To the extent that people have an ideal partner and an ideal relationship in their head, they are setting themselves up for disaster, says family expert Michelle Givertz, assistant professor of communication studies at California State University, Chico. Relationship identities are negotiated between two individuals. Relationships are not static ideals; they are always works in progress.
To enter a relationship with an idea of what it should look like or how it should evolve is too controlling, she contends. It takes two people to make a relationship. One person doesn’t get to decide what it should be. And to the extent that he or she does, the other partner is not going to be happy.
“People can spend their lives trying to make a relationship into something it isn’t, based on an idealized vision of what should be, not what is,” she says.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I had three goals I wanted to accomplish by the end of the year. Find a writing job, find an apartment near Market Street and find a boyfriend. I got all three. But the night of New Year’s Eve I broke up with my boyfriend. We got back together a week later, and then a month after that he dumped me so that he could start dating a friend of mine. Needless to say, that was a total bust.
Finding a job and an apartment is a self-serving individual need. A relationship, however, takes two. To an extent we can control what we do and where we go in life, but you can’t control your boyfriend and try to carve him into the ideal relationship you have envisioned for yourself.
Personality traits are set in stone but working together with one’s partner, habits can be adapted, compromises can be made. After all, no one’s perfect. You have to embrace each other’s strengths and accept the flaws, determine if the positives outweighs the negatives and make a decision.
As for me? Being dumped that time wasn’t all that bad. In the end, I realized that I’d rather be alone on New Year’s Eve than get a kiss that didn’t mean anything.
Disillusionment becomes an engine for growth because it forces us to discover our needs. Knowing oneself, recognizing one’s needs, and speaking up for them in a relationship are often acts of bravery, says New York psychotherapist Ken Page. Most of us are guarded about our needs, because they are typically our areas of greatest sensitivity and vulnerability.
“You have to discover—and be able to share—what touches you and moves you the most,” he observes. “But first, of course, you have to accept that in yourself.”
BOY TOYS TALK BACK: How do you know if a guy is right for you? When early signs are not so positive, do cut your losses and leave or stick around and try to make it work?