Billions of roses, a huge cake and a crowded church with rows upon rows of smiling family and friends wondering what the eventual children might turn out to be like: This is what many of us hope for as kids.
Then we fall in love. And sometimes, the person who steals your thoughts and wins your heart doesn't really match up with the stick figure you drew in first grade when you had to ponder what you'd be like in 20 years. They might be significantly older or younger than you are, of a race or gender you hadn't predicted or from a different socioeconomic background.
Sometimes these situations lead to one person being embarrassed and even ashamed of how they feel, especially when it comes to telling their family, friends or colleagues about the new girl or guy in their life.
There are few things more frustrating and heartbreaking in a relationship than coming to realize that the person you care so much about is simply unable or unwilling to acknowledge to the rest of the world how they feel about you. And no matter how many ways and times they insist that their commitment is genuine, there remains that lingering doubt that you'll never be more than a secret, permanently segregated from the rest of their life.
More often than not, such relationships don't quietly fade away; they don't succumb to distance or "growing apart." They usually explode.
Inevitably, the one partner gets so sick of being hidden for the convenience of the other that they drop an ultimatum: "Either you want me to be a part of your life, or you don't - you can't have it both ways." And everybody loses.
If you find yourself in this situation, remember that change can be scary for a lot of people, and that sometimes non-romantic relationships can be as precarious and unpredictable as romantic ones. Your partner may fear that telling family or friends about their newfound personal life could strain or even sever their existing relationships with these people, and they're depending on you to be the one person that truly loves them for who they are.
At the same time, be honest about your own needs and expectations - you deserve respect, and if the relationship isn't progressing the way you'd like it to, it's much easier to let it go early on than to wait for a change that will never come. It takes more than just love to make a relationship last, and you don't want someone to get used to the idea that they can reap the benefits of your companionship without respecting your right to self-esteem.
And just think - the more time you waste pining over a lost cause, the less time you have to meet all kinds of different people who can excite, inspire and be proud to love you for all the right reasons.