The other day I got to witness a “classic” conversation among women.
It’s a conversation that’s been going on in different forms for hundreds of years. A few married women were counseling their single friend about how she could meet “the one”.
They went through the usual topics, they asked her what she was looking for, they said “that sounds reasonable” and they shared the stories of how they met their significant other.
I listened, and I had an opinion — but it wasn’t going to be popular. The reason is, I think the whole game of trying to find a life partner isn’t where we should be putting our attention.
Before I explain why, I need to issue a warning.
I am very pragmatic when it comes to love and relationships. The dictionary definition of “pragmatic” does a great job of summing up how I feel about romance, so it’s worth reviewing it.
dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.
So much of what we believe about romance is based on what we hope is true, not what would actually make sense if we looked at reality. I’m not wistful about my grandparents’ relationship, or the way things “used to be” (which is never how they really were, just our projections), and I want nothing to do with helping people play out the fantasies we’ve been collectively sold on how to have a happy love life.
Okay, since that’s out of the way, let’s talk about why the quest for “the one” is a problem. It starts with the whole concept of “the one”.
Your Partner Isn’t Enough
Dan Savage has a saying. He says “your romantic partner isn’t enough for you, and that’s okay”. His point isn’t that we should seek out someone else, it’s that when we accept that no one person will be enough to meet all your needs, we can be creative about finding solutions versus suffer because of unmet expectations.
The myth of “the one” is rooted in the idea that there exists a rare person who will meet all of our needs and desires so fully that we will never need anyone else in our life besides them. While we may hope for this, it doesn’t exist.
But my partner meets all my needs! I’m really happy!
This is a common response I get when I say that one person can’t meet all your needs, so it’s worth pausing to address the two things that might be going on (and often the two are connected).
1. This person has recently fallen in love and is in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. Their brains are so full of dopamine that it appears as if everything is perfect.
2. This person has talked themselves out of wanting anything more than what their partner can provide.
When we are truly in touch with our desires and in a sane state of mind, our partners can’t be the sole resource for everything we want. That’s not to say that we should go out and have sex with other people, it’s to say that a couple should work to help each other get their needs met, versus work to try and keep each other from needing anything more than the other person can provide.
We shouldn’t feel bad about not being “enough” for our partner, because we can redefine what it means to be enough, and let go of the expectation that a romantic partner’s job is to meet 100% of the other person’s needs.
When we can successfully do this before we get into a relationship, our focus will naturally shift. We will start investing more time into our friends and family, and we will start seeing that potential life partner as a welcome addition to an already abundant relationship life.
What To Do Instead
Hopefully by now we can see why putting all our focus and energy into finding “the one” isn’t a good idea. So if that’s the case, where should we put our energy? Clearly if we have desires that aren’t being met, we shouldn’t just explain them away. Here’s what I recommend.
Instead of focusing on a structure, focus on the needs. What I mean is instead of focusing on what you think will fill your needs (a partner), focus on the needs themselves, and find solutions for them individually.
If you’re new to identifying your needs, no worries. Let’s use the idea of a life partner to help us find out what we really want. Imagine the perfect partner. I’m talking Mister or Mrs. Right, fantasies are totally welcome here. Ask yourself “what would that relationship give me”? Make a list.
Here are some examples of needs that I’ve come across in my own life.
- Companionship: Someone to share how my day went.
- Sex: A regular sex partner (and we understand each other’s bodies).
- Emotional support: Someone to be with me when I’m sad.
- Editor: Someone to read my writing and give me honest feedback.
- Touch: Someone to cuddle with.
- Togetherness: Always having a “buddy”.
- Adventure: Someone to travel with and go on trips together.
- Sexual adventure: Someone to engage my erotic fantasies.
I’m sure there are more but those are a few examples (co-parenting is a big one I don’t currently want but you might). Now consider that all of those needs could be met outside of a primary partnership.
Okay whoa there, relax! I said “consider” that all those needs could be met outside of a primary partnership. Just consider it. You can still have your fantasy back when we’re done.
Now imagine putting in the effort it would take to get those needs met in your current, single life. Maybe you don’t meet all of them 100% but even 20% more than you currently have would be a huge improvement.
Now imagine dating other people from that place. Instead of going food shopping hungry you’re choosing partnership from a more sane, grounded place.
What this also does is it forces you to shore up the places in your life that are weak. Maybe in doing this you realize you don’t have any friends you can go to when you’re feeling depressed, or maybe you have just one or two. Maybe you see how you only feel comfortable cuddling with someone who is your romantic partner, and consensual, non-sexual touch is something you could incorporate more into your friendships.
Getting the Love You Want
Let’s face it, even if your goal was to get into a primary partnership as soon as possible, this would still be a great strategy to do that. We know that we attract people into our lives when we’re happy, fulfilled and free.
I heard advice from a dating coach once that suggested women who wanted partnership should “make room” for that potential man. Even something as simple as leaving half of your closet empty would be an act that showed you’re ready for a relationship.
I think that’s crazy.
Yes, it’s true that some people’s lives are so full that they don’t have room for partnership, but those people need to simplify their life anyway. There is this myth in our culture that to attract a mate we have to leave a hole for them to fit in, but I haven’t seen that to be true.
I’ve found that the people who get into happy, healthy relationships are already happy and healthy, and their partner just becomes icing on the cake. While we may want it to be, romantic partnership is not a charity. Loving partnerships don’t go to the people with the greatest need, they goes to the people who have taken on the responsibility of creating a happy life for themselves independent of who shows up.
It can be hard when we yearn deeply for a life partner, but the truth is we simply can’t control whether or not that person shows up, and if they do we can’t control whether they stay, or whether tragedy takes them away from us earlier than expected.
At the end of the day I’ve found that while we may not be able to control who or what comes into our life — we can control what we get out of it.