I used to have terrible luck in relationships. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself whenever things fizzled out and my partner and I parted ways. I’d look at my friends who were in happy, stable relationships and wonder if I was just cursed to either be single for life or be in relationships that left me drained and anxious.
Having bad luck in relationships is something I learned to change; you aren’t doomed or cursed if your romantic relationships aren’t what you’d want them to be — even if it can start to feel that way sometimes.
Several years ago, I was dealing with the aftermath of a particularly painful breakup, so I decided to try something new. I was sick and tired of dead-end relationships that left us both hurt, so I decided to write down two things in detail:
First, why I thought my relationship had failed, and second, what I would want in a future partner.
To be honest, I didn’t think doing those two things would have a big effect on my dating life at all, but they did — more than I could have imagined.
Because in writing down what had gone wrong in the past and what I wanted in the future, what I was really doing was sparing myself from other terrible relationships by being way more selective.
So, if I didn’t see a future with someone, I started telling him that from the beginning instead of wasting his time and mine by getting together and simply hoping things would work out.
And you know what? That changed everything.
This was my biggest mistake: I dated people who often had a lot going for them, but because I hadn’t figured out what my dealbreakers were from the very first date, as time went on I found myself compromising on what I realized I really wanted in order to accommodate the relationship.
Now, I know a lot of people would say, “But you have to compromise in relationships! If you don’t, it means you’re selfish and you don’t care about the other person.”
And I don’t blame people for thinking that — I used to think that way, too. But as I’ve learned first-hand, compromising on what you really want is a lose-lose situation.
Here’s why: Eventually, it will lead you and your partner to harbor bitterness towards one other for getting in the way of your respective dreams.
This is exactly what happened in my last relationship, which had started out so well (or so I thought).
But there was a dealbreaker. He wanted to settle down and start a family, but I couldn’t wait to move far away and see the world.
After a while, these fundamental differences just couldn’t be ignored anymore, and they ripped our relationship apart at the seams. It was brutal, because the truth is, I really wanted to believe we could successfully accommodate each other and be happy about it. But I was wrong.
And you know what?
All that compromise and anxiety that came with our relationship could have been avoided if I had written down what my dealbreakers were and stuck to them — from the very beginning.
Because if I had done that, it would have taken us no time at all to figure out that we wanted drastically different things in life, and we probably wouldn’t have started dating in the first place.
Now, I know that some people would also say, “You shouldn’t be too picky, because then you’ll pass over great potential partners.”
And, of course, they’d be right — to a point.
I don’t recommend having standards that are so strict that you won’t date anyone who doesn’t have hazel eyes, for example — that’s a bit much.
But here’s why having the right kind of standards is important: if you don’t know what you want (and what you’re trying to avoid), you might start to make excuses for why a potential partner is worth dating, even if your relationship would make less sense than an umbrella full of holes. Seriously.
So what should you look for in a potential partner?
It’s simple, really.
You should look for someone who wants a future similar to yours.
In other words?
Be with someone who doesn’t have to be persuaded to live a certain way or be interested in certain things because they already are.
On top of being with someone who treats you with respect, figure out what’s most important to you, and love yourself enough to never give it up for someone else.
Maybe that means you won’t date anyone who makes you feel selfish for taking part in activities that don’t involve them but instead encourages you to take time to yourself.
Maybe that means being with someone who shares your passion for travel or art or languages. Maybe that means being with someone who has a great sense of humor and who makes you laugh when life gets stressful — someone who makes your life better instead of more complicated.
No matter what your vision for the future is — no matter what things are closest to your heart — don’t let anyone convince you that you have to choose between what you want and a relationship. I’ve done it, and it’s simply not worth the price.
Do yourself a favor and stick to the people who not only genuinely love you but who also want the same things out of life.
Think of it this way: if you were looking for a new job, for example, would you close your eyes, randomly fill out applications, and say, “It doesn’t matter to me what job I end up with as long as it’s a job?”
Of course not.
Because you know a job takes considerable time and effort, you wouldn’t apply without having some kind of selection process. On the contrary, you would narrow down your options based on your vision for the future because you know there are a lot of jobs that are complete dead-ends and that just wouldn’t be right for you.
So why is it any different when we’re looking for a partner? Why do we so often make excuses instead of being honest with ourselves? The reality is, the person you choose to be with is way more important than your job.
Why? Because jobs change all the time, but the person you decide to share your life with could potentially be with you for fifty or more years.
That’s why it’s so important to be selective: the person you choose will either enrich your life or make it more difficult, so don’t take that decision lightly.
What to do once you know what your standards are
Once you know what you want, ask yourself honestly: “Would my ideal partner want to date me as I am right now, or are there things I should work on?”
Here’s why that’s an important question: It helps you focus on what you can change to attract the kind of person you want to date rather than on factors you have less control over, like when you might meet such a person.
So what does that look like? Ask yourself this:
“If I want a partner who’s (organized/happy/disciplined/health-conscious/ etc.) would they want to date me, as I am right now?”
Asking yourself this question will help you figure out the areas of your life that still need work.
Of course, none of us will ever be perfectly organized or happy or any of those things, but if it’s important to you that your future partner has certain qualities, you should realize that they will most likely want to be with someone who has similar qualities or habits.
In other words?
You shouldn’t expect someone who loves peace and quiet to want to date you if you play the drums at 4 o’clock in the morning — that’s a recipe for disaster.
My grandfather once said, “You have to know what you want and what you don’t want in life.” He has eighty-five years of life experience, and I’ve learned through painful experiences that he’s right.
You have to know deep down what’s important to you and what doesn’t matter, and live accordingly — not just in relationships, but in every aspect of your life.
Of course, there are some things in life that are worth compromising on, like what to eat for dinner or what movie to watch.
But there are some things — like who you choose to spend your life with — that are simply too important to mess up.
Life is already complicated enough. Don’t spend it compromising and arguing and adjusting to accommodate someone who doesn’t want the same things as you. If you’re willing to take a break from dating, work on yourself, figure out what you’re looking for in a relationship, and stick to it, your life — and your relationships — will fundamentally change for the better.
Take my grandfather’s advice: Know what you want and what you don’t want. And when you’ve thought about what you want — what you really want — start working on becoming the kind of person your ideal partner would want to be with.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Don’t let your standards drop.
In my experience, people — myself once included — aren’t nearly selective enough when it comes to relationships. We settle. We fall for people who don’t want the same things and often end up, ten years and three kids later, in a relationship that saps the life out of us. I’ve seen it — time and time again.
The good news, though, is that you don’t have to live like that. You don’t have to settle for dead-end relationships.
Be willing to wait — not for some prince or princess charming, but for someone who really, genuinely gets you. Someone who inspires you to go after what you’ve always wanted, instead of pressuring you to give it up, and who helps you see the bright side of a situation when you don’t know how to.
Whatever you do, don’t spend your life searching for meaning or love from other people. It may sound cliché, but it’s the truth: You won’t feel worthy of a good, healthy relationship until you recognize the talents and strengths you bring to the table. And until you recognize your worth, you may find yourself settling for people who use you because they can, as I once did.
So if your relationships are draining you, take a break, step back, and give yourself time to figure yourself out first. Once you do that, you’ll be in a much better position to attract great people into your life.