Category Archives: dating

Mutual respect or shared values?

I just spent a week and a half in Ireland (I promise a post is forthcoming) and it reminded me that what I love most about traveling is the people I meet along the way and the conversations we have. One conversation in particular has stuck with me since returning home, when on a bus traveling north to the Antrim Coast I sat next to a 24 year-old Romanian. We talked about family, why we were traveling, how hilarious it was to watch Trump in the GOP debates, and inevitably our conversations turned to relationships (just like they always do no matter where you go).

What I particularly loved about this part of our conversation is that his questions were thought provoking. Usually I just get the “Do you have a boyfriend?” to which I respond “No” followed by “Well, why not?” and “How old are you again?” I remind them I am 27 and they balk “Better get a move on it, honey.” I hate these conversations. So, much to my chagrin, I was relieved when he asked me, “Which is more important – mutual respect for your partner or having shared values?”

To be sure I understood what he meant I asked him what his definition of mutual respect and values were. They matched my own; mutual respect being that we appreciate how our values, beliefs, and the way we live our lives may differ from someone we care about and want to be with. We don’t try to change our partners because we love them perfectly as they are no matter how different they may be from us.

Values, on the other hand, are the fundamental beliefs we hold about life and the world. They guide the choices we make in our life, from what we do in our free time to the career we choose to the religion we practice (or choose not to practice) to sex and everything in between.

So which is more important to me? Well, I suppose if I had to choose one or the other it would be shared values. Why? The simple answer is because shared values can coexist with mutual respect while mutual respect will unlikely lead to shared values.

We form our beliefs at a young age and they rarely change over time. Or, if they do, they don’t change all that much. That isn’t to say there can’t be differences in interests or the way we perceive the world, but at the end of the day, if you and your partner don’t share similar values it’s unlikely the relationship will be successful in the long-term.

When I reflect on my past relationships I see how differences in our core values were often the root cause of some of the ongoing frustrations I had with my significant other. I respected and appreciated our differences because it meant we were both being authentic to our wants, desires, and expectations in life and the world. However, in my experiences, the core values which guided those differences were so disparaging it was a constant struggle to find common ground.

Take my last relationship, for instance. Something just didn’t feel ‘right’ in my gut. It was an inner feeling I had almost from the beginning of our nearly 4 year relationship, yet I went along with it anyways. We had similar interests, of course, but I observed over time the fundamental differences in our values. For example, because he had two children, I was able to see how he parented and though he was an exceptional Dad, I often disagreed with his choices. Not to say he was wrong in how he chose to raise his kids, just that it was different from how I would raise mine, which surely would be a point of contention if we were to get married and have kids of our own.

When it came to religion, he was a devout Catholic. His relationship with God was a priority in his life and though I also grew up Catholic and frequently attended church with him, I knew my relationship with Him would never quite measure up to his own. Moreover, I didn’t want to send my kids to Catholic school and that, absolutely, was where his kids would go, no question.

When it came to our careers, I worked to live. He lived to work. It was an ongoing argument between the two of us because I wanted to spend quality time together and for our relationship to be a priority in his life. Of course, there were more differences than just those I listed here (like the fact I’m a Libertarian and he is extremely Conservative), but the point is that because of the fundamental differences in our values, I was always uncomfortable and unhappy.

When I was recently asked what the longest amount of time I spent in a depressive episode was, I thought back to this period of my life and, sadly, I believe it was the 4 years I spent with him. In hindsight, I see how I tried to change my values to align with his and along the way I lost who I was. This is the stage I am at in life right now. Wondering how much of who I am is because of him and how much is authentically me. The silver lining is that I gained a deeper understanding of myself, although that didn’t necessarily happen until after the break up.

I certainly don’t believe my values have to perfectly align with my partner’s. I just believe that the most important ones should. The longevity of a relationship is tested during those big life-altering decisions we have to make and if compatibility doesn’t extend beyond shared interests, mutual respect, and passion, we will never be in tune with one another.

I’m curious what other people think. Do you agree? Disagree?

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Filed under dating, insight, relationships, self-introspection, travel, values

The absurdity of friends with benefits

B is a good friend and co-worker of mine. We walk every day during our work breaks and more often than not we spend our 15 minutes making obscene jokes and coming up with absurd “life is like” metaphors. For example, “Life is like a bump in the road. Everything is going fine and then BAM! And you’re freaking the fuck out, but really it’s nothing.” On a rare occasion, though, we actually have insightful and thought-provoking conversations and today was one of those days when I read an article about how awesome friends with benefits relationships are and it pissed me the fuck off. So thank you, B, for listening to my rant this morning and for challenging me to examine my own beliefs about the subject. Here it is, folks.

Friends with benefits – aka FWB – is not black and white. It occupies a gray area that extends beyond casual sex, yet lacks the explicit commitment of monogamy in a long-term, serious relationship.

A common misconception about FWB relationships is that it is usually with someone you barely know. In reality, though, the likelihood that this person is someone we know fairly well and with whom we share some level of emotional intimacy is high. It is not impossible to find success in a FWB relationship but it does require a separation between love and sex, which for many of us can be hard to sustain.

I don’t know what it is about us as a species that sharing our bodies with another person evokes a sense of ownership over them but undoubtedly most of us will experience a sense of jealousy when we see our FWB flirting and talking with other people or if we see someone else pursuing them. Yet, we also don’t feel like we have the “right” to be jealous given the sense of casualness and detachment a FWB relationship implies.

When we fully realize the other person isn’t bothered by us being with someone else and in fact may even encourage it, we can’t help but feel like they don’t care. Though s/he may try to convince you it doesn’t change the way they feel towards you or that you share something special together, their lackadaisical attitude makes us question if we are just a muse – a “placeholder” until something better comes along.

What is even more aggravating is the set of rules we must abide by. Do not fall in love. Do not introduce them to your friends or family. Be sure to go out with other people. Do not get jealous. Do not cuddle.

This is the absurdity of friends with benefits. We are human beings. We are not devoid of emotional attachments. Part of our attraction to someone is not just their appearance but their brains and their heart and their soul. They hold some sort of significance in our lives. It is foolish to think otherwise.

We can argue that any amount of genuine feelings for another human being is worth any future pain and disappointment we may feel but the only thing I see at the end of a friends with benefits relationship is hurt and the fact that I would inevitably resent and possibly even hate the other person.

Plus, that sort of arrangement – when one person starts to develop deeper feelings for the other – only serves to fuel our sense of inadequacy. What is it about me that makes me not good enough? Why doesn’t the person I am falling for find it worthy of their time to actually be with me? Am I that unlovable?

You are good enough. You are worthy. You are lovable. But if there is one absolute when it comes to relationships, it’s that no one will ever love you because you demand it. It must be given of their own free will.

We can justify sacrificing our desire for something more for the fun we are having now, but ask yourself if that fun is worth the emotional fallout in the end. If you have been in a friends with benefits relationship and found it unfulfilling after a certain period of time, did you not know in your gut that continuing that arrangement was the wrong thing to do?

I’ve asked myself if it is possible for the friendship to still be in tact even after the “benefits” are over. Depending on who you ask, some may say yes and others will say it is unrealistic. I don’t think either answer is wrong and I myself am not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. But I do know that we all deserve love and if the person you are falling for tells you they cannot – or do not want to – offer you what you ultimately desire, believe them. But do not fault them for that either.

From personal experience, I know it is difficult to change the circumstances of a friends with benefits relationship in order to preserve the actual friendship but be brave enough to do it anyways. In the end, really good friends who have sex – while it sounds ideal – is a lonely place to be.

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Filed under dating, friends, insight, love, relationships, sex

Dating organically

Have you ever found it challenging to let relationships evolve organically? It’s something I’ve struggled with recently and I think that is perhaps because of my prior relationship experience – when I spent nearly four years with someone only to never have them fully commit to me. Moving forward with my life, I’ve found that is something I’m not willing to compromise on. For anyone I date, my expectation is that both of us communicate what we want and are respectful of each other’s feelings. Somehow, though, I’ve come to equate feeling safe and secure in a relationship with a requirement that the other person profess a level of commitment to me early on instead of letting the relationship progress naturally. But I ask myself this: what is wrong with reveling in the status of your relationship exactly as it is? What is wrong with taking things slow? What is wrong with nurturing the connection you feel to this other person? Nothing Lindsay. Nothing at all. And perhaps that is exactly what you need to be focusing on right now – bonding, understanding each other (particularly your differences), and learning to communicate openly and without judgement. Aren’t these necessary qualities for any relationship to be successful in the long run?

I think this is a concept everyone, at some point, has probably struggled with. Particularly people in my generation because of the pervasive “hook up” culture we operate in, which gives us the permission to not commit and easily walk away. To combat that, we push and push and we try to force a pledge to one another before either of us, truthfully, are ready to take that next step. Men do this but I think women do it more.

If anything, I’m learning that letting love flow naturally is not the same thing as being passive. It doesn’t mean compromising your wants, values, and expectations/intentions. In fact, it requires reflection and self-awareness. In those moments of reflection, especially in recent weeks, I’ve realized how I react and the things I do have contributed to my disappointments and kept me from the love I desired.

In particular, I’m talking about assumptions and control. When the person you are dating says or does something to cause you to doubt or question the status of your relationship, it is easy to add your own meaning to his/her words and actions. You interpret those situations as what you think is going on instead of what is actually happening. I know for me this is likely due to all those fears I hold, of being vulnerable and open about my feelings.

And, when it comes to control, when we are uncertain about the future and what it holds we try to force things to happen in the manner in which we hope it will turn out in the end. But the more we try to force something and the more we try to control what is happening, the more things don’t work out exactly as we planned. I think this urge to control is often because of a lack of trust, even when that person has given us no reason not to trust them. For most of us, this is probably shaped by negative or traumatic experiences we’ve had in the past. But remember that who you are dating now is not the same person you used to date. You have to stop assuming (there’s that word again) they are. People do terrible, awful things all the time. And yes, there are bad people out there. But there are also a lot of good people. Nothing will happen if you don’t give the other person a chance to show you that.

In the end, falling in love will happen organically. It arises out of friendship. So be present and enjoy each other’s company. Everything will turn out exactly as it is supposed to.

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Filed under dating, expectations, love, relationships, self-awareness

Dating with a mental illness

I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family most will say that when it comes to timing I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Shit started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and ‘check please’ reaction but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I have spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know that not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

 

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Filed under bipolar II, dating, mental illness, rejection, relationships, vulnerability