Does time have to be non relative to be real? This question is begged by the title of this article.
Einstein believed in relative time, but he could also conceive of both bicycles and cars. They do not mutually exclude one another, and Einstein had good reasons for believing in both absolute, (what seems to be meant by the word "real") and relative time.
Isaac Newton came up with the idea of absolute time. It is theorized to be a direct derivative of the idea of pure abstraction. He theorized that time, as God's perfection, had to have an absolute existence, relative to nothing. Yet, how did abstract come to be "real?"
Plato first came up with abstract "forms" . Thus, with language we can imagine an ideal "chair" without needing an actual chair to demonstrate it. Language symbols, especially written language symbols, further removed the idea of abstract from actual.
New theories of phenomenology take the idea of time back into the real world. They point out that indigenous cultures, and indeed, all early humans, did not separate time from place. Now becomes both a place, and a time. Einstein echoes this with his idea of Space-time, as does Martin Heidegger with his idea of Time-space.
Can we imagine time without regard to space or place? It is seems almost absurd to try. Even the horizon of place on earth is marked by time moving through it in the form of constellations. A seed becomes a tree in its season as outlined by the natural order of the universe. The seed, the soil, the planet and space itself seems to be needed for the time to arrive for a seed to germinate.
When we consider Einstein's famous formula energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, (E=MC2) we can visualize that energy and mass are linked through the medium of speed, which certainly implies time. It is apparent that Einstein saw space time as being a reality, and indeed, much of our physics and science since his era is based on this concept.
In the Spell of the Sensuous David Abram describes how throughout history native peoples, and early peoples such as our forebears, understood not only that time is real, but that it is sensorially, inseparable from place, or space. The aborigines live in space time in the form of Dreamtime. The Native Americans in their realization of being related, and born from earth and time together in ever emerging presence.
Modern people live largely without place and space belonging. We live in abstract worlds of our own invention that moved us indoors away from place or familiarity with space, and into realms of vastly complex abstractions. People come to rely so heavily upon these abstractions that they forget money, the economy, borders, nations, and so much more are all human abstractions.
Many modern thinkers and physicists then, ponder time and space together, as do many philosophers. When we can return to our relation to the creation that sustains us, and the family bond of our creation, we can find our relative connections to both time and space.