I have noticed a common theme cropping up in discussions about relationships, and it’s fairly paradoxical, which is why I find it so curious.
A lot of folks these day have become very good at finding flaws. Flaws in those they are going on dates with. Flaws in themselves. Flaws in the relationship they currently are in.
On the other hand, it’s also the case that many of us seem to either minimize or miss all together the kinds of “issues” that make or break most relationships.
This isn’t just about superficial complaints like “he snores” or “she’s two years older than me.” It’s about an inability to determine what’s important in a relationship over the long term, coupled with a strong overcoat of pessimism about the chances that any long term relationship will ever work.
Pessimism about love is mostly a defense mechanism, as well as an escape clause. It means that if you go through a rough patch with your partner, you can simply say “Ah, well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”
The problem is that we have all these scripts we believe are the gospel truth about how relationships should and shouldn’t go. And then we try and match our experiences exactly to those scripts, instead of paying attention to what’s actually happening, and how we feel about it. The relationship is going faster than your script says it’s supposed to go, and you start wondering when the other shoe will drop, or what the other person’s “agenda” is. The relationship is moving slower than your script says it should and you wonder if he/she truly loves you. In both cases, perhaps you have no other evidence to suggest that things are wrong, but because the narrative is so strong, you believe there’s a problem anyway.
Online dating and other forms of “relationship shopping” certainly have plus sides, but one of the downsides is that it’s heightened the flaw finding mechanism, while also creating the illusion that there’s an endless array of possible partners out there if the one you are with isn’t perfect enough. The whole structure of online dating sites encourage the brain to scan and reject, as well as scan and accept, as quickly as possible. And this scanning behavior slides often into our actual relationships themselves, especially in the early days when so much has yet to be discovered. Instead of paying attention for obvious red flags and a small, well considered list of deal breakers, it’s as if you’re a hungry tiger, constantly on the edge of leaping on any little difference or unanswered question as a sign that things are doomed.
And yet, it’s also the case that a lot of us miss glaringly obvious deal breakers, sometimes for years. She repeatedly states that she doesn’t want children, but the guy continues to stick with her, believing she’ll change her mind. She’s constantly making criticizing or belittling comments, but her girlfriend still believes they have a great relationship. Your values are completely different, but the sex is hot, so you stay together. The list goes on and on.
It all comes back to an inability to determine what’s important in a relationship over the long term, and also understanding that every situation is different, and so how it looks and feels will be different as well. In other words, “what’s important” can’t be condensed into a concrete formula that you can apply each time you meet someone.