Advice from the Trenches: Relationship Rush

relationshipDear C:

I’m 22 and still trying to figure out this relationship thing. My last relationship ended badly. It’s been a year, but I’m not completely over it. I spent two years with this person and it made an impression. Recently, I met a woman I really get along with and we’re starting to get involved, but I want to take my time and not rush into anything. Am I being fair to her? She and I are the same age but she seems to be more ready than I am to get closer right now.

Uncertain Sam

Dear Sam;

Not only are you being fair, you are doing this girl a favor. Teens and young adults tend to jump without thinking, because their brains generally haven’t yet developed to the point where they can fathom the idea of consequences. We probably have this phenomena to thank for a lot of popular songs, but it doesn’t bode well in terms of longevity. At least not when it comes to relationships.

Different people look for different things in their connections with partners, whatever their age. Before you make a connection, you need to understand what it is YOU are looking for. It’s pretty normal for guys to be shopping around when they’re in their 20s, and some men seem to want to do the non-committal musical chairs thing well into middle age. But others want to start partnerships much earlier. The fact that you used the word “relationship” twice in the same paragraph indicates to me that you are looking for something a little deeper than surface attraction. If that’s the case, then your instincts are serving you well right now.

Although attraction is essential and, on it’s own, can keep a couple together at least until the electricity dies down, it is only one part of a long-term commitment. If you want a relationship, you are looking for someone who is going to be able to travel with you through life. You are going to have to be able to negotiate, learn and grow with each other. You are both going to continue to change in the upcoming years, so if you intend to stay together, you need to develop real relationship skills in order to support each other over time.

However, here’s the most important thing: If your first relationship ended badly, you need to look at that before you move on to somebody else. If you don’t understand why it got screwed up, you are probably going to do the same thing all over again. It takes most of us a while to realize this, but we tend to choose the same partners over and over and make the same mistakes too. We all want to think it’s “the other person” and their unreasonable behavior, but the fact is, the only part of the equation we can really control is our own behavior. We chose that person, and the problems that develop usually originate in our own reasoning.

I used to think that men were callous heels and that they mindlessly trampled my sensitive heart. Many years later, I realized I depended entirely too much on their treatment and opinion of me to define myself, and that’s why I was so vulnerable. When I became more emotionally self-reliant and managed to achieve some of my own important goals, I wasn’t as sensitive or vulnerable to the opinions of others. I also began looking for potential partners who had a strong center of their own, not ones who played games and went for flattery and drama. And I came to understand that sometimes my partner might need to ignore me for a little while, and that was okay. People who are dedicated to their work sometimes have deadlines that temporarily put everything else on hold.

Accepting differences and giving people space to do their own thing is as important as being attracted. But start with yourself. Once you have achieved oneness, you are more ready to move on to twoness. Too many people look for their relationships to define them, or for a partner to be at their beck, call and whim lest they feel neglected. But that’s not a relationship – that’s codependence.

I suggest you have a talk with this person and make your feelings clear. See how she feels and what she wants. If you are both on the same page, great! If you want different things, it’s better to figure that out now. This is the point where you should take your time and lay a solid groundwork. There’s no need to rush into a relationship that you want to last a lifetime.

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