Relationships Rarely Go in a Straight Line

There was a moment in the TV series Grey’s Anatomy where there was a palpable energy shift in the primary relationship on the show between Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd. After a particularly traumatic day, Meredith sees that while Derek is trying to be in his marriage to someone else, his heart is still with her.

It’s a breathtaking scene, so well-played by actors Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey, respectively. She has a smile of satisfaction on her face because suddenly she gets it – he will be back. It’s frustrating because she doesn’t know when he’ll figure it out or even if he’ll act on his feelings, but there is peace in the certainty she discovers in that moment.

Fans of the show know they eventually get together, but what intrigued me even as I watched the rerun on Lifetime recently is how creator Shonda Rimes captured and continues to capture the nuance of relationship. Sure, it’s drama made for TV. But because it’s narrated by Meredith and seen from her point of view, it powerfully resonates for anyone who has pined for another, suffered a bad breakup, wondered if they imagined another’s feelings, or tried in vain to apply reason to emotion.

Dating relationships are, in fact, almost never linear. That bears repeating. Relationships rarely go in a straight line. Read the “Vows” feature in The New York Times on any random Sunday and there’s a good chance you’ll become immersed in a love story that went from Point A to Point B in some kind of zig zag.

Then why oh why do so many of us expect otherwise? Not just in our romances but in our career paths or en route to achieving our creative goals. My clients very often come in with the assumption that if only they’d done this or that their goals would have been accomplished by now.

Sometimes life is not neat and convenient. You meet the woman of your dreams while you’re in a relationship with someone else. You get a fabulous job offer in another city when you’ve just promised your partner you’ll set down roots in this one. You have to take care of a sick loved one even though you were on track to have your masters in a year. An ending for that screenplay you’ve been writing is eluding you, indicating it’s not yet ready to be birthed.

The terrific Aaron Sorkin show on HBO, The Newsroom, captures the non-linear aspect of relationship beautifully through MacKenzie McHale and Will McAvoy, played by Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels. Our investment in Mac and Will comes from a soul level. It didn’t work out the first time, but week after week we see they still care. Their professional respect for each other is deep and mutual. But there’s stuff. You know, they’re not together but there’s a reason. That kind of stuff. There’s even a really smart therapist on the show to help us dig through it.

It’s kind of validating. Fiction is born of real life, after all. Who goes on X amount of dates and has a linear path to the altar anymore? Sure, sometimes Grace meets Joe and there’s an instant connection and they date for a while and get engaged and get married and have kids and it’s all smooth, smooth, smooth. But how often?

I find this liberating to discuss and dismantle because it applies to so many areas of our lives. My clients are always so relieved to hear that it’s not necessarily a given that it’s “first this, then that.” Patience. Trust. Challenging oneself to let life play out. Divine timing. That all comes in.

For example, it is my observation that the person who sits down and methodically writes a book is either writing a how-to or cranking out a novel in a rhythm he or she has mastered (a la James Patterson or Danielle Steele). To be clear, I’m not putting those down (what a gift!), but noting that it’s not that formulaic for a lot of writers. Or artists in general, for that matter.

There are waves and spurts. People get sidetracked. They connect. They disconnect. They reconnect. On. Off. On. Off.

Sometimes things happen at the weirdest times in the strangest places. The job hunt feels like it’s leading in one direction and then you meet a former co-worker at a barbecue and you get a job offer while you’re wearing sandals and drinking a beer out of a red plastic cup.

Love. Work. Create.

Connect those dots. Just know when you’re finished the picture might look more like The Big Dipper than the edge of a ruler.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to