Love is What You Make It

Here are some of the reasons for failure I have heard from friends who are looking for love but not finding the much-prized ‘committed relationship’:

  • All the good people have been snapped up
  • Modern dating – on apps and the internet – is awful
  • I don’t like people who are needy/too keen/want to rush things
  • I don’t like people who don’t reply to my emails/texts/phone messages immediately
  • Men only want younger women
  • Women only like ‘bad boys’
  • Men are bastards
  • Women are mad
  • Women just want men with loads of money
  • Men just want mothering
  • All the people I date are f***ed-up

I could go on.

These people are not idiots. They are educated people who function effectively in the world. But after years of failing to find the elusive ‘One’ they feel dispirited and jaundiced. Some have had relationships that lasted a few months or a few years but didn’t endure; some have come out of a long marriage only to discover that dating is different from when they were younger; others are still young but in thrall to the dream of a fairytale romance. They have not given up hope, but often succumb to gloominess about their prospects for love, and indulge in prolonged grumbles.

Grumbling has its place in letting off steam, but it’s important to notice when you are stuck in it, repeating the same sort of grievances over and over again. The supposed reasons above are actually just ways of blaming others for your situation. Can it really be true that ‘all the good people have been snapped up’? You are a good person and you are still looking. There are millions of single people in the U.K., billions in the world – are you seriously saying that there isn’t one whom you would find loveable? I expect you will say, in a defeated voice, ‘But how do I find them?’ with the implication that the one suitable person for you is a needle in a haystack. I want to tell you to stop going into the same negative thinking and approach the situation differently.

Take a good hard look at yourself. What are you doing that is sabotaging your bid for love? Here are some common ways of blowing your own chances, and suggestions for new action:

When you go on a date, do you allow your date to be themselves with the minimum of judgement or are you assessing their child-bearing prospects or gauging their income before you are half-way through your first drink? In other words, are you making the stakes too high? This is just a meeting, not a job interview – relax! It may or may not turn into something bigger, but if you just look at it as a chance for a good conversation with a new person, you might discover more about them than if you turn the beam of interrogation onto them and make them feel uncomfortable.

Stop being unrealistic. Are you going to marry a multi-millionaire movie producer if you’re working in social services in Basingstoke? Can you score a woman like Beyoncé if you have a pot-belly and a comb-over? With the constant bombardment of media showing us all this choice, it’s easy to become like a kid in a sweet-shop, yearning for more and better, beyond what is feasible (and what is good for us). The most successful relationships are those between people who have roughly the same level of attractiveness, who come from similar backgrounds, who are happy with the same sort of lifestyle and have similar values (i.e. what they care about in life). Take a good hard look at yourself, or get your friends to give you some feedback. Who are you? How do you come across to others? Know yourself, and look out for someone who fits with you, in looks and personality.

What about your own history? Consider the family you came from. What were the dynamics like? How did your father or mother treat you? What was the atmosphere like in your house as a child? Now look at what has happened when you are in intimate relationships as an adult. If your past was chaotic or difficult, can you see that you might be creating the same problems in your relationships because this is familiar? All of us, to some degree or another, are working with the legacy of our past in the present, and when it comes to relationships, it pays to look at our childhoods and acknowledge what we are replicating now. It’s not just about the bad stuff either – look at what you liked about your childhood family, and see what you want to keep from it in your new ‘family’ (whether that be just the pair of you or more). But most importantly, notice when you are modelling your angry dad or your neglectful mum, or making the other take on those roles. It’s complicated, but you have to own your past, or you’ll keep operating unconsciously and repeating the unhelpful stuff.

Stop expecting the other person to rescue you. Life may be hard, work might be difficult, you may not like where you live – there are endless ways to suffer. But you are the only one who can enable yourself to have a calm, contented feeling deep inside. Of course, having a good relationship might be a part of that, but that relationship will only happen when you have some good stuff to bring to the table such as compassion, a sense of humour, curiosity, warmth. If you are so eaten up with your own misery that you cannot give someone else your loving care and attention, go away and get some coaching or therapy and come back to dating when you’re on an even keel.

Consider the unconventional. The model of the nuclear family as the only set-up in which to live happily has been blown apart in the modern age (pardon the pun). Many relationships work fantastically well when a couple live independently, or within a communal setting, or where one or both partners work away from home for big chunks of time, and meet up when possible. If you are worried about what other people will think if you have an unorthodox arrangement, you’re worrying about the wrong thing. What matters is the happiness of you and your partner, and children if you have them, not the in-laws, not your friends, not the neighbours. If you are afraid of commitment because you fear being stifled or smothered, find someone who feels the same and negotiate together how to have both independence and togetherness. Pretty much anything is possible now – go for what you really need – and be adaptable when the needs of you or your partner change over time.

I hope this is helpful to you if the search for love is feeling herculean. Let me know how it goes. Be bold, be resolute, but mainly, be kind – to yourself and others. There is love out there – just don’t try and force it. And take some responsibility…

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