Is there such a thing as right person, wrong time?

Savannah Turnbull unpacks the process of finding ‘the one’

If you weren’t haunted by Andrew Scott’s final words in season 2 of Fleabag, please pass your therapist’s number on to me. The gut-wrenching season finale duologue between Fleabag and Hot priest has echoed in my mind for the past two years. 

The implications of the line “It’ll pass” are particularly agonising, not only because they signify the end of a torturous but beautiful story of unrequited love, but because they also state that suffering eventually subsides. Aptly, the most famous literary reference to this concept comes from the Bible, as 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18 reads “And this too shall pass” – brilliantly fitting too, as he is a priest, and a hot one at that. It’s annoyingly beautiful and typical of Andrew Scott, who comes from the land of saints and scholars. It was also probably the most loving and unselfish response to her declaration of love for him. As Sting poignantly sang, “If you love somebody, set them free.” 

Are love and suffering an inevitable and inseparable pair? Is love only true love if it survives the test of suffering?”

The priest notably chose not to give her instant gratification by immediately replying “I love you too.” Why? Because it would have made the overall suffering of the break-up even worse. By this point he’d made his choice and he had chosen God. In doing so, the script presents a second disturbing philosophical question: Are love and suffering an inevitable and inseparable pair? Is love only true love if it survives the test of suffering? 

So, back to our original question: is there such a thing as right person, wrong time? When people speak about the right person, it presumably implies some version of their concept of forever. For some this might mean being buried beside each other in their hometown cemetery. For others maybe it means sharing a mortgage on a house; after all, what’s more permanent than bricks and mortar? Yet, we often hear of 25-year marriages failing. So do we assume that this meant that they were the wrong people for each other? I seriously doubt either person coming out of a 25-year marriage would agree they had wasted a quarter of a century with the wrong person. More likely, for 20 of those 25 years they believed they were with the right person. But maybe this brings us to the most important philosophical lesson of all. As humans, we must learn to accept the temporality of life. Or, to say it even more eloquently and academically: shit happens. There will always be variables that are out of our control. People get sick, physically and mentally. Global financial crises mean that careers end. Partners, even previously perfect ones, have existential crises. Bottom line: we can never know how external situations may affect our imagined version of forever, nor the happily ever after of any relationship. No matter how right it seemed at the time.

Comedian, actor and writer Daniel Sloss brilliantly sums up the complexity of people in his Netflix special Jigsaw. He proposes that, at an early age, we begin our process of defining who we are; learning our priorities, likes and dislikes, hobbies, ideologies etc. We build our jigsaw which will subsequently become our identity. Yet, when you enter a relationship, you need to start re-evaluating your own jigsaw in order to combine and/or compensate for your significant others’ jigsaw. In a relationship, you begin sharing a life with someone and with sharing comes compromise and, inevitably, change. As our values shift according to circumstance, the pieces of our jigsaw may no longer align with our partner’s. Or the jigsaw becomes so dishevelled that you no longer recognise it at all.

I also can’t help but wonder what the wrong person at the right time would look like?”

I think the notion of right person, wrong time could have an inkling of truth in it, but it’s an exception to the rule. I also can’t help but wonder what the wrong person at the right time would look like? And, is the right time just a fear of being alone? Or a desperate need to plan one’s childhood dream wedding? Or appeasing nosey relatives and parents’ desperation for grandchildren? I don’t know. I can absolutely see the benefit of being in a relationship with the wrong person to figure out who you are once you’re half of a pair. But arguably if someone is truly the ‘right’ person, shouldn’t it be fairly effortless? I suppose that’s why in many of the greatest love stories the perfect pair often started off as good mates. You’ve already established that they’re sound, then you crack on from there and just re-adjust as necessary. However, to optimise your chances of finding the right one, surely you should be alone for a while to figure yourself out and do what makes you tick. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I feel for Fleabag. I genuinely, really do. Will she end up stealing him away from God and happily married to her hot priest? I highly doubt it. But was he the right person at the wrong time? No, it was absolutely the right time in a multitude of ways. Just because something doesn’t work out in the end doesn’t mean it was the wrong time: it’s life. Hot priest and Fleabag had completely incompatible jigsaws, other than the one most seductive and comforting piece of all; drinking. But heartbreak, forbidden fruit, and a one-way ticket to hell aside, she learnt a lot from that relationship. She learned how to be vulnerable, arguably the most human trait we can possess. Yes, heartbreak sucks. But, you can’t let the fear of vulnerability stop you from loving. I’m sure Mr. Scott is right. It will pass. But will the lessons she learned in this painful but pivotal relationship pass or be forgotten? Never.

Love and relationships should never be convenient. You should be too busy experiencing life and doing your own thing for any relationship to be convenient. I would like to think that when the right person comes along, it stops you in your tracks. In your tracks of self-development. Someone with whom you want to share all those dirty little thoughts and secrets you have. Someone who holds you accountable. Someone for whom you want to be the very best version of yourself. No matter how riveting you find a love story, do yourself a favour and don’t romanticise the idea of the right person, wrong time too much. Accept the lessons you’ve learned, raise your standards for yourself and for those you love and, for God’s sake (pun intended), open a book and get yourself to a gallery.