Evaluate Your Relationship, Not Your Partner

At risk of embarrassing myself (and a friend of mine), I’m going to share with you a conversation  I had in 2008 when I was debating whether or not I should get married. It contained some priceless advice that I want to share with you.

Now, just because I am a dating coach doesn’t mean I don’t have a million of my own issues. I read self-help books, I take seminars, I’ve gone to therapists. You name it, I’ve done it, all in the name of gaining self-knowledge and pursuing happiness. In other words, I try to practice what I preach. Don’t complain life’s not working for you; figure out how you can tackle it more effectively.

Now, just because I am a dating coach doesn’t mean I don’t have a million of my own issues.

Anyway, since I am a notorious worrier/navel-gazer/overanalyzer, I had some deep concerns about my future with my then-girlfriend. She and I had been dating for a year, and, since she was 38, I really had to come to some conclusions fast. I could think of no better confidant than my close friend, Scott Greenberg.

Scott is not only one of my first friends in Los Angeles from 1996 and a nationally recognized motivational speaker, but he’s also been married for ten years. (He met his wife at Johnny Depp’s Viper Room, the same way most nice Jewish boys end up finding love).

Anyway, while I was pouring out my heart to Scott over tofu scramble at Swingers, he sat back and watched me with a bemused look on his face. Needless to say, this pissed me off. I asked him what he was smirking at.

“You,” he said, “have absolutely no problems whatsoever. You’re creating them yourself.”

This took me aback. “Having serious questions and doubts about the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with isn’t considered a problem by you?”

He smirked again. “You don’t have any doubts about your girlfriend. You only have doubts about yourself.”

He was right. If there was one thing I knew, it was that my girlfriend was the single best person I’d ever met. My question was whether that was enough. Shouldn’t she be more ambitious, more well-read, and make more money? Shouldn’t she be a few years younger? Shouldn’t we agree on concepts of God and religion?

More smirking. “I’m going to give you one piece of advice that I used myself. You ready?”

“I’m ready.”

Don’t evaluate the woman. Evaluate the relationship. You can always find someone younger, cuter, smarter, richer… But that doesn’t mean you’ll have a great partnership with her. So even if you could say that your partner is a “7″ or “8″, if your RELATIONSHIP together is a “10″, that’s really what matters most.”

Don’t evaluate the woman. Evaluate the relationship.

I took this in for a second. Scott saw me processing. “So?” he said. “How’s your relationship?”

“10,” I replied, without a moment’s hesitation.

“You know what to do,” he smiled.

That advice, from a very wise and happily married man, changed my life. It is no disrespect to my wife to say that I wasn’t positive if we were meant to be. All relationships are a choice. The easier choices come when you’re intoxicated by passion and you’re not thinking clearly. Sometimes those relationships work out; more often, they don’t. I thought I was thinking very clearly while I was courting my wife. Turns out I was wrong.

There was never anything wrong with her; there was only me, looking for reasons to run away from the best relationship I had ever known.

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t think I knew it all – and more glad that I have friends who know more than I do…

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Comments:

  1. 31
    Heather

    Sayanta-

    I grew up without a father and very few men in my life. I had no male relatives near my age, and one sister. To this day we are a very female-centric family. We were not conservative, though I grew up with an old-fashioned grandmother who was more like my mother than my actual mother (who had mental illness issues and couldn’t really function as a parent). My grandmother was from a completely different world than young women in the U.S. today (or in the 80′s when I was a teen) and wasn’t much help with my modern problems. There was a lot of emotional distance in my family – not a place to nurture warm fuzzy feelings about the opposite sex, or people in general.

    I went through a very painful time in junior high when boys (and grown men) would harrass me everywhere I went. I had adopted this sort of punk-rock look that really bothered people and it made me a bit of a moving target. I was 13 years old and people were saying some seriously mean, rude, and outright nasty things to me that I didn’t have the maturity to understand or even process. From this experience I became extremely self conscious, and since it happened around the time of puberty I never became comfortable with myself sexually. It also made me completely distrust and become turned off by the vast majority of men. When people criticize me for being too picky, all I can say is that they don’t understand what it’s like to have had the experience of actually seeing men in the light of ‘heartless enemy’. And, in case anyone is going to ask, I have been in therapy for this for the past few years.

    Despite this, I did have the capacity to ‘like’ certain guys and develop very strong crushes from an early age. There wasn’t a lot of love and support in my family so I desperately looked for it elsewhere. It was only recently that I got over that and started to see relationships with the opposite sex as being for fun and adding to the quality of my life, as opposed to something to patch a great big void in my soul. I have made progress.

    In case any of you are wondering, despite my experiences in life, I am not a psycho-chick, I actually make pleasant company, and have managed to get myself from welfare kid to architect in my life. I am a success story, not a pathetic damaged person. I just have a lot of trouble with men, that’s all.

    The only thing that really bugs me anymore is when I can’t have a certain guy I fancy, because, given my way of looking at things, there aren’t a whole lot of guys I fancy. I guess I haunt sites like this one looking for answers to make my chances a little better next time one of those rare birds comes along.

  2. 32
    Karl R

    Heather said: (#29)
    “It’s comforting to know that dating isn’t done with an agenda.”

    A lot of dating is done with an agenda. But yours doesn’t have to be. And if you go in without an agenda, then the pressure is off you.

    Let him be the one with first-date jitters.

    “It is a bit of a crippling injury to me when that 1 in 100? guy rejects me, especially one I had in my grasp. It means I have to meet another 100 to find another guy I’d want to date.”

    So there’s going to be mutual interest with every 1 in 1000 men. You call that crippling? You live in a city of 12 million. You’re not about to run out.

    Let’s assume I like about 1 in 20 women, and a similar number like me. (That’s probably close to accurate.) That means that there’s a mutual connection with about 1 in 400. I realize that means I hit about 2.5 mutual connections for every one of yours, but I’d hardly consider your rate to be crippling.

    “I probably have to meet 1000 before one of those 1 in 100? guys actually asks me out or I will have the social connection to see him someplace again.”

    Why wait for him to ask you out? If you’re in a situation where you’ll run into him every week, you have the luxury of waiting. If this is someone you might not ever see again, why wait?

    A year ago I sat down in a diner next to an attractive woman. I had no expectation of ever meeting her again, so I had until the end of brunch to make a connection. I left the diner with her phone number and an excuse to use it. We only went on two dates, but that was two more than if I’d waited to see if I could run across her again.

    If you start making the first move, you will get rejected. A lot. But for the last three years I don’t have any “What if I had just asked” moments. I know the answer, because I asked.

    I know one couple that started dating because the woman asked the man, “Why haven’t you asked me out yet?” The guy’s a little thick, but he got that hint.

    “I couldn’t flirt my way out of a paper bag. I try sometimes and fail mightily.”

    Ask the guy a question about something he’s interested in. Preferably something he’s passionate about.

    If that doesn’t work, ask him why he hasn’t asked you for your phone number yet.

    “What about pleasing your partner? Isn’t that part of sex too? How will I ever learn to do that if I’m not getting any real experience?”

    Experience is overrated. Most people end up repeating the same things over and over again. It’s easy to catch up to that kind of experience in a short period of time.

    The biggest key to pleasing your partner is trying. A year and a half ago I dated a virgin. She’d never been past second base. She was far better than the women who didn’t bother to try.

    Educate yourself. I suppose you could use porn, but I’d recommend something a lot less titilating and a lot more technical. In my early 20s, I got ahead of my peers (despite having zero experience) by knowing what the clitoris was and where it was located.

    Pay attention to non-verbal signals. If you try something and get a reaction, it either felt good or hurt (maybe both). If it felt good, remember it for later. Give non-verbal signals if your partner is doing something you like, too.

    Mirroring. If your partner does something to you, it usually means that it either works well on them, or it worked well on a previous partner of theirs. If it’s anatomically possible, try the same thing on them to see how they react.

    Communicate. Tell your partner specific things that turn you on. Encourage them to share similar information.

    Try to learn as much as possible from each experience. Most of the other people aren’t, so your experience will be more valuable than theirs.

  3. 33
    Heather

    Karl R-

    Thanks for not getting on my case about the 1 in 1000 thing. It has raised some hackles elsewhere!

    Me ask a guy out? Isn’t that against the law or something? (Haha.) I hope I don’t come across as desperate if I do that. Nothing makes a guy bolt like the smell of desperation. I’ll tell you what – I will try that … then I will report back with my sob stories ;)

    You’ve got a lot of clear-cut ideas about the sex experience thing. Are you some sort of doctor? I’ll see if I can find some non-pornographic books on the topic, but then I’ll probably wish I had someone to practice on. Ack! If only I could forget about all this and just live.

  4. 34
    Anisa

    Yes Heather, I believe those are the key-words:
    “If only you could forget about all this and just LIVE.”

  5. 35
    Karl R

    Heather said: (#33)
    “Me ask a guy out? [...] I hope I don’t come across as desperate if I do that.”

    It’s all in the presentation.

    You’ve mentioned that lots of men (whom you weren’t interested in) have hit on you. Did all of them seem desperate? (I’m assuming not.) What was different between the desperate ones and the non-desperate ones?

    “Are you some sort of doctor?”

    I’m an analyst with a consulting firm. It’s legal/financial work.

  6. 38
    Anette C

    Okay I have to reply to Sayanta on this one.

    This is uncanny. I went to an all girls school, and the same issue applies to me. Dad was around, but worked OS, so wasn’t available that often. No brothers. Very few male friends. 2 sisters and a critical(some-what man-blaming) mother.

    Males were alway’s “The opposite sex”. I still struggle with this, but believe it or not, I am making headway. Here’s just a few things I’m doing to make it better.

    I’ve decided to stop dating, looking for some-one and even if a nice boy comes along, I’ve told myself I won’t persue it. This is to give myself a sense of ease. I know, more than anything else that I need to learn to “like” men and be a genuine friend to them before I can love them. So any male contact is deliberately and specifically intended as pure friendship no matter how cute he may be. It’s taking time but I’m getting there.

    2ndly, I decided that I needed to treat men, the way I’d treat a female friend, in terms of how chatty, caring and respectful I am. Easier said than done but keep it in the back of your mind alway’s and you will slowly begin to observe your own behaviour around males, and realize you aren’t being yourself…even with a guy you have no interest in. I behave how I think I’m expected too, instead of how I want to. I don’t do that with female friends.

    3rdly for me at least, once I get back out there I know that there are a few things I need before I can relax. My background plus past problem relationships mean that I simply cannot sleep with a man straight away. Regardless of how men may view this(holding the keys to the gate, making him work for it, don’t like him enough etc), I realize it’s what I need. If the physical happens too soon, I get too caught up in it, and I really need that friendship first. So it’s for me, not against or about him and a simple decision like that, has really helped me relax when thinking about future partners.

    I think this is actually a really big problem for women(and men perhaps) that had no real contact with members of the opposite gender during those informative years.

    I’d actually love to see what Evan thinks about that one. :)

  7. 39
    Sayanta

    Annette-

    Thanks for your response- you know, I’m glad you said all this. because I feel the same way about how I’d like to meet someone (I know you said you’re not looking to meet someone, I’m just talking about my own desires). Ideally, I’d love a romance to develop from a deep friendship. The problem is, I have trouble making friends with men! lol

    It’s like you said, though I try not to, I can’t stop thinking of them as ‘the other.’ Hence the discomfort talking to them. You’re right, it’s something to be vigilant in developing self-awareness about. But, as all growth-inducing things, easier said than done!

    That’s why the whole Internet dating thing isn’t for me- even though I continue to do it. LOL It bypasses the whole friendship factor- because people, both men and women, tend to go in with huge expectations right away.

    I don’t know…I do want to solve this issue before I get involved with anyone. At the same time, this isn’t the kind of thing that can be solved overnight, or even soon. And I don’t want to wait until 50 to get into something serious.

    Not to undermine Evan’s talents or anything, but the stuff we’re talking about seems to be something to ask a therapist rather than a dating coach. :-D

  8. 40
    A-L

    Reading about Anette, Sayanta, and Heather’s experiences has been quite interesting. I had a similar upbringing to Anette and Sayanta: conservative family where I wasn’t allowed to date until college, no close male family members near my age, etc. I also “developed” physically very early and had some bad experiences with boys in relation to that. In a weird way though I think that having those experiences so early on allowed for me to recover earlier on. So by the time I was in high school I was able to interact fairly normally with guys, even though there wasn’t anything romantic going on. I also had some male friends in college, though my dating life remained abysmal. (I also remain awful at flirting; it’s a skill I’ve never picked up.)

    My dating life finally started to pick up in grad school, and then was maintained via internet dating once I left school. And I think I wasn’t particularly nervous because I didn’t feel as though I had a lot at stake. I wasn’t looking for the love of my life, I just wanted to see what dating was like and what that person was like. And I guess that’s how I’ve continued to approach dating. So long as I was enjoying it and could see it as a healthy relationship (though I did toy with an unhealthy one or two) then I continued.

    All this being said though, I think that the whole When Harry Met Sally thing might be right. I think that once a certain age is hit (probably once leaving college, or school, however you want to define it) that straight men and women can’t just be friends, that at least one person always is wondering/hoping if something will become romantic. There have been guys with whom I got along really well, thought were funny, enjoyed some of the same off-kilter activities, etc, but just didn’t feel the romantic attraction for them. Our “friendship” lasted for a year before the guy revealed that he had feelings for me and could no longer be my friend unless I wanted to become more than friends. The other guy didn’t quite last as long. And other guys I’ve encountered it just hasn’t developed either. Maybe it’s because they only view the opposite sex as a romantic interest, or their significant other might be P.O.ed at the development of a new friendship with a potential competitor, or…? But unfortunately, I don’t think that developing a close, platonic friendship with a straight guy is likely once you’re out of school.

    Anyway, just my $0.02.

  9. 41
    Heather

    I’m not sure men and women can’t be friends. There is always this weird tension, though. I happen to get along very well with the opposite sex, I just can’t get turned on by them very easily. I have a few close male friends, let me give you a breakdown of these relationships (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

    ‘Bernie’ is a guy I talk a lot of shop with (we work in similar design professions) and commiserate about the perpetual single status with. He’s a good looking guy and I get along with him, but I don’t find myself attracted to him. He’s a bit of a man-whore and that’s a red flag to me, but I do enjoy his company. He’s never made a move on me, and at one of his parties he commented to me that I was the only woman in attendance who he hadn’t ‘dated’ at some point (I think it’s safe to assume that means ‘didn’t have sex with’.)

    ‘Pete’ is a guy I met a while back. I slept with him the first night I met him, mostly because I was so sexually frustrated and I was very drunk. I didn’t particularly care for him as relationship material, he doesn’t have his shit together, so a relationship would be out of the question. I had an emotional conversation with him however and we bonded over having similar taste and similar family ‘issues’. He remains my friend to this day, I regard him like a little brother (perverse as that sounds). We never had sex again and I don’t want that to happen anymore.

    My ‘best friend’, we’ll call him ‘Henry’, is a guy I dated for a few months, who loves me dearly and is always there for me, but I could never form an attraction to him so I ended the courtship. We only had sex one time. He’s a great guy in every sense of the word, and if I could force myself somehow to be attracted to him it might have been perfect. But I couldn’t. He has a new girlfriend now, but we’re still close.

    ‘Jake’ is an old college friend I looked up recently. Back in college I had a HUGE crush on him, but he was married and I was an emotional wreck, so, as you can imagine, that was not going to turn out pretty. Nothing ever happened between us other than kissing a few times (which he initiated, not me.) I’ve gone out to dinner with him a few times in the past few months since I contacted him. He’s an amazing person who lives a very unconventional life. We have great conversations. The last time we hung out he confessed to me that he was in love with me back in college. I fear he still is in love with me and that is what is motivating his friendliness (and, yes, he’s still married). I wouldn’t be able to resurrect that crush I had on him even if, for some unknown reason, I would want to. So, I don’t know how that is going to turn out – I’ll just have to be careful I guess. 15 years after I was madly in love with him – the guy confesses he was in love with me? It just ain’t right.

    And, last but not least, the man who ruined me, ‘Charles’. I met him last year, and though he claims to be my friend, I cannot believe him. He’s more of an IM chat buddy, and he hasn’t even been there in that capacity lately. He did (very nervously) kiss me once, and that only added to the confusion. I can’t be his friend because I’m totally in love with him. Why? I have no clue. But it became impossible for me to become attracted to anyone else since I met him. I guess, in some ways, it keeps me out of trouble, but it’s made dating impossible for me. I compare everyone to him, and I look for clones of him on dating websites, and it just isn’t going to happen. It has really turned my thinking about love inside out and I’m not sure I’m better for it.

    So, those are my ‘platonic’ male compadres. The lot of them, with the exception of the last one, are totally ‘there’ for me any hour of the day. And what about that last one – why does he claim to be my friend when he could have just walked away from me and my attraction to him? Yes, male-female friendships are not easy to figure out, that’s for sure.

  10. 42
    Sayanta

    I don’t know Heather- you still seem to be getting more action than I am! lol

    I would run, not walk, from the married dude though- and stay as far away as possible. He’s a total scumbag.

  11. 44
    Sayanta

    43-

    LOL- that was brutal….anyway. As for me, notice I said I would want a romance to develop from friendship.

  12. 45
    Heather

    Haha – that’s a funny article. I’m afraid I do occasionally complain about being hopelessly single to all of my male friends – but then again I complain about it to everyone. If they want to listen I’m not gonna stop them ;)

    The only thing I ‘use’ them for is conversation and companionship when I go out sometimes. Since I’m not actually dating anyone or getting ‘hot sex’ I’m not torturing any of them unknowingly with that. I tend to approach the males in my life with the absolute conviction that there is no sexual interest on their part. Everybody tells me this couldn’t be further from the truth, but I don’t buy it. I’m fairly attractive but men keep a distance from me. I’m cursed I tell you!

  13. 46
    JerseyGirl

    Good advice.

  14. 47
    Getting An Ex Back

    Pretty Interesting publish. Couldnt be written any better. Reading this publish reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this publish to him. Fairly sure he will have a great study. Thanks for sharing!

  15. 48
    That East Asian Man

    Dear Evan.  After reading all of your blog posts from December 2005 to December 2011, I’ve concluded that this one is my favorite.  It answers the question that bedevils the dating scene here in Southern California, where thousands of attractive men and women are available in each category of age.
    From a woman’s viewpoint, that question is commonly expressed as “Why should I settle for my current boyfriend, when I can find another man who is taller, wealthier, and better educated?”  From a man’s viewpoint, the question is commonly expressed as “Why should I settle for my current girlfriend, when I can find another woman who is younger and more beautiful?”
    As you so wisely point out, that question -  in whatever form – is irrelevant for anyone seeking marriage or a long-term relationship.  The more appropriate question to ask is set forth within your wonderful blog post.  Thank you for steering us in the right direction.

  16. 49
    Lisa Ambers

    Thank you for sharing your ideas through this blog. It is well written and alot of information included. I’ve learn new stuff here with regards to relationships and more. Keep it up!

  17. 50
    Paula

    what if you don’t know how to rate the relationship? What is the criteria?

  18. 51
    susan

    so it really isn’t me, it’s you? without a doubt i have been ”passed over” as a result of my FDH and my RDL (recently departed love) because of them both agonising over their own stuff, not to do with me.
    They both missed a great opportunity and state so.
     

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