The Business Approach To Romance (Not As Heartless As It Sounds)

What defines the success of a romantic relationship? Does breaking up equate to failure?

I don’t think so. If you were to define a successful relationship as one that lasts forever and ever, until death do you and your other half part, then you’ll likely only have one successful relationship in your entire life. And that’s only if you get lucky.

To me, a successful relationship is one that both people get heaps of enjoyment from, and they both find themselves better off after than they were before. (Perhaps not immediately after, because break-ups are often rough. But that’s some of your best growth right there, confronting and dealing with that pain.)

In general, I think we humans have a better approach to business than we do to romance.

You can have many successful business ventures throughout your life. You can start a business, invest in it, work hard to build it up. You learn a bunch of valuable lessons and enjoy the journey. But maybe you get to a point where it’s no longer right for you. Perhaps it’s not generating enough revenue or you’re no longer finding fulfillment in the work. No big deal. You can decide to call it quits, before resentment sets in. You sever ties with the business, no hard feelings. Things had just run their course. Later, you move along to something more fulfilling.

Why can’t we do the same with romance?

You get into a relationship with someone, you both have great times together, but then you realize that it’s not meant to be forever, or your lives take you in different directions, you grow apart. No worries. You can both leave the relationship with mutual respect and best wishes.

It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, the end. You don’t have to hate each other’s guts before calling it quits. I’ve ended relationships before that had been going well. It just felt like the right thing to do, the right time to move on. I don’t consider those relationships failures. Far from it.

I believe failure only happens when we become attached to a specific outcome. Whether in business or romance, success shouldn’t be defined by the outcome, but rather by what we learn along the way, and the experiences/memories we’re left with.

Some people are out there waiting for the one perfect partner or the one perfect business opportunity, terrified of getting into something uncertain and risking failure. I say fuck that. It’s never going to be perfect, and it’s impossible to avoid that traditional definition of failure, no matter how picky you might be.

I say make the best of what’s presented to you, jump on those opportunities, and then aim to make the most of the experience. Learn all you can while you’re in it, then happily move along to whatever comes next.

That, to me, is success, whether in business or romance.

(Thanks to @StellaSzeto for the discussion that prompted this post. You should definitely follow her on the Tweet machine.)

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    1. Yes! I remember hearing this philosophy for the first time when Brad Pitt broke up with Jennifer Aniston. Everyone wanted to know why the relationship had failed and Brad’s response was always we had ten good years I think that’s pretty successful.

      Of course if both people don’t subscribe to this philosophy or they’re in different places as far as their view of the relationship things can get a tad more complicated. That seems to be the bigger challenge, dealing with people’s differing realities of a situation.

      Your view of how to approach romance and/or business is similar to the Tibetan Monks who painstakingly create those beautiful sand mandalas over several days only to destroy them when they’re done. The ritual is about embracing the impermanence of life.

      The Life and Death of a Sand Mandala

      I must admit, as much as I admire the philosophy, it seems like such a freeing way to live, I find it very hard to follow all the time. Baby steps I guess. 🙂

      • Thanks, Kai. I’ve seen those sand mandalas before, and I love that analogy. “Embracing the impermanence of life” really is key methinks, because eventually we have to let it all go.

        Good point too about both people having to be on the same wavelength with this when it comes to relationships. I try to be upfront about it right from the get-go so there are no surprises for the other person. That’s been working pretty well for me.

    2. Indeed. I found myself kind of nodding along as you spoke. Seems so simple yet relationships become so complicated. Anyway I also think this approach can help a loving relationship last. When things are going great, all of a sudden there’s pressure to move in together or get married and what not. almost as a show of how great things are. When you take the pressure away of status as a couple, it can allow for things to evolve naturally and two people can continue to grow together, want the best for eachother and challenge eachother to become their best selves. As long as you can continue to grow, it’s all good.

      • Love that, Tali. Makes no sense to move in together and such just because that’s the traditional progression of a relationship. Growth really is the big thing for me. If I feel like a relationship is keeping me stuck, I have to move on.

        Thanks for the comment!

    3. Wow Naill, this is so very true. I completely had not though about this before (despite be very much of the mind the failure in business = a great opportunity for learning etc). Wow, what a great way to start the day 🙂

    4. Being attached to a specific outcome is a terrible mindset and I had to learn it the hard way. It forces your emotional center to depending on something external (you want your relationship to be this way when it’s some other way).

      “Some people are out there waiting for the one perfect partner or the one perfect business opportunity, terrified of getting into something uncertain and risking failure. I say fuck that. It’s never going to be perfect, and it’s impossible to avoid that traditional definition of failure, no matter how picky you might be.”

      I’ll agree that it’ll never be perfect but at the risk of seemingly being shallow, I’ll say that my partner needs to have certain physical traits and a decent personality.

      Because in short: I tried falling for someone I wasn’t that attracted to, just to see if commonality and “looking great on paper” (and a nice personality) could work out. But by the end of it I felt nothing because there was no attraction = should’ve kept her as a friend.

      So it’ll never be perfect but I have to be picky too so I don’t lie to myself.

      • Great point, Matt. Physical attraction is a big thing for me, too. I don’t advise getting into any relationship if your partner leaves you highly unsatisfied in a key area. I think we only cross the “picky” line when we’re looking for someone to fulfill all our needs 100%, for all time.

        As long as I think a relationship will end up being a win-win for me and my partner, whether it lasts ten days or ten years, it’s all good.

    5. At the end of reading that post I mentally substituted “Romance” with “Life” and “Relationship” with “Situation”… still very relevant. From reading your blog for a while now it looks as if you’re applying the same broader philosophy in different, smaller situations as they arise. Cool to see you “Practice what you preach” (For want of a better saying!) in day to day life.

      Just me thinking out loud, but I thought it made for an interesting read, especially taking my own musing into account 😀

      • Cheers, Tyler. Definitely trying to practice what I preach. Not always easy though. Just because we know something intellectually doesn’t mean we can easily apply it to our day-to-day lives 🙂

        Thanks for the comment!

    6. Great post. This is something I have learned the hard way, and I often think we define this “happily-ever-after” outcome as success in a relationship for many reasons. One of the main ones being social conditioning, and the other possessiveness. If people learned to apply more of the “live and let live approach” to relationships without taking it personally, I think we would find it much easier to use this business approach to relationships.

      • Also, no one likes feeling the heartbreak after a relationship is done. I think we get into that mindset of wanting “the one”- often even if it means settling for the wrong one- to avoid having to go through that pain again and again. When we refuse to settle and go through that pain, growth is always a result.

      • Thanks for the comments, Kymber. I think you hit the nail on the head with that last bit. Often we settle and end up worse off all because we’re afraid to go through that pain period.

    7. Niall,

      I love this post! I think it’s important to cherish the process just as much as we do the results. After all, this is what life is at the very core.

      Thanks so much for the shout out! I love where you’ve taken this idea and feel so privileged to be in such great company like yourself! 🙂


    8. Wonderful post, Niall. I recently broke up both with my partner AND a business. Funnily enough the second is a lot more difficult to deal with right now. In any case I’m happy I made the decision when I did. I may not be very sure of where I’m going now, either business-wise or relationship-wise, but I’m sure both directions will benefit from what I’ve learnt along the way.

      I’ve always seen relationships as an ongoing process, but really thought that my business would be a lifetime affair. Reading your post has made me realise that they actually work in a similar way. From now on I’ll be taking my business ventures playfully and without stress, just like I try to do with my relationships. I’ve always been succesful in love with that attitude 🙂

      • Glad you liked the post, G. It’s interesting that you’ve long had this approach to relationships but not to business. Most people seem to have it the other way around.

        Wishing you all the best in both areas 🙂

    9. Great post Niall.

      I think there is a fear of being alone that drives that desire to find “the one”. It doesn’t make much sense when we really examine it though, and I really like your approach. Despite being married 13 years now, I agree with you on this. Life is full of possibility.

      • Thanks, Spyros. I think you hit on an important point there. I feel that as long as someone feels truly secure and confident in themselves, they’re not worried about being alone; they know everything will be okay, that there will be many other great opportunities for romance. As you say, life really is full of possibility.

        Thanks for the comment, bud 🙂

    10. “failure only happens when we become attached to a specific outcome.” — what a great statement. It’s concise and it perfectly wraps up everything you’re saying here. I’ve seen some people become disheartened by failure, and their disheartening is more sad than the failure itself. The most successful people have failed dozens of times. Successful people are the ones who keep trying.

      • Thanks, Paula. Your comment makes me think of that common statement you hear thrown around, saying that something like 95% of first-time businesses fail within the first year. It’s likely true, but I wonder what the fail rate is for second-time businesses? Probably a little lower. And lower again for third-time business. It’s those people who keep coming back and learning from their mistakes, they’re the ones who ultimately have the greatest success.

    11. Hi Niall.

      Sounds reasonable but in my experience I mostly quitted relationship losing respect to other party because of a manipulation, cheat or disrespect etc.

      Happily there is different picture in business affairs.

      In our business manuals it is written that business is aimed to earnin profit.

      I agree that sometimes it is overall helpful when you didn’t earn money but learned important lessons long the way.

      But this situation thus is more correctly to be called studying rather that real core business, a studying that you paid your price nd time for.

      Getting profit regularly is not only a result, but also a process, because you aim to get it every time.

      The correct analogy for relationships is growth, overall satisfaction etc.

      So, there is no final result in both relationships and business.

    12. Today I agree on everything you said and wrote, because I too have a different approach to relationships.

      Since I saw “Matrix”, one phrase stuck to my head: “Everything that has a beginning, has an end.” That resonated in my head, letting my young unfrozen brain know that (as described in your previous post) we’re just a speck on a speck. Everything we know will eventually come to an end.

      Yet, society (occidental that is, since I’m Mexican) has this unnatural idea of “Happily ever after”. The idea that we should find “The One” (And ASAP!). How can we find One and stick to him/her, when we ourselves are (willingly or not) in constant change?. I believe its possible, but odds are against us. We might find somebody that stays and changes with us, but in the end we’ll be different people.

      Then, Lizard Brain kicks in big time. Even when we’re may not be comfortable with the relationship and think of finishing it, fear of facing apparent failure, fear of pain, etc, prevents us from doing something.

      And if it happens, later fear of happening again may prevent us from even trying again.

      Its the fucking “Script” (about to finish a post about it) that conditioned us to a determined outcome. And like you said “failure only happens when we become attached to a specific outcome.” Failure actually happens, but we had it coming. We transformed what should be a life experience, into a failure.


      I prefer living here, today. What will happen tomorrow? Don’t know, will tackle it when it comes.

      Another subject that you might want to analyze later (I know I will), is how we’re never taught how to be alone. Society perceive “being alone” as something awful. I find it pleasing.

      Maybe the finished relationship outcome of being alone adds to the fear…. right?….. I feel inspiration for another post 😉

      Well, keep on posting man! Continúa “Interrumpiendo el establecimiento”! (DtR)

    13. “there are worse things than
      being alone
      but it often takes decades
      to realize this
      and most often
      when you do
      it’s too late
      and there’s nothing worse
      too late”

      — Charles Bukowski

    14. This is a great way to look at things after a difficult end to a relationship in which both of us were too attached to a fantasy of the future to give any attention to the present problems that were driving us apart…