Relationships are funny things, aren’t they? Every one is different, and too, each changes over time, thus constantly becoming different even from itself. It feels as though we (especially women) have constantly been bombarded throughout our lives about what a “good” relationship is, what it should feel like to finally have met your “soulmate,” what parts should be easy, what aspects will be hard, when to leave should that be necessary, what you deserve, how to please your partner…and I find that sometimes, all that advice leaves little room for couples to just be. If he/she/they don’t measure up to–or rather, match perfectly–all these social prescriptions for what the much-revered “true love” experience supposedly is, one or both may hit the road, thus ending what could have been quite a beautiful time together. And for what, exactly?
Sometimes I wonder how all those messages have affected my own outlook on love. Until this summer, I had not entered into a relationship since ending one in college at 21, and I had been quite content with that decision. Suddenly, I was faced with coming to terms with my own hurts, fears, beliefs, expectations, and needs (most notably, how to express them), and that has been hard. Probably for both of us, given the fact that we both had been single for years and neither of us has thus far taken up mind-reading (or not successfully, anyway)…and because I had not “needed” someone in so very long that the idea of such a thing was simultaneously foreign, comforting, exhilarating, and absolutely, positively terrifying. A good portion of our first couple months together–during the “dating” portion as opposed to being committed–was wrought with anxiety and lots of mixed emotions and ups and downs for me. This, in turn, made me question the logic of “us”: if the early period together is supposed to be so magical and sappy and blissfully happy, did my fear and doubts mean that we weren’t right together?
Luckily, my exploration into my perfectionism and its effects had helped me understand that not only do I not deal well with potential failures in performance, but I also have unrealistic expectations of my relationships. Just as it is futile to assume that every practice will yield an improved performance, it is unhelpful and downright unfair to expect that every day with my partner will be a good one, that our relationship will be effortless…*even* in the beginning. This pattern established, I think the biggest change in my happiness and security in the relationship came when I understood that I needed to tell him, and I mean bluntly, if I needed something from him. Fearing rejection or somehow coming off as needy (important point: having needs like any other human being is not the same as being needy), I would avoid telling him if I just needed to hear his voice or be in his arms, which in turn made me more anxious if he stayed up working and didn’t call or I hadn’t seen him in nearly a week (because of course, he would initiate if he wanted us to be together, and I should just wait. Wrong.). When I started letting myself be a little bit more vulnerable (and, you know, give him a little insight into what I was thinking and feeling), he was much more able to understand and satisfy my wants and needs. It’s more than a little unfair to expect that he would have none of those same anxieties about us; I had to do my part by letting him in even when it scared me and I missed him and was simultaneously convinced that he was going to break up with me (whereas meanwhile, he was busy planning a very nice date and had no idea I was nearly in tears and venting to my cat and a wine bottle).
Now, three months after our first date, I am much happier on a consistent basis and much less anxious than when we started out, despite conventional wisdom (and even my own early experiences) that would have had me running for the hills when things felt so hard on occasions in the beginning. Sometimes, it’s better to toss expectations, past experiences, and others’ standards to the wind, it seems. At least in our case, it has been more than worth it, and I am so glad I didn’t let fear and preconceived notions make me miss out on him.
You know… I don’t think any great relationship comes without strangeness either. Funny how that works.