ADULTING 101 - Part 5
Welcome back, class.
If you're just joining me, this is part 5 of "Why Did No One Tell Me?!?" or, "What High School Should Have Taught Me."(Part 1 is here.)
Standard foreword: None of these lessons are new. Some, I am only just learning myself. Many people never learn them, but those that do think it is all just "wisdom that comes with age", even though it would benefit you to learn, and especially learn early!
Anyway: Today's lesson is a tough one: Relationships: By the Numbers
As I have mentioned before, I am embarrassingly single, unmarried, and without children. Unlike most men in my situation, I have actively sought a serious partner, commitment, and want children. In fact, as I will admit here, I have overactively sought someone.
No matter what you want in life, the following relationship advice should still apply to you, too.
I hope you will all learn from this, my greatest personal revelation so far:
**Your relationship status is not binary**
I prefer being in a relationship to being single.
In my mind though, I only saw my options as one of two:
"I'm in a relationship... Yay!" or "I'm single and need to seek out a partner, ASAP!".
In fact, there are many kinds of relationships and several other ways to frame being single.
I will list them now, like shades on a spectrum:
1. "I am in a healthy relationship and my partner's goals are in line with my own."
2. "I am in a positive relationship, we are great people who get along, but we
may want different things in life."
3. "I am in a relationship where we argue often. We fight to understand what my partner wants from me, what I want from my partner, and maybe what I want for myself, too."
4. "I am in a toxic relationship. My partner sometimes lies, cheats, pulls me down, sabotages, and/or belittles me - or - I do these things to them, even when I don't mean to."
5. "I am single, and constantly on the lookout for someone who will give a relationship with me a chance."
6. "I am single, and would love to find a partner, but when I can recognize someone is not compatible or ready, I am not afraid to pass on a person, even if they are interested."
7. "I am single, and open to a relationship, but I need to devote most of my energy to personal growth, so if something happens organically, great, but until then, I will focus on bettering myself."
8. "I am single, and I don't want a relationship."
Do any of these describe you as you were, or as you are now?
I have spent the last 15 years inside the range of numbers 2 and 5, bouncing up and down.
I could recognize people who were numbers 6, 7, or 8, and admire them, but that admiration never translated to a change in my own flawed strategy as a single person.
When I was in a relationship, as most people
probably hopefully experience in their first few serious relationships, you learn (slowly) not to change who you are (so much) to please your partner. But beyond that there is the problem of staying in a number 2, 3, or 4 relationship, even after you have identified it. Obviously a toxic relationship should be the easiest to end, but you need to a healthy level of self-worth, and that is exactly what number 4 relationships make hard on you. I have been blessed and cursed by a couple number 2 relationships. They are extremely hard to end, even if you have different goals, because the here and now is still comfortable and nice.
I would guess number 3 actually represents the majority of all relationships. We don't know what we want, or what we want conceptually, isn't what actually satisfies us. We see our partner as our competitor in a zero sum game. You hear people talk about "winning" arguments, as if you would ever want your partner to feel like a loser. If someone else made them feel that way, they would probably make a quick enemy of you. But we forget to empathize, and consider each other's perspective. When we compromise or do something we don't like to make our partner happy, we think they owe us the same, instead of thinking of their happiness as the real reward. Simply put, any one of us can be selfish. The worst, especially for everyone outside the relationship, is when you call out your partner or bring up an old argument in front of your friends, and ask them to help you gang up on or shame them by taking your side. But I need to stress: This is something I have done, and I have seen most people I know do. It happens all the time, and we should all be mindful of it, and try to stop when we catch ourselves doing it. With any luck, underneath the lack empathy and knowledge of self, the core of the relationship is still a number 1, but unless you fix that, you won't know it from a 2 on a good day, or a 4 when it's bad.