Lessons From a Future Self

Talking to one of my past relationship partners, I’ve felt on several occasions like I’m talking to a former self of mine from five years ago. I’m trying to smack some sense into him, trying to get him to not make the same mistakes.

If I could say something to myself five years ago it would be this: When seeking a life partner, be careful to not chase after an illusory “ideal” that may not even exist. You may have found someone great. You’re 70-80% compatible with them, could easily marry them, but they don’t have some things you want, so you break up to keep looking for that perfect person with the extra 10% compatibility.

Now what’s the trouble with this approach? First, do we even know what we want? Do we know what that 90% consists of? Figuring this out can take some time, and it often changes with age. But this perfect person you seek might have the 10% you were looking for, but they will likely lack qualities that you valued with previous partners.

So just be careful. Be careful you don’t get greedy or get lost seeking a fantasy ideal that does not exist. It’s true your current partner may not be “one of the ones.”They may not have one or three of the qualities that you have decided is absolutely important to have in a life partner. Just be careful you’re not taking them for granted and are simply lusting after the possibility of “more.” It’s the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome. A problem, I realize, that is more temperamental when you’re young and still lacking experience. You may not know what you have when you find it, and you may not know what really matters, because you just haven’t lived long enough to get it – not intellectually, but in your core being. What “really matters” I’ve found tends to change as you get older.

But knowing the wisdom that I do now, I realize it’s possible I still might make the same decision. “I gotta date others before I settle down.” It doesn’t matter if I’ve met one of the ones. I simply haven’t dated enough people, haven’t absorbed enough life experience from a diversity of people yet, and I want to bring that kind of diversity of experience, wisdom and maturity to whatever life partner I do eventually find myself with.

But if this is the case, and my current partner and I are meant to part ways, I should like to hope that we can change the form of relationship like adults. Not break-up like high-schoolers and fall into the same predictable clichés of most breakups, with all the expectations about how to act towards our ex’s, putting them into a narrow category – ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend.

If you’re still really compatible and nothing’s changed on that level – if you still get along great – why should we close off our hearts just because they’re an “ex”? Where is there room for the possibility of intimate friendships?

Well, I think it is a question worth exploring. But either way we want to go about it, I think we just have to be careful about the expectations we have about finding “the one” – this perfect person that will fulfill all our needs and wants forever. Yes maybe the two of you aren’t meant to be together forever, but so what? I think this special focus on finding “the one” can really prevent us from enjoying the beauty and uniqueness of each person. Our focus on the future and the constant comparisons we make really keep us from appreciating the present moment.

When you think about it, we put pressure on our partners to fulfill some very unrealistic expectations. That is, we always think the last one wasn’t the one, or the one before that, or the one before that, but we always expect that this new person will *definitely* be the one. And if they’re not, then we better figure that out soon so we can move on and keep looking. It’s kind of like speed-dating but on the macro-life level.

I think it’s worth considering that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re not going to be “the one.” It is a simple statistical truth of life. And when we desire that every person we meet fulfill these hopelessly ridiculous expectations, we inevitably will end up disappointing ourselves, getting hurt and hurting others one time after another, for at least a decade or more of our life. Realizing this, I have to wonder if there is a better way to approach our relationships early on in life.

When our main relationship goal is finding “the one,” I think it takes a lot of the fun and adventure out of life. At least, I feel like it eliminates so many other beautiful possibilities, possibilities that open up when we can finally stop judging and evaluating our relationships for “the one” potential and simply start loving our partners for whoever they are. We may find that throwing off the burden of this romantic goal may be incredibly liberating.

Who knows what kind of deep, meaningful love two people could discover when they can love each other fully but also know and accept they aren’t meant to be together forever?

Imagine that for just a second.

You can love them completely, right now, knowing they aren’t the one. As I found with the person I dated last year, when I let go of my expectations of who I’d like her to be, suddenly it became possible to appreciate her just as she is, and nothing more was necessary. If I had approached this person with my usual attitude, I probably would have checked her off my “the one” list after a few dates. I’m glad I didn’t, because I would have lost out on a lot.

It seems each choice offers us different lessons and different experiences. Whether we decide to simply break up when we decide they aren’t the one, or we decide to explore third-dimensional possibilities, they will both offer different life experiences. If we decide to go the usual route, the potential for a beautiful and unique relationship that could have lasted many more meaningful years will definitely be lost.

In fact, choosing to seek this fantasy of “the one” almost guarantees that most of us will get to enjoy at least ten to fifteen years or more of cyclical hook ups and break-ups, broken hearts and dashed hopes. Our love life becomes this pattern of starting a new relationship, cutting it off to start something new and then starting all over again. Cut and stop and go; cut and stop and go. Add. Repeat.

I have to wonder if there are other ways to approaching life that are worth exploring. Considering that it is statistically a fact that most of the people we date, by definition will not be “the one” maybe there is a way to redefine the rules of the game during this period in our youth, so that we can maximize the mutual happiness of ourselves and the people we get into relationships with, and minimize the levels of drama and disappointment.
Instead of seeking the “one” when we’re young, what else could be our goal?

Wanting to learn from people different from us could be a goal. Being open to seeing what we can learn from someone, even if it’s not what we “want” to learn could be a goal – just to expand our horizons. For those that like traveling, it’s like going on a vacation, but instead of having to pack any bags, it’s an inter-personal journey into the imagination of the mind. Infinite personality combinations creating a rubix cube of unique experiences, like a Swedish massage for your brain.

Sounds good right? I knowww…

Focusing on other aspects of life could be another goal, with no hurry to find the one. You could accept that because life is continually changing, the one that’s perfect for you now will often be changing. You might believe that being with someone who’s good for you – someone who supports you and compels you to grow and challenge yourself is the most important thing right now in life. If they support your current life goals and your personal direction in life, even if it isn’t their own, that could be all that matters.

What’s really funny is that “the one” you might find perfect for you in five years might not be right for you right now in your life. You might break up with her if you met her now. For people in their early twenties, it’s a pretty crazy time; people are changing directions rapidly. “The one” that you want now may not be right for you when you decide you want to live someplace else, or move back, or you change a lot personally, or you pick a career. To make a legitimately serious commitment to someone, you’re mutually agreeing to take the same life path together, that you are both accepting who you are, as you are right now. You’re promising, to some degree, not to change – that you will stay enough the same to follow the same path together. It’s a big life choice. You will be moving from having many possibilities before you, to having chosen one possibility over others, and knowing that looking back, that will be one of the forks in the road that determined the shape of your life.

It’s a crazy trip. You’re baking your bread. You’re putting the soft and moldable dough of your youth into the oven, and out of the oven is gonna come some of the finest bread, you are gonna love it! At least that’s what we all hope. But truthfully, the shape of our bread will be determined by the choices we make in life now.

What kind of bread do we want to bake?


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