Evaluate Your Relationship, Not Your Partner

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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. 21
    Heather

    I’ve never understood the concept of ‘dating’. It seems like it’s just something people do to kill time until the right person/relationship comes along. If we are dating people who aren’t right for us or who don’t want a relationship with us then it seems sort of pointless. I guess that’s the real reason I don’t ‘date’ .

  2. 22
    Selena

    Heather,

    Curious…if you don’t ‘date’, how do you find the right person/relationship?

  3. 23
    Heather

    The short answer to that is – I don’t.

  4. 24
    JM

    As corny as it sounds, my colleague at work summed it up in a great way: She told me her husband said “I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect, but we’re perfect together”. They’ve been married for 10+ years.
    Enough said!

  5. 25
    JB

    @Heather #21 – In the perfect world,everyone would be able to or lucky enough to meet someone or multiple someone’s who they have that deep connection,attraction,chemistry,love thing. As you get older it’s a lot harder. There for some of us date casually for companionship,sex, etc…. I always say “love” is great and it’s something I look for but in the meantime “life” goes on and unless I want to be celibate and alone, I date. Even sometimes women I’m not that “thrilled” with. In your late 40’s sometimes we men take what we can get. I’m sure you’re a lot younger,so I wouldn’t worry about it.

  6. 26
    Heather

    JB –

    What you are describing is what I have come to understand ‘dating’ to be. It sounds, in some ways, like ‘settling’ or resignation.

    This is why I consider dating to be pointless: the purpose of dating is basically to get access to sex and/or romantic love, so we tend not to want to date people we could not imagine having at least one of those things with. I, personally, would have a lot of trouble having sex with a man I’m not “thrilled” with (aka – feel NO chemistry with). Then there is the other side of the coin – I get hurt when I feel the chemistry but he doesn’t, or if he does for a while but then decides to move on. I don’t know which is worse. I can’t begin to describe how few men I feel chemistry with – it’s frustrating. That’s why I’ve been celibate for 2 1/2 years now.

    It also doesn’t help my opinion about dating that I don’t get asked out very often. I could have had one night stand with a cute guy I met in a bar last March, but I just couldn’t put myself through that, so I passed. That was the last time a guy I actually found attractive made a pass at me. I mean, what would be the point of unleashing my libido for one night just to have to turn around and put it on ice for another two years, or whatever excruciatingly long amount of time I’d have to wait. Not worth it.

    I’m 36 and I don’t look forward to more of this type of lifestyle in the future. As you say, life goes on. I notice, most painfully, how life goes on for all of my friends who continue to find dates, feel attracted to people, find new girlfriends/boyfriends or get married, while I am sitting here in limbo – dateless, sexless, and still heartbroken over the last guy who rejected me.

    1. 26.1
      Teri

      Sounds like your challenge lies within that last line. Work on moving past that, and perhaps your prospects with improve.

  7. 27
    Karl R

    Heather said: (#26)
    “the purpose of dating is basically to get access to sex and/or romantic love, so we tend not to want to date people we could not imagine having at least one of those things with.”

    Sometimes I go on a date because I want to go someplace or see a show, and it’s much more fun to do it with an attractive member of the opposite sex.

    On a first date my goals are to have fun and get to know the lady better. That’s it. I’m not working towards having sex. I’m not trying to create a romantic relationship.

    And I always need to get to know the lady better. I don’t wait until I get to know someone before dating them. In that case, it’s too easy to build up hopes and expectations.

    “I get hurt when I feel the chemistry but he doesn’t, or if he does for a while but then decides to move on.”

    We all get hurt. But it’s like a bruise that heals … not a crippling injury. I don’t go on dates with the expectation that I won’t get hurt. I go on dates with the expectation that I likely will (if things progress that far). But I also have the confidence that I can recover from it afterward and proceed to another relationship.

    “I don’t know which is worse.”

    The worst is being so scared of the pain that you’re unwilling to try.

    There is one trait that turned my dating life around. I developed the courage to fail. Once I stopped fearing failure, I was able to keep trying until I succeeded.

    “I could have had one night stand with a cute guy I met in a bar last March, but I just couldn’t put myself through that, so I passed.”

    What indicated that it would be a one-night stand? I thought my current relationship was going to be a week-long fling (at most), but we’re almost to the three-month mark now.

    “what would be the point of unleashing my libido for one night just to have to turn around and put it on ice for another two years, or whatever excruciatingly long amount of time I’d have to wait.”

    Have you tried masturbation? I realize that it doesn’t quite match up to an attractive partner, but there is a major convenience factor. I never have to put my libido on the shelf for more than a few days.

    “It also doesn’t help my opinion about dating that I don’t get asked out very often.”

    How often do you flirt? If you flirt with men, they’ll consider asking you out. And you don’t have to limit yourself to flirting with potential dates. Flirt with other people for practice.

    You can flirt with bartenders, married men, gay men, women, strangers that you’ll never see again. The practice helps you be a lot more comfortable and confident in flirting with the men you are interested in.

    “I am sitting here in limbo dateless, sexless, and still heartbroken over the last guy who rejected me.”

    The best cure for heartache is your next relationship.

    “I’m 36 and I don’t look forward to more of this type of lifestyle in the future.”

    That’s approximately the same age I was when I got back into the dating scene. It’s not too late to learn.

  8. 28
    Heather

    Thank you, Karl R, for your in-depth analysis of my post.

    It’s comforting to know that dating isn’t done with an agenda. I guess I don’t need to be so afraid of dating, if most men feel this way. 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. 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. That takes a lot of time, and as I get older and more fed up I find less and less of them. The reason I knew ‘potential one night stand guy’ was just that, was that he told me he was moving to another state in a few days. No sense wasting any time there! Masturbation is okay, but the majority of the sex I’ve had in my life has been this. It gets old and I feel as though I’m practicing for something that will never happen. 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? It’s gotten to the point where anything that reminds me of sex depresses me!
    I know the only cure for my heartbreak is a new relationship, or even a new crush, I’ve intentionally set out to find one, but I’m just not meeting anyone. You have to understand, I go out almost every night of the week. I take classes, go to gallery openings and art walks, clubs, bars, restaurants, museums, concerts, parties, cultural events, I have friends … I’ve never been so busy doing social stuff in my life! There are men around but none of them seem interested. And no, I couldn’t flirt my way out of a paper bag. I try sometimes and fail mightily. It’s embarrassing and I have a talent for giving people the wrong impression. I completely and totally suck at it. I’m friendly towards people, I have a great sense of humor and can participate in a conversation with almost anyone, but those guys I find attractive just aren’t ever approaching, making return eye contact (when I get brave enough try to do that), or talking to me. I usually end up in the wrong circle at parties, getting hit on by men I’d rather not have had to meet.
    Anyhow, I’ll take your word, and I hope it isn’t too late for me to learn. I’m getting pretty sick of this!

  9. 29
    Sayanta

    Heather-

    OK- this is just plain freaky now! You’ve described my life having to do with guys exactly!!!!!

    I know this is personal, so it’s okay if you feel weird answering, but did you have a lot of interaction with guys in your childhood and teen years? Do you have brothers/male relatives around your age that you’re close to? And was your family conservative?

    The reason I ask is because I’m an only child who grew up in a very conservative family. I was not allowed to date in high school, preferred books to people, and basically hung out in the library. I was horribly harrassed by boys when I was a child (a lot of it was racial, we were in an all-white town in the late 80s), and begged my parents to send me to an all-girls school. I didn’t exactly make friends there, but at least I didn’t have scary testosterone to worry about.

    I’m a late bloomer, and believe it or not, didn’t actually start caring about guys until college. By then, there were things that other girls knew about guys that I just didn’t, and I couldn’t learn no matter how much I tried. Believe me, I tried. Honestly, I just thought guys- at least the ones I met in college- were cruel. They said insulting things. They were nice one day and acted like they didn’t know you the next. I was honestly able to make friends only with gay men.

    My friends told me- still tell me- that I just need to relax around guys. Well, thank you- easier said than done! Whenever I ‘relax’ some joker tries to put his hand on my ass or something.

    So…I don’t know, Heather. I think, for me, at least, those high school years were crucial- and people who mingled with the opposite sex then just picked up something I didn’t. So I told you all this about myself, because if your background is anything similar to mine, it might explain things.

    Interestingly, I’ve noticed that my friends who have brothers also get along with men far better than only children like me, or ones with only sisters. Yes, I know this is a generalization, but I’m just basing it on my own circle.

  10. 30
    Anisa

    hahah
    “My friends told me- still tell me- that I just need to relax around guys. Well, thank you- easier said than done! Whenever I relax some joker tries to put his hand on my ass or something.” I like this quote of Sayanta nr. 29 and I think it is very true.
    But maybe because I also grew up in a very conservative family?

    Karl R # 27: “You can flirt with bartenders, married men, gay men, etc….” No no no Karl R!!! not to married men: stay away from them, they are too easy to seduce. And their wives too fearful to single women… there is so much insecurity out there!

    To Heather: don’t worry, your time will come. I was celibate for 8 years. I was busy taking care of my children, very satisfactorily. Had 2 short term relationships after that, very disappointing, very painfull breakups. It took much time to recover, but I don’t give up hope.
    My advice to you: do try your best to be happy, there is so much more besides a relationship with a man that can make your life full of joy and happiness. Take dance-lessons, travel, work out, and when you are positive and ready love will find you, I am sure of that.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 34
    Anisa

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

  15. 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.

  16. 36
    Sayanta

    Heather-

    Sounds like we might be looking in the same places regarding men- and hence not having luck. Hell, I could have written this letter myself.

    Here’s this hilarious video-

    Not sure if I’m cheered up or more down now. Coz I ain’t going out with some dude who goes to gun clubs.

  17. 37
    Sayanta

    sorry forgot this one- great advice, this one

  18. 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. 🙂

  19. 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. 😀

  20. 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.

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