Some people think my views towards romantic relationships are a little extreme sometimes. And I get it, I often use extreme examples to illustrate my point when it comes things like values and boundaries. A lot of people think I’m suggesting that you only seek perfection in your love life, which just results in unrealistic expectations, which then results in disappointment because no one is perfect.
Well, of course, everyone has faults. It’s impossible to find someone without some emotional baggage or insecurities.
The real question is, how do we deal with it? I want to talk about what traits to actively look for in a relationship partner when deciding to date or commit to them, baggage and insecurities and all.
(Spoiler Alert: You want to look for people who manage their insecurities well.)
Learning the hard way
My first handful of significant relationships were mired with a lot of manipulation and victim/rescuer dynamics. These relationships were great learning experiences, but they also caused me a great deal of pain that I had to eventually learn from.
It wasn’t until I managed to find myself in relationships with some emotionally healthy women who were able to manage their flaws well that I really learned what to look for when dating someone.
And I discovered in this time that there was one trait in a woman that I absolutely must have to be in a relationship with her, and it was something that I would never compromise on again (and I haven’t). Some of us are unwilling to compromise on superficial traits: looks, intelligence, education, etc. Those are important, but if there’s one trait that I’ve learned you should never compromise on, it’s this:
The ability to see one’s own flaws and be accountable for them.
Because the fact is that problems are inevitable. Every relationship will run into fights and each person will run up against their emotional baggage at various times. How long the relationship lasts and how well it goes comes down to both people being willing and able to recognize the snags in themselves and communicate them openly.
Think of your love interest and ask yourself, “If I gave him/her honest, constructive criticism about how I think he/she could be better, how would they react?” Would they throw a huge fit? Cause drama? Blame you and criticize you back? Claim you don’t love them? Storm out and make you chase after them?
Or would they appreciate your perspective, and even if hurts a little or if it’s uncomfortable, even if there was a little bit of an emotional outburst at first, would they eventually consider it and be willing to talk about it? Without blaming or shaming. Without causing unnecessary drama. Without trying to make you jealous or angry.
Then they’re not dating material.
But — here’s the million dollar question — think of that same love interest, and now imagine that they gave you constructive criticism and pointed out what they believed to be your biggest flaws and blind spots. How would you react? Would you brush it off? Would you place the blame on them or call them names? Would you logically try to argue your way out of it? Would you get angry or insecure?
Chances are you would. Chances are the other person would too. Most people do. And that’s why they end up dating each other.
Having open, intimate conversations with someone where you’re able to openly talk about one another’s flaws without resorting to blaming or shaming is possibly the hardest thing to do in any relationship. Very few people are capable of it. To this day, when I sit down with my girlfriend, or my father, or one of my best friends and have one of these conversations, I feel my chest tighten, my stomach turn in a knot, my arms sweat.
It’s not pleasant. But it’s absolutely mandatory for a healthy long-term relationship. And the only way you find this in a person is by approaching the entire relationship — from the moment you first meet them — with honesty and integrity, by expressing your emotions and sexuality without blame or shame, and not degenerating into bad habits of playing games or stirring up drama.
Suppressing or over-expressing your emotions will attract someone who also suppresses or over-expresses their emotions. Expressing your emotions in a healthy manner will attract someone who also expresses their emotions in a healthy manner.
You may think a person like this doesn’t exist. She’s a unicorn. But you’d be surprised. Your emotional integrity naturally self-selects the emotional integrity of the people you meet and date. And when you fix yourself, as if by some magical cheat code, the people you meet and date become more and more functional themselves. And the obsession and anxiety of dating dissolves and becomes simple and clear. The process ceases to be a long and analytical one but a short and pleasant one. The way she cocks her head when she smiles. The way your eyes light up a little bit more when you talk to him.
Your worries will dissolve. And regardless of what happens, whether you’re together for a minute, a month or a lifetime, all there is is acceptance.