Return from Fantasyland: How to Have Achievable Relationship Goals
Do you dream of the day you’ll meet your ideal partner? You know the one who says the right things and does the right things and makes you feel special and most important. The one who get it and just get you. You know, that one!
I got married at 22 years old.
For the record, I would not recommend it. Heaven bless those who get married at 18 and are married for the rest of their lives. For me, marriage at 22 was not the smartest choice. I didn’t know much about life, love, or relationships. My partner didn’t know much either. The two of us were a hot mess. I made poor choices. He made poor choices. It was, unfortunately, quite traumatic for the both of us.
Following the breakup of that relationship, when I thought about my future relationship, I had all of these strict prescriptions about what the next relationship would or would not be like – what I would never do again and all the right choices I was going to make.
In my mind, there were hard lines being drawn in the sand about my future romantic partnership.
I am pleased to report that the quality of each relationship I’ve been in has been better than the last. However, none of them have measured up to that fantasy I created in my mind.
I suspect I’m not alone in this. When I hear single people talk about potential future relationships, they are describing their ideals, obviously. I believe we should all have them. But when you compare the imagined relationship with ANY real relationship that has existed in time EVER, I think the similarities are few.
“When we find our partner, life will be rosy and our partner will magically blow sunshine out of their rear ends. The two of us will be happy and lovely and butterflies will surround us as we glide down the street, feet barely touching the ground.”
If you’re single, think about the future relationship you imagine. Just speaking for myself, I’ve never been in a relationship like that. Ever. Not ever.
My current relationship is pretty great. The fact remains, though, that it’s real. There are days when I’m in a funky mood. There are days that my buttons get pushed, and my reaction isn’t as evolved as I would like to imagine I’m capable of offering during stressful times. Some days one or the other of us is too tired to muster the juicy deliciousness.
I find when I’m working with a client, especially someone who is apprehensive about dating, or is particularly scarred from their last relationship, there can be so much fear about the possibility of getting into another bad relationship.
It’s understandable. Relationships don’t necessarily start out badly, which is part of what makes it so scary getting into something new. When it flames out, sometimes you feel like you don’t see it coming. In hindsight, I think we recognize that the signs were there from the start. But again, we go in hopeful, and so we do feel blind-sided when the fantasy unravels and we’re left with the reality.
Stepping out into the world of dating – opening yourself up to new people or circumstances, the potential of becoming entwined with someone, hoping for the fantasy and fearing the reality – makes it really difficult to have any room to move. It’s like wearing a straight-jacket while trying to do aerobics. It’s just not productive.
I try to bring my clients back from Fantasyland. I help them ground themselves in the reality of relationships when we’re thinking about a potential partner or a future relationship. I caution them against making hard and fast rules about what will never happen again and mistakes they’ll never make. Instead, I encourage them to have compassion for themselves.
Please don’t hear this as a recommendation to resist having standards and boundaries and knowing your deal-breakers. These things are important, critical even. But you should also understand that there will be days when the reality of your relationship looks like your partner was delivered to you from the heavens. And there will be days when it feels like your partner was sent to you from hell. That is the reality of relationships.
Ideally, you’ll choose someone who is a good values-match and lifestyle-match such that the two of you can navigate the real twists and turns – the difficult terrain, if you will – together.
What are your expectations of your next partner? Your next relationship? Yourself? How achievable are they? How are you setting yourself up for success?