The older I get, the more I feel like there is very little I know. I’ve been saying that for a few years now. The paradox is, I’m more and more sure that I’m not sure about much of anything. The more I live life, the more aware I become that there are very few formulas in life about how it should work and how it should be.
I’m a therapist. Relationships are my “specialty”. And yet I am more and more convinced that what makes a relationship successful and happy is unique to each couple. There really are few “rules” to follow. One couple can do things similarly to another couple, and one ends up together and the other ends up divorced. Why? Who knows.
I become more aware every year that my role as a therapist is not to provide answers, but to provide company on the journey. I help people sort out their own way.
When I do a speaking engagement, I often talk about how spiritual growth can occur through learning to hold opposing and conflicting thoughts and feelings at the same time. Relationships are not really any different.
While my entire life is dedicated to understanding relationships and how they tick, there are sometimes spurts in the intensity level of how that happens. The last few months, I have had countless philosophical conversations with people- males, females, singles, married people, clients, dates, family, friends. All kinds of sources.
Dating today is so different than it used to be because of the internet. And yet it is still exactly the same. Personally, I found dating difficult when I was in high school. And college. And as a divorced woman. And as a widowed woman. No matter what age or set of circumstances, dating is a difficult endeavor. I don’t think I’m alone in that. How many people in your lifetime have you heard say “Man, I love this dating thing!” ?? Not many I bet. Heck, my father is in his eighties and it hasn’t been a picnic for him either!
Hindsight is a dangerous thing. I find that people are very confident offering their opinions and advice after something goes sour. If a relationship ends, it’s easy to say that whatever choices were made, obviously something else should have been done. But I think that is dangerous. When you think that, you just create another set of “rules” that you think apply to everyone.
Match.com is a fascinating social phenomenon. I swear there is a book to be written about people’s experiences. Again, I hear and listen and feel so many things that all seem true, but yet they are contradictory. How can that be? Well, because it just is.
For example, let’s take pace. Most people would say that there is a certain time frame that should occur for relationships to be healthy and successful. I admit that in years past, I would have my own internal judgments if I was working with a couple that moved “too fast.” You hear the history and think, “Well, of course you are having problems. You started living together two weeks after meeting.” But you really can’t say that.
Have you ever met someone who experienced love at first sight? I have not personally ever felt that, but I have met people who have. And they are happily married for years and years and years. There are plenty of divorced couples out there that dated for years, got engaged, and followed all the social “norms” for relationships. And yet the relationship failed.
Just in the last couple of weeks, I have talked personally with people who moved in with their partner within two months of meeting. Both couples are very happy, seem very healthy, and have maintained their relationships over an extended period of time. So they end up being “smart.” And lucky. If their relationship went up in flames, then we would be quick to say that they were unwise and impulsive.
One person on Match talked about how they were learning what they liked and didn’t like. They get a sense almost immediately of whether there is a spark or not. They don’t want to waste their time or anyone else’s so they cut things off as soon as they know. I listened to him explain all that and I thought “Right. That makes total sense. Seems wise to me.”
The next week, I talked to a person who said they were frustrated sometimes with the Match process. He said that it seems like people don’t know how to work on relationships anymore. If there is not immediate magic, there is no effort to get to know someone. No chance to spend some time and seeing how things might develop. I listened to him explain all that and I thought “Right. That makes total sense. Seems wise to me.”
So the moral of the story is, I don’t think there is just one right way. Or one right pace. There are all kinds of ways for people to connect. And disconnect. And reconnect. Who is to say? Perhaps we should hold our judgments.
Do your own internal inventory. Do you have opinions about how many days you should wait after meeting someone before you call them? Should women call men or should men always initiate? Who should pay for dates? How long do you wait before a kiss? How long do you wait before having sex with someone? The list goes on and on. And most of us have our opinions about what we think the answers to those questions should be. If someone doesn’t behave the way we might, then there is often judgment.
Kids are another issue where people seem to know what is the ideal way to handle dating. I used to be one of those people too. When should your kids meet a potential partner? Many say not until you are almost certain about your relationship. Some say their kids are a deal breaker because they are part of the whole package. So why not get to know them right away? How do you get “solid” with a person if you don’t know how they interact with your kids? And I can personally say that it is much more difficult to navigate that as a widow because your kids don’t go off every other weekend with your former partner. There is no alone time or off duty time. Ever. Yet the collateral damage can be worse for them. Your mom breaks up with a boyfriend you like, you can always rely on that relationship with your biological dad if your parents are divorced. But what if there is no other dad?
This is another area I’ve had to admit that I just don’t have the answers to. I honestly think that a huge part of the equation is the personality of your kid(s) and how they handle things.
Do you only date one person at a time? Or do you date several people at the same time? Again, I have heard well thought out arguments for both sides of that. I have heard well thought out criticisms of the other side of the fence. And they all have good points. So what to do? Personally, the only “rule” I’ve figured out for myself is that I have to be honest with whatever it is I’m doing. You have no control over whether the other parties in your life are honest back, but you have to hope they are.
So… no answers. Just lots of opposing ideas that all seem to contain truth. I will venture out though and offer some unsolicited advice. 1. Try not to judge other people. 2. If you have a relationship, work hard at it. It’s not all that easy to start over. The grass is definitely not always greener on the other side.
I’m sure I’ve said things you agree with, disagree with, or may have infuriated you. I am just figuring the world out like everyone else.