We don’t always know exactly what we want in a relationship. Sometimes we don’t even think about it. We just get so swept up in the romance that we don’t even step back to consider whether or not this other person is really suited to us, or whether they’re compatible for the long term. Sometimes it takes being in the wrong relationship to realize what it is we do want.
The overly-romanticized stories of love that we all grew up with are very beautiful. But they’re often not very realistic, because they don’t take into account the many complexities of relationship. Almost everyone has experienced the feeling of falling in love, and almost everyone has experienced heartbreak as well. For some of us, heartbreak is just a part of every relationship, and we come to accept it as inevitable. But how many of us look at the decisions we make regarding relationship, beginning with how we choose a partner.
Most of us just aren’t very discriminating. We might be picky when it comes to physical attraction, but we might be a little more flexible with other aspects. When we meet someone with whom we feel some connection, whether it be purely sexual, emotional, intellectual or spiritual, we tend to dive right in without really testing the waters.
In a society that is always rushing to get things done, we don’t take much time to really get to know one another. And we also have a tendency to be so blinded by infatuation that we overlook or even disregard one another’s differences.
It’s important to have standards and to adhere to them. I’m amazed by those who always complain that they keep dating people who don’t respect them, as if they have no choice in the matter. It’s important to understand why we attract certain people into our lives. If we are always attracting partners who don’t value us, it may be that we don’t value ourselves enough to hold out for something better. What we often fail to understand is that even if we are attracting these inconsiderate people into our lives, we don’t have to become intimately entangled with them. We can have enough self-worth and awareness to simply decline.
When we complain about the type of partners we are attracting, what we are essentially saying is, “I don’t want this kind of partner.” So the question becomes, what kind of partner do you want, and are you willing to hold out for someone better?
I spent a couple of years alone. It was an intentional choice. I had been with enough partners who just weren’t right for me and I had felt as though I had exhausted a great deal of time and energy with them. I wanted to conserve my energy. I wanted to save it for someone worth sharing it with, someone who would share their energy equally with mine in a way that neither of us would feel depleted. And I also wanted to spend the meantime working on letting go of my attachments and expectations and learning to more deeply love myself. So I set my standards high, and each time I met a prospective partner I held them to those standards.
I would often meet women with whom I shared some magnetic connection, but rather than immediately jumping into a relationship, I kept a healthy space between us in order that I could really evaluate the situation. When it was clear to me that there was no potential for a long-lasting intimate relationship, I simply became disinterested. The relationship was over before it even started.
In the past I would have jumped right in with anyone. But now I understood that I deserved someone really special, and I owed it to myself not to settle for anything less. To have this kind of emotional independence felt incredibly empowering.
So I’m suggesting that you also set your standards high, and take the time to develop some clear idea of what you truly desire in a partner. Have the fortitude not to settle for less. Have enough self-worth not to get involved with someone who doesn’t truly respect you.
I want you to try a simple exercise. I want you to imagine your perfect partner. Take a sheet of paper and make a list of those qualities which you most desire and value in a partner. Be as specific as you like. What might they look like? What kind of personality would they have? Would they be compassionate, attentive, independent, assertive or submissive? What kind of interests would they have? Would they have a specific career or favorite leisure activity? Would they be rich or poor, social or solitary, young, old, athletic, romantic, intellectual? What would they be passionate about? How about their religious or political beliefs, or their taste in music?
Take your time creating this list. Give it a lot of thought. If you like, divide it into smaller lists—appearance, personality, interests, beliefs, lifestyle, etc. Feel free to go back and rewrite it, listing each of these qualities in order of importance. Do this before continuing on to the next part.
PART 2: Reassessing Your Values
I would like to share a story. It’s about a woman who was searching for the perfect partner. Like many of us, she went through a long string of relationships, but she never gave up believing that she would one day find her ideal partner. In the course of her dating she met many men whom she liked very much, and oftentimes pursued relationships with them. But no matter how amazing each of them seemed, there was always some small problem.
So she kept going from one relationship to the next. And then one day she met a man who was unlike all the rest. He possessed all of the qualities which she so highly valued. He was smart, handsome, and financially independent. He seemed to be everything she had desired in a partner. But there was one small problem. You see, he was looking for the perfect woman.
I use this story to illustrate a very important point. While it’s important to set standards, often we set unreasonable standards for our partners which we ourselves do not quite live up to. We tend to desire those qualities in a partner which we find lacking in ourselves. For instance, many women desire a partner who can provide for them because, perhaps, they feel inadequate to provide for themselves. In contrast, many men desire a partner who is dependent upon them so that they can remain in a sense of power and control rather than allowing themselves to feel vulnerable. Such is not always the case, of course. I am just using these as general examples. But the point is that we spend a great deal of energy thinking about what we want in a partner, without considering what it is we have to offer in return.
Now, take out that list you made describing your ideal partner. This is a good time re-examine those qualities which we are seeking and to reassess what is most valuable. So take your list and begin to examine each quality individually. Ask yourself, do I possess this quality myself?
It’s time to re-prioritize. We’re now going to divide our list in two columns, so take out another sheet of paper. On one side you will list those qualities which you desire but do not possess, and on the other, those which you do. Go ahead and do this now before reading on.
PART 3: Setting Fair Standards
Once you have reorganized your list, consider those qualities which you desire, but do not yourself possess. Do you think it’s fair to put such requirements upon your partner if you are not capable of providing the same in return? Is it fair to hold someone to a standard which you yourself do not uphold?
I knew a woman who, despite her expressed desire to have a deep spiritual partnership, placed financial stability as much higher priority. She didn’t seem to think that there was anything wrong with this, and she found many ways to justify it. In a conversation with her, I told her that I understood her position quite well. I told her that I too was in search of a wealthy woman with a stable career who could support and provide for me. Her response to my comment was a look of disgust. She then accused me of being shallow. I’m not sure if she ever realized that I was actually being facetious; that I was just trying to make a point. In reality I was simply trying to get her to see herself in what I was saying, by reflecting her standards back at her. It was good that she had seen the shallowness in my comment, but could she see the shallowness in her own desire for a partner who would take care of all her needs?
As I stated before, we often desire certain qualities in a partner that we do not feel confident or capable of providing for ourselves. Essentially we are looking for someone to provide these qualities for us, so that we might embody them vicariously. But those qualities will never actually be ours. We will always remain dependent upon our partner to fulfil them. And if the relationship doesn’t work out, then we are right back where we started. So I would challenge you to find that confidence within yourself and to develop those capabilities, rather than relying on someone else to do it for you.
Now take a look at the second column on your revised list; the one which shows those qualities that you both desire in a partner and which you also possess within yourself. These may include your interests; the things which you are passionate about; your tastes, your beliefs, and so on.
Among all the qualities which you desire in a partner, these should take priority. Make these your must-haves, and the others only secondary options. That is to say that those other qualities should not be the determining factor for whether or not you pursue or remain in a relationship. They are superficial and should remain flexible. If it happens that you meet someone who possesses those qualities in addition to the primary ones, then this is an added bonus, but it should in no way be mandatory, and should also not become an excuse to stop working on developing those qualities within yourself.
PART 4: Releasing Your Desires
Now that you have a clear idea of what you envision in a partner, it’s time to release your desires. Give it up to the universe. Do not actively seek it out, but allow it to manifest naturally. It is amazing how the right person can just show up in our lives at just the right moment, when we least expect it. And therein lies the key; do not expect it.
I’m not suggesting that we become pessimistic. Embrace the belief that you deserve someone really amazing, and be open to meeting that person, but don’t go trying to force it to happen. Release the desire, and bring your focus back to yourself. This time should be spent working on yourself; embracing and developing your inner qualities and outer talents, as well as your overall sense of independence.
You are more likely to meet your ideal partner when you are not actively searching, but are fully engaged in pursuing and expressing your own personal passions. If you’re actively searching for a partner you are likely acting out of desperation. This not only increases the chances of meeting ill-suited partners, but also, if you do in fact meet someone who does fit your ideal, your desperation and eagerness may make you less desirable and could even scare them away.
We are generally attracted to confidence and self-assuredness, which come from being emotionally independent, while, on the other hand, we are often repelled by neediness which exposes a person’s weakness and insecurity.
If you are eager to find a partner, your time alone is ideal for examining and relinquishing this desire; to ask yourself why there is such a strong desire to have a partner in the first place.
It is healthy to want to share your happiness with another person. But it is unhealthy to feel that you need someone to make you feel happy. And if you are unhappy, you are likely to attract someone who is equally unhappy. Two unhappy people cannot make one another happy. It’s like two beggars begging from one another. They both have nothing, and yet they both believe they will get something from the other.
Two prisoners were shackled in a dungeon. “Please free me,” the one said to the other. “I will free you,” said the other, “but only if you promise to free me in return.”
This is the typical romance. It is like two prisoners promising to free one another when they are both shackled to the wall. And yet, they are surprised and even resentful when in the end they both remain bound.
The mistake is generally made due to the fact that we are very good at pretending. In order to attract a partner we may put on our best performance. We may appear happy, when really we are very sad and desperate. And we may meet someone who also appears to be very happy, only to later find that they were pretending also. When the truth is finally revealed both pretenders often become angry with one another. It seems as though love has turned sour, but really it was never about love to begin with. It was just a show. Neither person really loved the other. Neither of them had any love to give. They were both using each other, and now they are angry with one another for having been deceptive, even though both of them are equally guilty.
A truly happy person will not be attracted to someone who is miserable. A happy person, who is content to be alone, will not choose a partner out of desperation, but is willing to take time to get to know someone or hold out until the right person comes along.
If you are unhappy, no relationship will help you as much as the one you have with yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you will be unable to love others, and you will be unable to fully accept the love of others. So if such is the case, use your time alone to build a strong and loving relationship with yourself.
When you become secure in yourself, only then will you be ready to develop a secure relationship with someone else.