When we decide to make an emotional and/or physical commitment to someone, we get all the baggage–good and bad– that comes with that individual. That means that we not only inherit a potential fun, charming or good looking partner, but we also inherit all his or her idiosyncrasies, habits, fears, neurosis, behaviors, skeletons in the closet, past relationships, and even some long-standing childhood insecurities that still might be lingering. We get it all.
So, the object of dating is to determine what you might inherit, before making an actual commitment to someone. Because, let’s be real, once we make a commitment to someone, be it marriage or co-habitation or even a promise to remain together, it’s a very difficult bond to break once you have second thoughts. It’s your job, therefore, to know what you can handle and what you can’t. And this is where I always seemed to mess up. I thought I could handle anything! Oh, how wrong I was.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
Take G, for example, an old PoA of mine with whom I was madly in love. I used to say he “only” has four issues (count ‘em, four!). Who can’t handle four little issues? Trouble was, I seemed to have a very difficult time dealing with these four little issues to the point of near-complete frustration and pain. So, what were his issues (according to me?) Here there are:
- He smoked pot
- He was too individualistic (meaning he did not want to move in together)
- He dressed like a street person (he got away with this one because he was a musician)
- He didn’t enjoy having sex–like, ever.
When I looked at this list on its own, it was a no-brainer. There was no reason I should stay with this guy. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I focused on his positives and shut my eyes to these other issues. I mean, I didn’t want to complain about four little problems. G was, after all, funny, intelligent, and creative– all things that were very important to me. He treated me fairly well, we never fought, we got along well, he called me on the phone incessantly, we laughed all the time, I was attracted to him, and we were “in love.”
And yet these four issues of his, no matter how much I tried to ignore them, kept rearing their ugly heads. They wouldn’t go away. And I certainly couldn’t change him or inspire him to change (despite trying!) In fact, I ended up saying the old cliched line: “If you really loved me, you’d quit smoking,” or “If you really loved me, you’d move in with me.”
Eventually, as is usually the case, those seemingly inconsequential problems became bigger than his good qualities. These four issues outweighed all G’s positives ten to one. But I still couldn’t figure out why, or why I was staying.
And then, one day, I learned about VALUES, and it hit me. I had none. I thought I could handle anything, but I couldn’t (no one can). I thought I was strong, but it turns out I was dumb. And I thought I was courageous, but really I was weak. I was weak because having a relationship (any relationship) outweighed the idea of living a healthy life or being alone. It became more important than my own well being.
Also, I set little value to my own personal core beliefs. I really could not handle having a close relationship with someone who smoked pot, did drugs or drank heavily (heck , my dad died of a drug overdose). And yet, I would date men that had addictions. I really could not handle the idea that a man wouldn’t want to have sex with me. Hello! I’m sexy. How could I date someone who simply wasted this valuable asset of mine? And yet, I did.
Why did I get into this predicament if I knew I couldn’t handle certain things? Who wants to be neglected? WHo wants to be teased or disrespected? Or treated badly? No one. But when you don’t know your values, you think you have no choice. You think you have to inherit junk.
When you have no values, how do you know what you can and cannot handle? Well, I did some soul searching, and wrote out a iist and soon found out what I could and could not accept in my life.
G’s issues ultimately became the foundation to my personal list of VALUES. And when I began dating after him, I had a road map. I let my values be my guide. I knew what qualities, behaviors, or idiosyncrasies to stay away from and I knew what qualities I liked.
Here’s a list of my most important values:
1. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who drinks heavily or does drugs. Absolutely no way.
2. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who lies.
3. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who cheats.
4. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who cannot take care of himself
5. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who does not treat my children or his with decency and respect
6. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who hurts or abuses me mentally or physically.
7. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who does not enjoy physical affection and sex.
8. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who doesn’t allow me my space
9. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who is an avoidant
10. I will not remain in a committed relationship with someone who is not mutually committed to me.
Most importantly, I knew how to place a boundary around myself when I encountered someone who did not share my same values. This was hard to do. Why? Because it takes a few dates to know if someone shares your values. You start to make an investment and have hope. And oftentimes, after I had started to feel an emotional intensity for someone, I would have to give them up because I learned they did not share my same values.
It was also difficult because I had to give up a lot and change my habits. It meant staying home alone when all my friends were going out to bars to try and pick up guys (I didn’t want to find someone at a bar if one of my most important values was “no alcoholics!”). And it meant I could not have a relationship with just anybody, simply because we “clicked.” I would, after all, be inheriting more than just a “click.” So, I learned to be patient and not invest my heart so quickly. I learned that dating is not about immediate gratification, but rather, deferring gratification, and simply enjoying people by learning about them first, before getting hot and heavy.
And lastly, I learned that absolutely everyone has issues, shortcomings and drawbacks, but that I can handle some of those problems, whereas others I cannot.
D, for example, is sometimes overly sensitive and I have to watch my “tone” around him (no Italian screaming). That’s a problem I can handle. He sometimes forgets to call the repair guy, or put the toilet seat down, but he never forgets my birthday, he never forgets to say I love you, and he never forgets to help me with the dishes every night. D complains sometimes. And yet, he is aware of the bigger picture and quite grateful. He’s sometimes very wasteful when it comes to food, water, electricity or other resources. And he probably fools around on his cell phone more than I’d like. But I can handle ALL of those problems because D shares my core values. He does not drink or do drugs, he’s healthy, not afraid of commitment, very passionate, never neglects me, I love the way he dresses, and so much more.
Do you see how one set of problems can be handled, whereas another set cannot? And we are all different too. Different values will show up on each person’s list.
So, here’s your challenge: What are YOUR values? How does your current or past partner stack up? Are you willing to make changes and place your personal values above all else? What does that mean to you? What would you have to give up to be true to yourself?