looking for more.

It's always about what do we want, how better to make our lives more effective, more efficient, more than we could ever know. This of course comes with a hefty price. I guess with love it's finding someone who is willing to share those values with you, who wants to be with you regardless of all that is around us. And I think at the end of the day it's what is most important.

Though some people just haven't lived a long enough life to know what they want and what they are exactly chasing.

Just like Carrie who we have seen in her journey - go through all her phases, the different kinds of men ... but in the end in that process she ended back with him... if she didn't go through all of that would she have known? Maybe the outcome would have been different and I guess it's different for everyone...

Sometimes a change isn't such a bad thing, it can give you a new perspective on life that you didn't see before, on the other hand it could be something to regret. That regret could mean missing out on growing old with someone who was 'the love of your life' which totally might suck. Though i think it would serve a bittersweet appreciation for what you have in your life and especially for those that you choose to love and have relationships with. A humbling, grounding reality that you can't have everything in this world and if you choose to walk away from something, it might not be there when you decide to go back.

BLOG MORE so i can be distracted from my studies :P


Jane, as always you are brilliant.

But I have one observation I'd like to make, which is this:

I do not think a person has a "5 year itch" or a "7 year itch" or whatever. When a person feels anxiety over some alleged milestone, it's not because of some "itch."

A person does not become an adult and grow up because of some milestone or ritual. A person becomes grows up when they acknowledge it.

Some people never grow up.

Sometimes people feel doubtful about things in their life, like where they're headed, or who they're going out with, or what brand of cereal they buy, but just bottle it up and use milestones as an an excuse to unleash the fury of fears they've always had, but never admitted.

But whether we're pressured into 'growing up' or we pressure ourselves in doing so, the havoc that ensues is no less, or more real. I agree, some people never even grow up. Maybe that's a good thing. :)

I agree with what you've written Jane.

I think that everyone has the one- cheesy as it may be- there is another person that completes them fully. However beneath that, there is a whole tier of people that may not be the one, but come close. Beneath them, is another layer of lower compatibility.

I think you will know if the person you are with is the one. Let's not beat around the bush here. You couldn't describe it otherwise. Just like how you might not be able to describe what an elephant looks like exactly, but you very well will know it when you see one.

The fifth year itch arises, because unfortunately the person you chose in university is not the one, but merely of a lesser tier. Brutal isn't it? This is not to say that you don't love them, but the love with them is one of shared experiences and time. For example, I'm sure a lot of our parents did not marry for love, but over the many years together they've developed an affection and a bond which is love. It may not be the same as the aching burn we may expect, nor is it necessarily lesser, it's just a different facet. For some, it's enough. It's ultimately a question of what kind of love you want. Personally, I don't think I could, but that's just me. The way I see it, we've got one chance at life, for something as important as love, do we really want to be stuck with vanilla?

That's not to say that you should just ditch your partner so flippantly. I think the test is whether you can wake up each morning and say, can I really stand to live with this person and be truly happy for another 50 years?

However, compound the fact that people change, as some of your astute readers have already pointed out, and things do get confusing.

At the end of the day though, put things into perspective. We're only 22-23 years old. Things are never that bad and we've got our whole lives ahead of us.

Anonymous says:

Dear Miss Jane :)

Awesome blog and love the references to S&C and Carrie - though, I suppose I also find it a tad bit disturbing - I think you have provided a good theory as to why we have the 5-year itch and now I am more worried than ever, what if I am so retarded that what I have in front of me is 'the one' but my own uncertainty and wanting to make sure I have 'the best' is to my own detriment and I just end up being old and aloooooone!

You were very correct in saying that people change significantly over time and you just need to be honest with yourself, but – what if the reality is, you know that people will change and although the person you are with at this present time is your perfect partner and ‘completes you’, what if further down the track you both change so dramatically that you find that the piece of the puzzle no longer fits together?? Then what?? Is that when divorce/separation happens? And if so – how does one avoid this calamitic event? (did I just make up a word? I suppose I did) AND if you can’t avoid this – then could that be a good enough reason to never settle down – and just be a massive commitment phobic forever and ever? (Am I referring to myself? I think I am!)

Perhaps we have associated ‘real love’ incorrectly to the feeling we get during the ‘honeymoon’ stage – and that you only really find out whether it is love once your out of that stage when all the pleasantries and facades fade away and the true self is bared. Perhaps love is when they finally reveal how much they hated shopping with you all along but despite all the whinging and whining they still keep you company in any event and hold your bags for you too.

I ramble too much.

I agree that when you know, you know. But other than that, I have to disagree with you James. The fifth year itch arises because shows like Sex and the City glorify and idealise an illusion of love that simply does not exist.

Now before you say I’m one of those people who will ‘settle’ for the kind of love many do, that is, one of getting used to each other over time, I’m not.

I believe in love. But I believe in love that is more than all of that romantic bullshit, and more than everything you’ve just outlined. Why is it more? Because it CAN be described, and reasoned out. You should be able to know why you’ve decided to be with the person you’re with, and you should know, going into long term relationships, or even marriages, why you’ve decided to stay with that person over and above anyone else. You should be able to know them and yourself well enough to know why you’ll be able to stand living with them in fifty years time. Why else would you be with them? Because it gives you the euphoric butterfly weak at the knees gimmick Carrie has? That’s hormones, my friend. Not love.

I’m not saying that people should not aim for the partner best suited to them. I’m saying that it’s a dangerous thing to think that one person can be your everything, can ‘complete’ you. It’s dangerous to look for that in someone else, rather than yourself.

It’s downright stupid to expect that kind of perfection, and then wonder why in twenty years time, you’re not feeling those butterflies so much anymore when you wake up with their drool on your pillow. What many of us are feeling now is a pressure to meet that ridiculous standard of ‘love’ within the next ten years so we can start popping out grandkids at a socially appropriate age. But what we should be doing is valuing every relationship we have for what it is until the point that we can say with all certainty that we need look no further.

While you say that everyone has their own ‘facet’ of love, you go on to define some as ‘vanilla’ compared to others. This only promotes the Carrie-love, and puts down everything that doesn’t meet that standard. It promotes the itch, the dissatisfaction with everything good in our lives simply because it doesn’t meet that standard. By doing that we could lose sight of the fact that maybe the person we’re with IS the one, after all. Carrie missed out on Aidan because she was always going to want to sleep with Big. What she should have done, and what we all should be doing instead is seeing what we’ve got for what it is, loving it for what it is and not trying to make it into something it’s not.

Wow, man I love this blog (and you're shameless spruiking on FB).

It's like a verbal spew page, but clever. How did you ever guess that JM was me Jane? Hehe. I also love how we've all really over analysed Sex and The City as a manual on love. Further, it's sad that most people here, myself included, can quote the exact scenes you're referring to. Also, what are we doing with our weekends??

I never said it was a lesser love- actually explicitly said the opposite - but my point is that it is a different type. Maybe my use of the term a "lesser tier" was incorrect. Use instead the concentric circle analogy rather than the hierarchal tier system I put forward. For some people, myself included with their own vision of what's love, that's just not enough. Hey some people love vanilla ice cream. I'm a choc-chip peppermint kind of man. There's love, and there's gratitude to a person hanging around with you. There's the feeling you get when you appreciate someone for all that they've done for you, but that is not love. Your mum digs you, but the love you have for her is not necessarily that which you expect from a romantic love. Love can indeed be selfish. I would say that the love of a parent for a child is the only real pure form of love.

Someone can do all sorts of wonderful things for another, but that does not mean that it's still enough to sustain a certain type of person. For others, this is sufficient. I've never had the chance to lose what I do have, so my views are rather limited in that sense. Touch wood.

It isn't hormones. Or most men, okay well all young men, will be falling in love everyday. Maybe when we were younger it was different, but I say give us some credit now, there is a difference between hormones and love. It's that connection, the spark you feel everyday when you see another person that sustains itself. In the words of another "your day should light up when you see them."

Nor is it perfection. There can be anger, and trust me LOTS of anger, but it's the fact that after the fights you just know that it ain't over and the satisfaction of your anger is not worth losing it. I'd rather feel alive, than feel like I'm swimming in a soup of tepidity. However again, this is just the humble views of a simple Finance/Law student who spends his weekend watching bad kung fu movies.

Maybe it doesn't help that there are more than one kind of love, and that this is one thing where there will never be real agreement on. It's subjective and each person's expectations and needs will be different (I'm trying to compromise here, give me a break =) From how I've seen the people around me interact, and possibly all those Mills and Boon novels I read, I can only say that's what I feel.*

Back to the issue of the five year itch. There's gratitude and there's love. There's affection and there's love. There's a whole load of overlap as well. However for the person facing that moment in their life, if you're not happy, ask if it's due to a lack of love, has the relationship faded? Or is it external factors.
My time as Dr Phil, officially ends here!

Okay, maybe not.

I think it was the ancient Greeks who started this stratification , recognising that there are different forms of love. The Simpsons also furthered it when they distinguished the love a man has a woman, and the love a man has for a fine Cuban cigar, but that's entirely besides the point.

*No, I never read them. Seriously.

Hormones are what happens when you want to kiss a girl.

Love is when you want her to enjoy it.

What's with the option of sticking to just one type of ice cream?
Jm and Jane both mentioned vanilla, with JM pointing out chocchip peppermint.
Im sure there's more to a relationship than one type, it's difficult to even categorise it. You may start off with choc chip peppermint, then you suddenly realise it's gone to vanilla, then later you decide damn I feel like a garden salad.
I believe people nowadays give up on a relationship too easily. Sure a relationship has its ebbs and flows, you feel unsure, you feel gratitude and appreciation to your partner not the burning love sometimes, but at the end of the day isn't that just part and parcel of life? Relationships don't stay stagnant. If you feel an itch after x amount of years together, the first question to ask is are you stagnating in other areas of your life and have taken it out on your relationship? People dont stay for so many years together just for the sake of it. Or I hope not! You've got to really work on any personal issues if you stayed in a relationship just so you can have someone to call your boyfriend or girlfriend and take to parties.
If you walk out, I believe you need to have solid reasons not just the elusive "I've got an itch".
The reality is life is long, you will get many itches - whether you're alone or in a relationship, and if you bolt for an elusive reason, then get ready to either stay single for life (as every relationship has itches/issues over time) or continually wonder as you go through different relationships about the ex you left and whether you had made the right decision.

Right on Jenn. I don't know who you are, but I dig that final sentiment and the little asterisks and tildes.

Jane, I think I and already countless others have mentioned this, but wicked job.

Hurry up and write an entry, if you haven't already, on lawyers and financiers.

Related Posts with Thumbnails