“But, Anna, if there are no wrong relationships, but I want my perfect partner, and I have to be perfect before I find them … um, hello, several, sad, solo years on a sofa with Ben & Jerry’s watching Love Actually. Again.”
No no no, fellas! 😉 This isn’t your future.
Actually, it could be. But you don’t have to let it.
Here’s the thing about bettering ourselves and relationships …
We tend to experience the most (emotional) growth in relationships.
Or at least we have the potential to grow while in relationship, because the people we let close to us—friends, family, lovers—trigger us. Allowing another person to see the real side of us is as scary as finding your first gray pube. (I assume!)
When we reveal our true self to another person, we open ourselves up to judgement, criticism, condemnation and, ultimately, rejection. Rejection sucks.
But here’s the thing: We don’t discover what we want in a mate until we figure out our Fuck Nos. And this means risking our real selves being seen—the good, the bad and the “gray” areas—in relationships.
No matter how old we are, in order to figure out our Top 5 Must Haves and our deal-breakers for a romantic partnership, we must have relationships.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean we need romantic relationships. We can learn a lot about our needs and values by evaluating what triggers negative emotions and reactions in our platonic relationships.
The way we interact in our close relationships can reveal a lot about what we need in a committed sexual relationship. But ultimately, we learn most about what we need and can’t stand for an intimate, sexual relationship when we are actually in an intimate, sexual relationship.
If we look at our close friendships, we’ll discover that even though we love our friends, we probably wouldn’t be a good fit romantically with most of them. Setting sexual preference aside, we generally hold our friends’ appealing qualities in higher esteem and accept their unappealing qualities more readily than we would for a lover.
With romantic love, we’re less tolerant. (At least for those of us who have a vision of future cohabitation.)
Example: Maybe we don’t care if our friend’s place is in constant disarray and chaos, but if we want to live with a (romantic) person, we know we’d need some sense of order. Our friend’s lifestyle doesn’t impact us, whereas our partner’s would.
The reason there are no wrong relationships is because, until we’re in a relationship, we don’t often know what we need from it.
Love is the answer, but love is not enough to sustain long-term compatibility.
The above three relationship qualities trump our Top 5 Must-Haves!
There’s no point in establishing a list of wants and needs if you can’t carry on a conversation—or sit in comfortable silence—without looking for the nearest Exit. (Chemistry.) Or you want to travel the world and she wants to settle down and raise rug-rats A-sap. (Goals.) Or she’s interested in polyamory and you’re an until-death-do-us-monogamously-part kind of guy. (Values.)
When we’ve been in a relationship that hasn’t worked out, it’s often because one of these three things was missing. The relationship wasn’t wrong. It was what we needed to learn, to grow and to know what we do want now.
And for those who’ve never had a long-term or serious romantic relationship, you’ve probably had friendships that went awry for one of the above three reasons. We can learn about what we need in a romantic partnership by what we’ve learned in our platonic or familial relationships.
My friend asked me the other day, “Anna, wouldn’t you rather learn about yourself in a relationship with a cuddle buddy?”
My answer: “Sure, but I’ve already learned a lot through five practice relationships that didn’t work out, so I’ll wait until I meet someone with new quirks I can learn from.”
I love my own company and am content solo, so what other healthy choice is there? (Rhetorical.)
What have you learned from a past relationship that’s changed you? Share your learnings in the comments!
Vancouver Matchmaker and Dating, Love and Relationship Expert