It’s a common enough thought — I just chose the wrong person for a partner, and if given a chance, I will choose better (I hope) next time. I heard it just yesterday in the checkout stand at Long’s. Two women were talking about their former relationships and one spoke of her ex-husband as “the wrong guy,” though her words about him were far more ferocious and graphic than this.
What a bind we Americans are in! On the one hand, we each grow up being told and believing that there is some “special person,” some person who is “the one for me,” another human being who is the perfect match for me. If I can find that person, my life will be right and I can be truly happy.
But get this. We also grow up being told and believing that “only I am ultimately responsible for my own happiness.” If I am to be happy, “it’s up to me.” American heroes tend to be loners, characters portrayed by Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn — who ironically lose their hero status once they do fall in love and “settle down.” They become boring.
The horns of the dilemma are thus that I must “find that special person” who will make me happy, but I have to remain fervently individualistic in the meantime.
I can’t let another person run my life, but I also can’t be happy unless “we two are one.”
Is it any wonder that many of us tend to approach relationships skeptically, but also idealistically? The marriage rate has not been slowed down by the data on divorces, and divorces have not been slowed down by the marriage rate.
An answer to the dilemma is not simple, but it is achievable. A first step is recognizing that having a partner in life is indeed preferable in life to being alone, for most people.
A second is that normal relationships all include disillusionment, and many other definable steps along the way to real intimacy.
Discovering difference from your partner is normal, feeling betrayed by that difference is normal, your idealism is normal, your skepticism is normal, even feeling abandoned is normal.
Saying stupid things is normal. Having your sex life change over time and feeling unhappy and disappointed over this is normal.
Feeling hopeless and helpless in a relationship is also normal at certain times in everyone’s relationship. It is even normal in the course of a relationship (shocking as it may seem to some of us) to wish for your partner to have a nice tidy fatal accident on the way home from work; and normal to feel awful about having such a thought.
Even more important, it is normal to not know how to deal with these problems.
How many classes did you have in your education that told you how to really deal with a profound difference between you and your partner?
How often did your parents sit you down and speak with you about how to work out a disagreement or a disappointment with your partner (if you did have these things, God bless you!).
If you are normal, you have much more training for a job that you might not even care much about than you did for the incredibly demanding life skills of being a partner to someone you love.
This is why a reasonable amount of real dedication to learning about relationships, what works and what doesn’t, is as important as anything you can possibly do in life. I recommend that you find a good source of information — one that fits for you personally — and put some effort into the relationship you already have rather than dreaming about the one you don’t.
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