I spent time last weekend with someone that was going on some first dates. Jamie had a few disastrous relationships of late, and was trying not to repeat the mistakes that he had made. We had a conversation about how you can do that, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts here. Given the huge number of potential dating possibilities out there, and the very limited time on this earth, it is surprising to me that there isn’t more written about how to choose new partners. Especially because so many of us have made such terrible choices. I know I have. From the guy at uni who had a serious aversion to using condoms, to the woman that wanted to move in when we had barely been on 3 dates, I haven’t always looked beyond chemistry to work out whether someone was a good fit for me. On the plus side, they taught me how important it is to take care when choosing who I share my life with – and that life gets better when I do. The difficult bit is that in order to work out what works for you, you have to know who you are and what you want and need. Luckily, you can look back through previous relationships to help you to figure out what made them wonderful and what led to gut-wrenching disasters.
What makes relationships great for you?
The picture of what a perfect relationship looks like is much more complicated than candlelight dinners and moonlit walks along a river. It is also vastly more varied. Some people love the romance of candles and surprises, others prefer gifts, words, touch or quality time. For some people, a shared identity or hobby is key, while for others it may be having plenty of time alone. For me, relationships work best when the other person likes to do things for me. When they are kinky, poly and value their independence. When we both have fulfilling lives that the other person adds to, but neither of us wants our world to revolve around the other. I like to think of these things as relationship makers. Whatever it is that makes relationships great for you, own it. Make a note of it. Add to it when you think of new things that make relationships a pleasure to be in.
What are your dealbreakers?
Once upon a time, I thought that relationships that I didn’t see lasting for some reason were still ones that I could be in ‘for now’. The truth is, if something is a dealbreaker in the long term, then it is probably a problem in the short term too. I tried to look past issues that were difficult for me, and in every case they turned out to be relationship ending in the long term – and REALLY painful. Recognising this stuff early saves on heartbreak. For me, smoking is a dealbreaker in some kinds of relationships. I won’t live with someone that smokes. Also monogamy. I’m not monogamous, and I don’t want to be someone’s poly experiment. It could be that you can’t take a particular conflict style, relationship style or career choice. That’s ok. You just need to be honest with yourself, and rule out potential partners that are not in line with your dealbreakers. Seriously, don’t make exceptions here. They end in tears and heartbreak.
Once you’ve written your lists, act on this knowledge! Having an idea of what works and doesn’t work for you is only useful if you are able to act on it when you start dating someone new. My friend, Jamie, had thought about those questions, but he hadn’t written them down anywhere or spoken to anyone about them. He was leaving for a second date with someone new, and I suggested that he make the time to do that writing soon. The problem is, if you don’t make a note of your feelings it is all too easy to be swept away with lust and heady emotions of a new fling and ignore the big red warning lights. Getting emotionally involved without evaluating whether a potential partner is actually compatible with you is like playing Russian roulette. It is far too easy to lose big. Be accountable to yourself (or someone close) so that you choose relationships that can help you to live the life that you want and avoid as many messy and heartbreaking ends as possible*.
Relationship makers and deal breakers are pretty cut and dry. They are either there or they aren’t. Other preferences and desires are more subtle. There is the squee factor – those things that make you wobbly in the knees and the grit factor – the things that irritate you on a difficult day, but you’d never end a relationship over. I’ll talk more about those in The skill of partner selection part 2.
*This is not to say that I think that a relationship ending is always heartbreaking or a bad thing. Sometimes it can be a transition, sometimes it is the best possible thing for everyone involved. But messy and heartbreaking endings are, in my view, best avoided if possible.