Let’s begin by saying the only reason this article is relevant is because people today face many problematic social discourses around romance, relationships, and the quest to find “the one.” We have been conditioned to accept a single story of what a fulfilling relationship is. The single story I speak of encompasses the familiar idea of Mx. Right, the one person who meets all our needs, a perfect “soulmate” who exists somewhere out there. By buying into this, we unwittingly limit our experience and rob ourselves of endless opportunities and possibilities.
Unrealistic pressures from society and culture don’t help, but it’s more complicated than that. From reviewing my own past as a single man, helping people in my practice who present with severe distress because of their single status, and talking to single friends, it seems evident to me that many of the strategies we use in our quest to find fulfilling relationships aren’t productive. Our priorities are often not aligned in a productive way.
People’s motivations for finding someone to share their lives with are often misinformed as well. They may not understand clearly why they want to be in a relationship. People often lack insight about their own needs, hopes, and dreams, leading them into the trap that’s been established and reinforced by harmful social discourses.
If a person is experiencing significant distress as a result of something, they usually cease doing whatever it is that’s causing the distress. That is often not the case when it comes to finding a romantic partner. Instead, many people repeat the same patterns of behavior that bring them pain and unsatisfactory outcomes. Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.
People might not realize what they may be giving up when they invest so much of their time and energy in finding “the one.” How much time and money do you spend on online dating? How much money are you spending on that outfit you hope will score you a life partner? How much money are you spending on extravagant dinners to show potential mates how stable and secure you are? How much time are you spending in front of a mirror perfecting your appearance? When does it stop being worth it?
Have you thought about what it might be like if you belonged to a different culture, perhaps practiced a different religion, or if you had been raised by a different family with different customs? Sure, it is possible that finding “the one” would have still been important, but would it be prioritized over other aspects of your life? I can’t help you change your context, your environment, your upbringing, or your culture, but perhaps I can offer you some ideas to help you approach finding your “soulmate” from a different angle.
First, Get to Know Yourself
Ask yourself why you want to be in a relationship. Be honest with yourself here. What would be the benefits and the costs of being paired up with someone? Are you okay with the costs and if so, why? What’s important to you in life? Would trying to find a life partner or having a partner challenge that?
Understanding your core needs, values, and hopes is essential. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t really get to know anybody else.
Second, Stop Being So Picky!
I’m not saying anyone should have low standards, but what makes you think you deserve perfection? It is important to practice compassion when getting to know someone and to try to put yourself in their shoes. This may allow you to open up to infinite possibilities.
Nevertheless, I understand there are certain things you just can’t live with or without, so here’s one way to achieve more clarity: Make a list of physical and nonphysical traits (personality, values, goals, etc.) that you hope your special someone will have (or not have). Your list should not be longer than 10 items. Then, from your list, pick just two traits you are not willing to accept (or give up), and focus only on those two when meeting people and dating. Think of all the other traits on your list as bonuses.
Third, Learn from People Who Know You
Ask the people who know you best what they know about you. Ask them to describe you in a few words and take notes! Ask several people, preferably. If you notice certain patterns and descriptions being brought up by different people, those may be the ones you may want to use for this exercise.
I invite you to ask these people to share stories about you that confirm these descriptions (“How did you come to see me as a generous person?” “Can you tell me a story about this?”). Can you think of stories of your own? Do these descriptions fit with how you have been viewing yourself? Whatever your answer, ask yourself how, when, and where you came to learn this about you. Do this exercise a few times until you are comfortable with the information you gathered.
Lastly, Emphasize Complementarity Over Compatibility
One of the biggest mistakes I believe people make is looking for a “compatible” partner. First of all, if you aren’t clear on your own motivations, values, or hopes, you may not truly recognize what compatible is. The key here is to find someone you can create balance with. Think about it: Isn’t it more appealing to think about finding someone who adds to your experience than someone who has the same or similar experience?
Relationships are hard; why should finding a partner to have a fulfilling relationship with be any different?
You may want someone who can offer you something you don’t have, and vice versa. There may be some truth to the notion “opposites attract.” If you hate to cook, for example, wouldn’t it be great if you were in a relationship with someone who finds joy in cooking? Complementarity can be so much more fulfilling than compatibility, especially in the long run.
Now take some of the descriptions about you from step 3 above and identify the opposites of those. Could these be added to your list of requirements for a mate? What do you have that you can contribute to someone else’s life?
The suggestions I’ve presented here are by no means rules, and they may or may not be useful in your particular set of circumstances. They are simply ideas I have learned through my clinical practice, training, and personal experience. My hope is that they provide some new ways of looking at and working around some of the harmful social discourses we all live with.
Relationships are hard; why should finding a partner to have a fulfilling relationship with be any different? Explore. Ask yourself the hard questions. Ask others. Learn and most importantly live your truth. I’m not going to end this by wishing you luck, because it may very well take more than that. Get to work!
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