Are You Constantly Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop?

I am in an amazing relationship with an amazing guy. It’s only been 6 weeks but it’s the best relationship I’ve ever had; he’s totally devoted to me, asked me to be his girlfriend 3 weeks in (before we even slept together) and he tells me daily how lucky he feels to have met me. And yet…I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop!! Because of my ex and past heartbreaks, I feel like this can’t possibly be real, and I keep wondering when I’m going to find out that he’s an asshole or a liar or an alcoholic… Yes, I know, that’s a lot of fear. There are moments where I have felt totally convinced that he has lost interest or is lying and then he says or does something amazing that makes me realize what a paranoid weirdo I’m being.

So anyway, yeah, your email really resonated with me. If I consider your question “How would you act if you knew that your relationship was safe and permanent?” I guess the answer is that if I knew the relationship were safe and permanent, I would be able to actually enjoy this thrilling and wonderful phase of falling in love!!

if I knew the relationship were safe and permanent, I would be able to actually enjoy this thrilling and wonderful phase of falling in love!!

My question for you is: I am not a psychic and I have no way of knowing this relationship is safe or permanent. So how do I stop catastrophizing? Just pretend like it is safe and permanent?

Thank you for all that you do!!
Alicia

My 20’s were rough. Anxiety. Moving from NY to LA. Depression. Friendlessness. Professional failure. Losing my Dad. Dysfunctional relationships. For a guy who had a little too much confidence in college, I pretty much got my ass kicked all over the field until I was in my 30’s. Things finally changed when I wrote my first book, I Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book – A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating,” in 2004. The book got a nice review in Time, which led to a feature on USA Today, which led to a feature on CNN, which led me to drop out of UCLA Film School to pursue e-Cyrano Profile Writing full-time.

In retrospect, the major issues causing all of my problems were uncertainty, instability and scarcity. Once I found a career in which I felt like I could control my own destiny, my confidence came back, money started to roll in, and I felt more comfortable raising my standards for dating. Seven years after I wrote my first book, I was married, financially secure, bought a house, and had a daughter.

And then I ran into a friend who I knew from my 20’s, who pretty much knew me as a struggling screenwriter who liked online dating and talking about feelings. When I updated him on my whereabouts for the past few years, a smile broke across his face, which I was able to read instantly as: “Look what happened to you!”

Sure enough, just as you wrote to me about your good fortune in love, I told my friend that I’d had a great run and I was terribly worried that the other shoe was going to drop.

I never forgot what he said to me next:

“Did you ever consider that the first 35 years of your life WAS the other shoe?”

“Did you ever consider that the first 35 years of your life WAS the other shoe?”

It hit me like a smack in the face.

Instead of operating from that place that said things MUST go wrong because they always go wrong, he instantly reframed everything to point out that I’d already paid my dues and this was my time to finally relax and enjoy myself.

Could he have known that, definitively? Of course not.

But instead of waking up every day worrying about whether I’m going to get cancer or what the climate will look like for my children or whether my wife is going to fall in love with another man, I choose not to look past my good fortune.

Sure enough, the more confident you are, the more present you are, the more appreciative you are, the more the world around you rewards you.

So while I can’t guarantee that your wonderful new boyfriend will be your future husband, I think you can’t get much better advice than treating him as if he will be and seeing what happens from there.

Enjoy what you have, and who knows, maybe the other shoe will never drop at all.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    KK

    “Did you ever consider that the first 35 years of your life WAS the other shoe?”

    Love this!

  2. 2
    Noquay

    There are no guarantees in life. Bad stuff may happen-or not. People might be there for you or they may turn out to be horrid. You have to put in the time and accept risk. This is why it is sooooo important to be strong, stable and have a highly functional life on your own before you seek a rship.

  3. 3
    Clare

    To be fair, they are only 6 weeks into the relationship. The first 6 weeks are usually wonderful. It is very common to feel like those first 6 weeks are the most wonderful relationship you’ve ever had.

    Most dating and relationship coaches caution you to take it slow and not get ahead of yourself in the first few months of a relationship because this is known as the honeymoon phase.

    I’m not trying to rain on Alicia’s parade… I truly hope her relationship stays wonderful and that her boyfriend continues to treat her amazingly. But the honest truth is that most people put their best foot forward at the beginning, and that it takes a few months for someone’s issues to surface.

    I’m not saying that so that Alicia will be fearful. Anxiety and being afraid that the other shoe will drop is not good for a relationship. She should relax and enjoy it for all its wonderfulness. However, I would just say to be careful to take it slowly and give the relationship more time to unfold. Once they’ve been together 6 months and a year she will have more of an idea who this man truly is.

  4. 4
    Elle1

    Evan provided a wonderful answer. But it may also be helpful for the OP to have some short-term therapy sessions just to clear away some of the baggage from the past. She seems to be functioning well, so therapy would just help her work through this stuff faster and resolve it. When J.K. Rowling became famous with the Harry Potter books, she decided to see a therapist to help her deal with all the changes in her life. She found it very helpful and openly talks about it as a beneficial experience.

    Worrying constantly can create behaviors that become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can also create thinking patterns that generate more fear and anxiety that might eventually develop into a full blown anxiety disorder with panic attacks, etc. Not fun. So some therapy now might help avoid all of that.

  5. 5
    sylvana

    I think it is wise to not even bother entering any sort of relationship unless you are able to go into it with an “enjoy it while it lasts” attitude.

    Chances of finding that once-in-a-lifetime love so many women dream about are slim to none. You can get a good relationship with a man you care about (and who treats you well), and whom you’ll hopefully come to love in a way that is not all that soul-shattering. That way you can find a happy medium without that feeling of life-ending devastation if it ends.

    In general, if you consider yourself to be more in love with a good relationship than the actual person you’re with, you’ll have a lot easier time in life. If one leaves, it’ll be sad, but you simply pick yourself  back up and find another one who meets your relationship criteria.

    And you’ve obviously already had a few boyfriends. So you know that they can be replaced. Simply enjoy it while it lasts. And if it is forever, great. Don’t put too much emphasis on the actual person. But rather on the qualities you want out of a partner. And always keep in mind that you can find those in another person should the current one change or leave.

     

     

     

    1. 5.1
      Jeremy

      This is not good advice IMO.  It is a way to be unhappy, and to make your partner unhappy.  Entering into a relationship with low expectations and the attitude of ”enjoying it while it lasts” sets up the expectation of failure – makes long-term loving marriage almost impossible (because, as we’ve said before, such success depends on one’s attitude).  Loving a relationship but not a person will not result in that person being happy with you, nor you being willing to make that person happy in any fundamental way.  The reason so many women find it difficult to find that one “soul-shattering love” is because they expect it to look different than it does.  Soul shattering love comes AFTER you’ve built a life together, not while on the 15th date over dinner or in the bedroom.  And it doesn’t come at all when all one loves is the relationship and considers the partner to be fungible.  The OP here is just suffering from some anxiety.  It would be helpful for her to identify the automatic thoughts beneath her emotions and challenge them.  Not to re-wire her entire concept of love, relationships, and goals.

       

      1. 5.1.1
        sylvana

        Well,

        honestly, I find the whole thing a bit of a conundrum.

        There are two contradictory statements at work when it comes to romantic relationships. On one hand, you’re partner isn’t supposed to be fungible. On the other hand, it’s not considered healthy to become that attached to one particular person. (Funny how no one will say that about your kids). 

        Basically, when it comes to romantic relationships, your partner is supposed to be irreplaceable….until they’re not. If a relationship ends, you’ll mourn, recover, then the advice will be to pick yourself up, go out and – guess what? –

        replace your partner with another one.

        So which is it? Is her partner fungible or not?

        Or is it a matter of not fungible until they want to be fungible (aka end the relationship)? Fungible under certain conditions?

        What advice would you give a forty-something year old woman whose husband of twenty years left her for his younger secretary? What if she tells you he is the love of her life, and irreplaceable/not fungible to her? That she’ll never have another relationship. What if you knew she was always determined to make the marriage last, and did everything in her power to do so?

        Seek counseling? Because a romantic partner should not be that important to her? That the irreplaceable can actually be replaced?

        Or would you tell her “you’re right. As your partner of twenty-something years, he should not be fungible. Too bad he thought otherwise”?

        Enjoying it while it lasts does not equal less happiness. If the goal is to have a wonderful relationship (rather than having a certain person for a partner), that doesn’t mean you won’t do your best to make the other person happy. If you didn’t, it would be impossible to have that relationship.

        It simply means that having a wonderful relationship is not depending on one particular person/partner. And therefore, the partner is, in fact, replaceable. 

        The problem with the success of long-term loving marriages is that they do NOT depend on one’s attitude. They depend on TWO people’s attitudes and a bunch of other factors. A person can do everything right, and still not have a guarantee of actually succeeding.

        The reason so many women find it difficult to find that one “soul-shattering love” is because they expect it to look different than it does.

        Here we go again.

        Why are women always told that if they only changed their expectations, they could have everything they want? Isn’t that a total oxymoron?

        Obviously, she can’t have what she wants if she has to change her expectations to get it.

        Apply this to any other thing in life, and see if it makes any sense.

        My dream is to own and drive a Ferrari. And I can definitely have that dream…as long as I change my expectations. So I can have my Ferrari, and drive it, too – as long as I only expect it to be a Ford. Or do I simply not recognize the Ford as being a Ferrari, because I expect it to actually look and drive like a Ferrari, not like a Ford? So the fact that the Ford is not a Ferrari is actually my fault.

        I can have my dream career as a CEO of a huge hospital chain, as long as I expect it to involve only flipping burgers at McDonalds. Obviously, that CEO career shouldn’t look like what I expect it to look like, because my expectations are wrong/too high/unrealistic.

        I can have the relationship of my dreams, as long as I don’t expect to get any of the things that would make it my dream relationship out of it.

        That never made sense to me.

        While I agree with you that you’re not likely to find soul-shattering love within the first 15 dates (or a short period of time in general), building a life together does not mean you’ll ever feel that kind of love.

        It’s a bond, a connection, a feeling that cannot be developed. It either exists, or it doesn’t. And it is very rare that two people who feel the same about each other in that way actually come together. But if they do, everyone around them can feel it as well.

        I would say it’s something that men simply don’t understand. But I’ve actually seen it in more men than women. Although women definitely dream about it more often than men.

        Does it exist? Certainly. But the majority of even great relationships don’t have it.

        And it becomes rather frustrating when women are told they CAN have their dream, as long as they completely change their dream.

        It would be helpful for her to identify the automatic thoughts beneath her emotions and challenge them.  Not to re-wire her entire concept of love, relationships, and goals.

        I think she’d have to do a little of both. There’s a reason behind the anxiety. Likely tremendous pain caused by abandonment (and previous break-ups). It wouldn’t do any good to challenge all the negative emotions, become vulnerable again, just to be chopped to pieces again when the next relationship ends.

        Those believes are there for a reason. They protect her from getting too badly hurt. I absolutely agree that she needs to address the unhealthy coping, and heal it. But I also think she needs to establish a healthy way of coping in its place.

        And a healthy way would be for her to realize that she can and will have love and other relationships again, even if this one ends. Meaning, she can replace this particular man with another one, just like he replaced the ones before him. That doesn’t make him any less special, it just makes him “not the only one out there for her.”

        At this point, she is anxious and waiting for it to end, because she fears the end. Take the focus away from the end, and shift it to the fact that relationships and love will always be  there for her, and she’s more likely to even stay in this one. Because she’s no longer focused on the end, but on a relationship and love always being there for her.

         

      2. 5.1.2
        Karl R

        <b>Jeremy said:</b>

        <i>”Entering into a relationship with low expectations and the attitude of ‘enjoying it while it lasts’ sets up the expectation of failure – makes long-term loving marriage almost impossible (because, as we’ve said before, such success depends on one’s attitude).”</i>

         

        I 100% disagree. My relationship with my wife started as a fling. She flat out told me to my face (before it even began), “I do not want a long term relationship with you.” She was several years older than my max age for a partner. But the sex was good, so I decided to enjoy the fling for the time being.

         

        Low expectations allow people to enjoy the early stages of relationships without overthinking (and over-stressing) about the future. That (generally) improved <i>my</i> attitude. I didn’t spent the first few weeks worrying about the next few decades.

         

        If I had freaked out initially, because of the particularly inauspicious beginning for that relationship, I would have never made it to a serious relationship … much less my marriage.

         

        <b>sylvana said:</b>

        <i>”In general, if you consider yourself to be more in love with a good relationship than the actual person you’re with, you’ll have a lot easier time in life.”</i>

         

        I think you’re taking something Evan has said (and I’ve repeated) to an inaccurate conclusion.

         

        <i>”Judge the quality of the relationship, not the person you’re with.”</i> It’s certainly possible to have a crappy relationship with a wonderful person. It’s also possible to have a great relationship with a less amazing person.

         

        How do you have a great relationship with someone, when you care more about the relationship than the person? Would you consider it to be a <i>great</i> relationship if your partner cared more about the relationship than you?

        1. Jeremy

          Karl, I think it’s important to distinguish between 2 different scenarios – one where expectations are low because of the person, the other where expectations are low because of circumstance.  For the former, my prognosis is poor; for the latter my prognosis is guarded.

           

           

          I think that in order for a long-term relationship to be successful, 3 things must be present – attraction, connection/friendship, and compatibility of long-term goals/values.  If expectations in any given relationship are low because one of those factors is missing and the individual sees him/herself as settling, this sets up an attitude that will eventually tank the relationship (or at least the potential for happiness within the relationship).

           

          This is different than a situation where the 3 factors are present, but the individual has low expectations of long-term success because of present life circumstance.  Perhaps they are students and they are far from the stage in their life when they want to settle down.  Perhaps one is on the rebound from another relationship and isn’t necessarily looking for something serious.  In such cases, the expectation isn’t about the person but rather the circumstance – and while I’m not overly optimistic about the long-term success of such cases, I’m not overtly pessimistic about it either. I’ve seen such cases work out.

           

           

          I also think it’s important to distinguish between not freaking out about a new relationship versus having low expectations about it.  I’d agree that freaking out is bad – it’s usually due to anxiety and having overly-high expectations – higher than circumstances warrant.  When I first met my wife, I definitely wasn’t freaking out.  I had a good feeling about her and wanted to see where the relationship would go.  I wasn’t seeing wedding bells and planning my future childrens’ names, but my expectations definitely weren’t LOW.  Not about her as a partner, not about circumstance.  I think that’s important to parse out.

           

  6. 6
    Marika

    Jeremy said:

    Soul shattering love comes AFTER you’ve built a life together, not while on the 15th date over dinner or in the bedroom

    I agree. But given most people, certainly people I’ve discussed this with, disagree, and given dating doesn’t really prepare you for this, what’s the best way to find it? Were you like Evan in your decision making? Did you find someone with similar goals, selfless, caring, attractive and decide she would likely give you the best chance of happiness in the long run?

    If you don’t mind me asking.

    You know my personality type strives for what could be/should be, rather than what is…so I think for me this is a particularly big struggle. The few couples I know who seemed to instinctively figure this out are very different to me. Calm, patient, not very emotional, home body types. Very not me 🙂 Hopefully you can be an outgoing, somewhat restless idealist and still get there..with some help.

    1. 6.1
      Jeremy

      Did you find someone with similar goals, selfless, caring, attractive, and decide she would likely give you the best chance of happiness in the long run?”  Yes, that’s exactly what I did.

       

      It’s not that you can’t be an outgoing, somewhat restless idealist and still find love and happiness.  You can.  You’ll either need an idealist partner with similar ideals to yours (and hope you factor into his list of goals), or a rational partner who understands your goals and loves you enough to prioritize them.  Or a guardian man whose work ethic you respect enough to forgive his concrete orientation.  Or an explorer/artisan man whose qualities you respect enough to bear the brunt of doing all the work in the relationship yourself.  None of these present impossible challenges, just different ones.  The trick is walking the line between understanding that every relationship will have its challenges versus accepting incompatibilities that will make you unhappy.

       

      After I had dated my (now) wife for a few months, I knew she was intelligent, organized, beautiful, family-oriented, had the same lifestyle and family aspirations as me, similar religious and political views, and that we got along really well and found each other attractive.  I also knew that she didn’t like the same types of books and movies as me, that her hobbies and interests differed from mine, that she found intellectual debates emotionally exhausting and that she doesn’t really like discussing abstract concepts – which are my favourite things.  Now, how much does that matter?  What’s the balance?  Each of us decides for ourselves.  But nixing the relationship at that point to find someone who had everything she had but also loved discussing abstract topics would have been masochistic.  And narcissistic.  What, was I looking for the female version of myself?  How would I learn and grow from that?  Should a marriage be an echo chamber?  I can have abstract conversations with anyone, but only build a life with my spouse.  So what’s important, and what isn’t?

  7. 7
    Jeremy

    Sylvana and Marika, regarding love, happiness and expectations…

     

    One night my son was in a funk.  His school buddies had been teasing him, his little sisters had been bothering him, and as I tucked him into bed he told me he had the worst day ever.  I asked him, on a scale of 1-10, how happy he was right then – with 1 being the most unhappy he could imagine and 10 being the absolute happiest he could imagine.  He told me he was about a 2.  I then asked him to picture a man in prison, in solitary confinement.  Living his life in a dank, dark, lonely hole.  And I asked my son how happy such a man would be.  He replied about a 1.  “And what,” I asked, “do you think such a man would ask for in order to be happier?”  My son thought about it and slowly replied, “Well, he’d want some company, some friends, food, entertainment, freedom to come and go as he pleased, the ability to get what he wanted.”  “And if he had those things,” I asked, “how happy do you think he’d become?”  “A 10,” my son replied.  “And I know what you are going to say,” my son then interjected, “That I have all of these things and I just rated my happiness as a 2, not a 10.  But that’s because it all depends on what we compare it to!  Sure, if I compare it to being in prison I had a pretty great day.  But if I compare it to how I hoped my day would go, I’d call it a 2 still.”  “Hmmm,” I replied, “so where was the problem?  Was it with the day you had, or the frame of reference you are using?”

     

    The problem we all have with the notion of happiness is that we consider it to be an absolute measure rather than a relative one.  We assume we’d know it if we had it.  But so often we don’t realize how happy we were until our frame of reference changes.  We get what we want and then we want more.  We don’t appreciate what we have until we lose it.  We exhaust ourselves running on the hedonic treadmill because we don’t see that the only way to beat it is to get off of it.  Sylvana, you asked me “Why are women always told that if only they changed their expectations they could have everything they want?”  Answer – because at the very bottom of all their expectations is the desire to be happy.  All the rest of their desires are chaff – pathways they believe to be the way toward personal happiness and fulfilment, yet have never led them there.  It’s not that changing their expectations will lead them toward the chaff, but rather toward the happiness.  Because whether or not we perceive ourselves to be happy depends on how we frame our reality relative to our expectations, not on our reality in isolation.  This is obvious to a 10 year old child, yet we adults have so much trouble applying it.

     

    Oh, and regarding fungibility….the death of a relationship is often like the death of a loved person.  We go through the 5 stages of grieving just as we would for a person.  And even when we reach acceptance, we will likely still carry a hole in our hearts into the future.  This hole, this heaviness, need not lead to bitterness – might lead to thoughtfulness, gravitas, wisdom, better relationship skills and introspection – but its price is pain.  Just like the death of a person.  And while it is true that everyone we know, everyone we love, will one day die, we should not live our lives building walls against love and investing in the notion of fungibility to guard ourselves against the inevitable day of loss.  We should live and love to the fullest.  And if a loss occurs, we mourn the loss.  And we move on if and when we can.  Just like with a person.  Imagine if we considered our loved ones to be fungible just because we will one day lose them.  Will we be happier in the end?

  8. 8
    Adrian

    Hi Jeremy,

    You said, “The problem we all have with the notion of happiness is that we consider it to be an absolute measure rather than a relative one.

    I agree with this. But what about people who have never been in a happy relationship what do they use for their relative “base” measurement?

    Marika said, “Did you find someone with similar goals, selfless, caring, attractive and “DECIDED” she would likely give you the best chance of happiness in the long run?

    For people who have to develop an emotional attachment/desire for a person  or they wouldn’t date them regardless of how many great long-term relationship qualities that person has like Marika and myself, how does a person decided to go with logic and not emotion?

    You said, “We assume we’d know it if we had it…. We get what we want and then we want more.

    So how does a person know what will make them happy in a relationship without experiencing a happy relationship first? How can you know something when you see it when you have never heard, touched, smelled, tasted, or seen it?

    This is currently my problem, that is why I have started dating more frequently with a bigger variety of women in hopes of figuring out what I want. Because when I find what I thought I wanted I realize it doesn’t make me happy or excited like I thought it would.

    But Marika is different she is more experienced in dating so it can’t just be as simple as dating around a lot until you piece together the things that will make you happy in a relationship or she and millions of others would already be there right?

    …   …   …

    By the way, I see the book you and Evan recommended for Emily, do you have a book you would recommend for me?

    1. 8.1
      Jeremy

      Hi Adrian.

       

      Just to clarify, I’d never suggest pursuing a relationship with a person for whom you don’t feel emotional attachment.  And after a few months, you should feel love for each other.  But you shouldn’t expect the type of love you feel at that point to be the type you’ll continue to feel into the future – or better to say, you shouldn’t expect the RATIO of the types (note, plural) of love that you feel to remain the same.  Therein lies the role of logic – knowing (or best-guessing) what your future self will want from a partner and determining whether the person you’re seeing has those qualities or not.  Because, to choose a random example, a woman might seek out an idealist-type guy who prioritizes spirituality, his music, and the environment.  She might go ga-ga over him.  But if she wants kids, she’ll want a guy who wants kids.  And wants to raise them the way she does.  And feels the same way about education, discipline, role of family, role of religion that she does.  And wants to adopt the role she wants him to adopt, and wants her to adopt the role she wants to adopt.  Because all of those things are gonna be suuuuper important to her one day, even though they aren’t right now.  Ask anyone who has kids.  One of many such examples 🙂

       

      How does a person know what will make them happy in the future without experiencing a happy relationship first?  By understanding what typically makes people (in general) happy, understanding what makes people with their personality happy (more specifically), and adding that to what makes themselves happy right now.  Requires a bit of thinking, rather than trusting our gut.  Funny thing about guts – they tend not to have brains…

       

      Does that sound vague and too abstract?  I can narrow it down a bit.  Sylvana wrote that her dream is to own a Ferrari.  Nothing wrong with that dream, might be attainable.  But what WOULD be wrong is making the assumption that owning a Ferrari would make her happier than she is right now beyond the first 6 months.  Lots of research has been done on the effect of new cars and houses on personal happiness – it decays back to baseline very quickly.  Because soon “my bright, shiny sports car” becomes just “my car” – the one that doesn’t drive in snow, breaks down all the time, and costs me a fortune to service.  That’s why I drive a Honda, though my street is littered with luxury and sports vehicles 🙂  There are things that have been studied that reliably make people happy, and things that don’t.  It’s good to learn what they are.

       

      Oh, and books?  – You’d benefit from “the Paradox of Choice” if you haven’t already read it.  You’d also like “Stumbling on Happiness.”  If you’ve already read those, I’ve got lots more.  So does Evan.

      1. 8.1.1
        Emily, the original

        Jeremy,

        How does a person know what will make them happy in the future without experiencing a happy relationship first?  By understanding what typically makes people (in general) happy, understanding what makes people with their personality happy (more specifically), and adding that to what makes themselves happy right now.  Requires a bit of thinking, rather than trusting our gut.  Funny thing about guts – they tend not to have brains…

        I’m not trying to be snarky, and of course your advice is very good, but I don’t know anybody who lives like this. Certainly, there are people who make bad relationship choices, learn from them, and then go on to make better choices, but most people aren’t this disciplined and controlled. And then there are people who like the feeling of meeting someone and being out of control because everything else in their lives is so, well, controlled or staid.

        1. Jeremy

          You don’t know anyone who lives like this because most people don’t.  Part of that is because many lack the self-discipline, but a bigger part is that they lack the instruction, they’ve been given horrible advice.  It’s not that people should lower their expectations or settle.  Shoot for the moon, if you want.  But make damn sure that your expectations are things that will *actually* make you happy in the long-term if you get them.  Not Ferraris.  Not dream houses.  Not partners who are *challenging*.  Mrs. Happy likes to say that we each get 3 non-negotiables when choosing partners – and I have no problem with that, as long as we have the wisdom to properly choose our 3.  Eventually our Ferrari is just our car, and our dream house is just our house.  Eventually Brad Pitt is just Brad, and eventually Angelina Jolie’s hotness can’t make up for her craziness.  So if my dream is to drive a Ferrari, live in a dream house and marry Angelina Jolie, I’ve chosen poorly.

        2. Emily, the original

          Jeremy,

           It’s not that people should lower their expectations or settle.  Shoot for the moon, if you want.  But make damn sure that your expectations are things that will *actually* make you happy in the long-term if you get them. 

          I don’t completely agree with you about looking for things that make you happy. I had an experience today that convinced me to chuck the whole looking for chemistry/passion thing … and just accept who shows up and wants something from you. What else can you do? If you’re lucky, you may get to pick the best option from a few options Otherwise, well … you see where I’m going with this. When my stepmother decided, at 40, that she wanted to get married for the first time, she had 2 options — she was dating two socially awkward men, and she picked the less socially awkward of the 2.

      2. 8.1.2
        sylvana

        Jeremey,

        well…actually….I’m not one of those types of people who loses interest in something once I attain it. Because it’s not the novelty that brings me happiness, but the thing itself. And I tend to only go for things that I know will make me happy.

        Best example: I used to race rally cars when I was younger (hence the Ferrari, or car reference, since I’m actually not all that big a fan of Ferraris). NEVER grew tired of it. It did NOT become any less special over the years, because it was exactly what made me happy.

        Nowadays, I can no longer afford it, and the US doesn’t have rally cars the same way Europe did. But I still have that passion for driving, for a car that handles the same way. Only now, the passion is no longer fulfilled, and therefore leaves a big gape in happiness. No matter how much I appreciate the reliable ones I can afford, they do not give me the same happiness. As a matter of fact, driving (especially in the US) is nothing but a chore to me. And a rather unenjoyable experience. Sure, I’m grateful I can afford a car and drive at all, but it doesn’t lessen the fact that something that once brought me a lot of happiness is no longer part of my life.

        Same goes for my career. I left a career that gave me financial security, the nice house, etc. after just a few years early on. Been working something I’m passionate about for the past 20 years. Finances are tough all the time. The house is falling down around me. But who cares? Those are not the things that bring me happiness. My work does. The old career, on the other hand, would have had me committing suicide a few years ago, no matter how much I appreciated having a job at all.

        There is a big difference between thinking or hoping something will make you happy, and actually knowing that it will, because you’ve experienced it before.

        As for the comparison theory…I’ve never been able to relate to that. Every person has certain things that are absolutely vital to their personal happiness. And just because someone else might be in a worse situation does not make the first person’s situation any better.

        Take two people with the same basic need for meaningful companionship (not just romantic), for example. One person has a good job, a nice home, etc. But is absolutely isolated, horribly lonely, with no person to really confide in, no close friends, no family.

        The other person is sick, in a wheelchair with no legs, rather poor, but surrounded by people who care about them.

        Do you honestly believe that saying at least the person isn’t in a wheelchair would make the first person feel more happy? They might have everything else, but they are still missing that one vital ingredient that would make them happy. While the second person has everything they need, and therefore care less about the rest of their circumstances.

        You can be grateful for all you have, and find a bit of peace and contentment in it, but if you don’t have the vital aspects that actually make you happy, you have nothing.

        If I had the choice of living in a nice house, but never being allowed to be around animals, or being homeless, but surrounded by animals, I’d choose homelessness every day. Honestly, there is no way I could convince myself to even be grateful to have a roof over my head under those circumstances. Because having a home absolutely pales in comparison to the happiness animals bring me.

        Happiness depends on what a person truly needs in life. Not what they actually have. You can be grateful for all you have all you want if your actual needs aren’t being met, you will not find happiness.

        Which is also the reason some people who seemingly have it all commit suicide, while others in horrible circumstances keep finding the will to keep fighting and live.

        Changing your expectations to meet your circumstances does not guarantee happiness. Contentment, peace, yes. But not happiness, not joy.

        The same goes for relationships. If the fundamentals the individual person needs to be happy aren’t there, there is no way they can change their outlook to let other qualities (which are not as important to them) make them happy.

        It all boils down to what a person needs. Not what a person actually has.

        1. Jeremy

          There’s a huge difference between occasionally driving a race car on a track versus owning one and driving it in the city.  The former gives occasional experiential positive affect, the latter is a status symbol.  Different proposed pathways to happiness…

           

          One of the things I wrote above was that when considering how to be happy, a person should consider the things that make most people happy, then those that make their personality type happy, then specifically what makes themselves happy.  While people in general need Seligman’s PERMA principle – positive affect, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement to be happy, each personality type tends to prioritize one of those elements.  Your type, Sylvana, tends to prioritize positive affect – experiences.  And if racing cars gives that to you, that’s considering the happiness of your type and of yourself – both good things.  But it behooves us all to remember that focusing solely on that aspect of PERMA that our type prioritizes (and ignoring the other 4) generally won’t give us the best results.

           

           

          My point about frames of reference was not to say that we would all be joyous if we’d only compare our present circumstances to being in prison.  Rather, it was to say that our given happiness at any moment depends on our frame of reference, which in turn depends on our expectations.  Managing our expectations changes how we perceive our circumstances.  You wrote that “happiness depends on what a person truly needs in life, not on what they actually have.” I agree with this.  But how many people misunderstand what they actually need?  And, in doing so, tank their prospects at being happy?

  9. 9
    Marika

    Jeremy

    Everything you say makes sense. My goals shift though, and I don’t need a specific set of circumstances to make me happy. I actually envy people (on this blog, Gala springs to mind) who seem to know exactly what they want. My sister is another good example – all her boyfriends (well the three she had) were practically clones of each other until she found one that wanted to stay forever.

    I was trying to explain my lack of strong preferences of things/situations (over feelings) to someone last weekend. There were 3 events on, two bands playing and a concert. I would have preferred to see band A, but the location wasn’t convenient and ruled it out (for the others). Most people were going to see band B, and a couple, the concert.

    My new friend was joining us and didn’t know the group well. He asked which I wanted to go to…but I honestly didn’t care . Because my main concern was him feeling happy & included and us all having fun. Equally, if I’d insisted on band A and people begrudgingly came along, but were unhappy about the distance or stressing about parking / not being able to drink etc, it would steal the enjoyment away. Would much prefer a band I liked less and great company around me having a great time.

    I know that’s long winded..but trying to explain..

    Maybe to simplify, breaking it down to three things is a good idea. But because I know I can be happy in a range of scenarios, it’s tough to figure out what they are. Dating actually makes it more confusing for me as it opens up even more enjoyable possibilities!

    1. 9.1
      Jeremy

      LOL.  I can relate because in that sense I am very similar to you.  It caused me problems when I was dating because as a man I was expected to make decisions.  But I honestly didn’t care about where we went to eat or what movie we saw.  My goal was togetherness and relationship building.  But the fact that you and I don’t care about certain things doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we DO care about deeply, right?  The trick is figuring out what those things are.  Because while they might not matter as much right now, they will matter more in the future.  Especially if you hope to raise children – whether biological or adopted.  Ignore these things at your peril.

       

      My brother is a saver and his wife is a spender.  Both are on the respective ends of that spectrum.  After 14 years of marriage on the brink of divorce, they sought counselling.  The counsellor suggested that they each try to empathize with each other – she, to take the perspective of what it must be like to have to earn the money she spends, he to take the perspective of what it must be like to have to ask for the money to do what he wants.  Neither has been able to empathize, neither can take the other’s perspective.  Neither thought this would be a problem before they married, because they thought it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Funny how, if you look at divorce stats, arguments over money are one of the most common causes of marital breakdown.  Was their problem unpredictable, or was it that they simply chose not to pay attention to it, thinking that their love was all that mattered?  We all think we’re easy-breezy until we hit our boundaries, the things that matter to us, so it pays to know what those are…or will be.

      1. 9.1.1
        Marika

        Hi Jeremy

        I had a feeling you would understand :). Unlike me, though, you have an incredible ability to be rational, logical and thoughtful about matters of the heart. Me, not so much..

        I read over your previous response and I think this is the crux of my dilemma/confusion:

           The trick is walking the line between understanding that every relationship will have its challenges versus accepting incompatibilities that will make you unhappy.

        People who have a strong sense of what they want seem to have no trouble identifying an incompatibility which is a deal breaker for them. They even  I can identify a lack of emotional connection because I can feel it. But, otherwise, I don’t really feel like I can easily sort out what I need v’s what I want v’s what’s a normal negotiable v’s what matters in the long term etc..no easy answers, I’m sure. But if anyone can give me some idea, it’s you.

        1. Jeremy

          I posed a rhetorical question above, Marika, “should a marriage be an echo chamber?”  Well, it wasn’t exactly rhetorical, because the answer isn’t a simple yes or no.  A marriage need not be an echo chamber of likes, of hobbies, of opinions.  But it should indeed be an echo chamber of VALUES.  Huge difference there.

           

          I like to read non-fiction and fantasy/sci-fi fiction books.  My wife likes to read popular fiction – usually involving a young woman growing up in a far-away place, overcoming challenges with the help of other strong females.  How much does our different taste in books detract from our marriage?  Not really at all.  She might prefer to spend a Saturday night at the symphony and I might prefer to read a book or watch a movie.  So we alternate.  That’s the sort of thing where it doesn’t really matter and it pays to be easy-going.  But we were always in sync about money – values of saving/spending.  Always in sync about the role of religion.  About the importance of parenthood and most of our child-rearing philosophy.  In sync about the roles we each wanted to adopt, both in marriage as a man and woman, in parenthood, and in work.  In sync with what provides meaning in our lives.

           

          You might meet a man whom you find attractive and fun, but if your values are to prioritize the environment and his are to accumulate capital, you aren’t jiving on values, even if your likes are in sync (including your liking of each other).  If you like to save money and he likes to spend it like water, your values are out of sync.  If you hope to have or adopt a child and he doesn’t want children, just end the relationship now.  Bottom line, I guess, is that when you encounter an incompatibility, ask yourself whether it’s about interests or values.

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