I’m not suggesting you settle for something or someone that just isn’t right for you. I’ve talked before at length about why it’s so important to know what you need in another person.
… But read that carefully: not, what you want.
What you need.
Remember the Attraction Pyramid I mentioned a few posts back? How in most situations we automatically approach attraction the wrong way around, by starting with health and status markers (how they look and signs they are dominant in a particular context), then whether we have an emotional connection, and then exploring the more logical basis for a relationship, i.e. whether we are really compatible for the reasons that genuinely matter?
Sometimes, this is straightforwardly shallow. Obviously, if your priority near physical perfection or a certain size of bank balance, rather than someone with whom you connect and share values, you’re unlikely to have a meaningful relationship any time soon.
But usually, it’s more insidious than this. The way we draw up lists of things we’re looking for in a partner tend to be woefully superficial because our needs are incredibly complex – too difficult for us to put into simple terms. Instead, we end up using stand-in symbols that are far from perfect because we assume they mean the same thing.
For example, you might decide that you want to be with someone who works in a similar profession as you, so that they ‘get’ what you do.
But the underlying need could be that you have someone to whom you can unpack your day – who makes you feel safe and supported and able to express your worries.
Equally, it could be that you need someone who motivates you – someone to bounce ideas off, who is really interested in what you do, fuels your excitement and is more likely to suggest a solution to a problem than complain that it’s keeping you at work until 10pm.
Or it could be that you simply assume your shared experience will equal shared outlook, interests or passions.
Simply going out with someone who is also a teacher or a doctor or an actor or who runs their own business or whatever it you have on your list might mean that they understand where you’re coming from and can give you what you need. But that’s no guarantee.
Much better to look out for signs that they are that kind of person, rather than just presume it goes with the territory of a certain career.
People say things that are a bit awkward or embarrassing sometimes, especially when they’re nervous. A mildly annoying habit or trait, an anecdote that doesn’t quite come off, a slight personality flaw that means they’re not, in fact, perfect – for the most part, these are just signs that you’re not out for a drink with a robot. They’re not reasons to throw in the towel.
And obviously, anyone you have a relationship with will inevitably have different opinions on everything from books, film and music, to politics and philosophy, to the latest iPhone model. You don’t have to agree on everything, all the time.
If a sense of adventure and exploring new places is what makes you tick, a relationship with a total homebody who prefers routine and certainty is unlikely to work. Alternatively, if you know that the most important thing for you is stability and closeness to your family, there’s little point kindling things with someone who clearly finds that stifling, no matter whether they tick all the boxes when it comes to having a safe, well-paid job and a mortgage.
It’s not about lowering or raising your standards. It’s about figuring about which “standards” are absolute essentials for long term happiness and which are simply the icing on the cake.
This is probably the most common type of self-destructive behaviour that long-term singletons slip into, and it usually makes them feel like they’re at their very lowest point.
It sounds like the other end of the spectrum to demanding perfection, but the two often go hand-in-hand. Why? Because once you’ve decided that your perfect person doesn’t exist, the next stage is often to say, f*** it, clearly beggars can’t be choosers – I’ll give anyone a chance.
Then, when it doesn’t work out, you’re so horrified by the you’ve been rejected by someone you didn’t care about anyway that this pushes you into another whole layer of depression. Even your “last resorts” don’t want you! Are you really that undesirable?
Firstly, this is no way to view other people, male or female.
It’s sad that language we hear day in, day out (“You can do better” “S/he’s punching above his weight” and so on) reinforces this idea that there’s some magical scale out there somewhere that everybody’s positioned on. As if the goal is to land someone further up on the scale and dating someone further down it means they should be somehow grateful.
What an ugly way to see the world.
And, just as importantly, what a load of nonsense. Yes, you need to know what it is that you need in a person. What you are attracted to. What the deal breakers are for you, personally.
It’s a list of things that matter to you.
And that other person you’re meeting with? They don’t simply exist to bolster your ego. They can probably tell that you’re underwhelmed and are understandably put off by that.
Meanwhile, they have their own list. A list that might look startlingly different to yours.
This means that, where you might naturally assume that you are the more desirable person in the equation because you’re more conventionally attractive, have a better job, are smarter or wittier – whatever – these might not be the criteria they are really concerned about right now. They might be looking for things that are totally different.
All you’re doing when you go out with someone you’re already unenthusiastic about is put two people through the misery of being judged on rules they can’t meet, don’t care about or don’t understand.
And you wonder why this leaves you feeling crap about yourself?
This is not about slut-shaming or telling you at what point in your relationship you should sleep with someone. You’re a grown up and can make these decisions for yourself!
I’m also not talking about one-night stands that are fun in the moment, but that you never expect (or try) to take anywhere.
I’m talking specifically about a dalliance that’s so obviously founded on physical attraction, will only ever be about that, and should really have run its course.
… But now that it’s started, you feel like you need to keep it going.
The trouble is, even if you think you’re cool with just keeping things casual for now and seeing where things end up, that’s rarely what happens.
I have so many friends who are jaded about dating, because they say their new flings fizzle so fast.
Mostly these are women who say that, even if they aren’t sure yet if they’re looking for something serious, the guys they’ve been hooking up with go quiet all of a sudden for reasons they don’t understand.
One friend told me recently that she was left feeling pretty crappy about herself and annoyed with one man she’d seen a few times.
She’d made it clear that she wanted to keep things casual for now and, at first, he seemed okay with this – but then he bailed.
My friend couldn’t understand why a straight, warm-blooded man would behave like this. After all, isn’t that what all men want? Was she that unattractive that even a “fun fling” was turning her down?
We live in a culture that constantly tells women that men are always after sex. That, if this on the cards, they’ll never say no. And if they can get it without emotional investment or commitment, so much the better.
(This works in both directions, by the way. Men grow up hearing that women ultimately want a relationship out of them, and that sex is, on some level, a tool used to “land” one. Many men are thrown when a woman they’ve been sleeping with says no, they don’t want to take it any further after all!)
Okay, the desire to get laid drives a lot of people’s impulsive decisions, whether they’re male or female.
And while many relationships are passionate from the outset – which can be amazing – passion isn’t the same as just wanting to get someone naked. It’s being excited their company, about having a spark, about finding unexpected things you have in common (or don’t) and how that heightens your attraction to them.
If you’re going to spend any amount of time in each other’s company, you need to know that you have more to talk about than what’s below the waist.
If you don’t have the other elements in place, no matter how much fun the sex is, you’ll both get bored pretty damn fast, or, worse, you start projecting more meaning onto the situation than it deserves.
The longer this drags on, the more you retro-rationalise your conquest by telling yourself (and your friends) that maybe you do like this person. That they make you laugh. That they’re quite sweet really. That hey, maybe it could turn into something longer term.
Even when you know that, if you were being rational right now, you would never have gone for someone like this.
Even when you know that they only reason you’re getting attached is that they’re here now and hey, it’s a hassle to get to know someone knew or you feel bad about upping your “number”.
No one likes to be rejected, whether it’s on an emotional or just a sexual level. Whether they wanted a relationship with this person or not. It’s a blow to our confidence.
Because the problem with trying to shoehorn something all about sex into something more substantial is that makes you emotionally vulnerable without any of the upsides.
To go back to the attraction pyramid for a moment: you’re taking a fling based on the flimsiest part of the pyramid – health and status – and allowing its failure to hurt you, when the only relationships you should be investing that kind of energy in are those that have firm foundations.
This isn’t about moralising. This isn’t about making you feel bad.
It’s about taking a good look at the kinds of relationships you have in your life and asking yourself why you’re trying to keep them alive. Whether it would make you happy for them to succeed. And if not, whether it’s worth the potential pain of having them fall flat.
Then, using these questions to figure out what kind of relationship or person would be worth the potential heartache – and making sure you don’t get sucked in by ones that aren’t.
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