“Ten years from now, make sure you can say that you CHOSE your life, you didn’t SETTLE for it.”
~ Mandy Hale
When I was 21, I was swept off my feet by a man 14 years my senior.
He said all the right things, that I was beautiful, that he couldn’t keep his eyes off me and that I was “The One.” Being young and naive, all I could do is just soak it up.
I was working at a gift shop at the airport the summer before I left for graduate school when we met. He was employed for the airlines. Shortly after giving me a greeting card, a romance ensued.
I was in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in my life; leaving out-of-state for college, separating from my family and familiar surroundings.
I knew, however, that I had “certainty” with someone who said they loved me and wanted to be me. I left for college a few months after we met. Most of our relationship was long-distance and less than a few months later he proposed to me. After a tumultuous 4 year relationship we broke up.
That was almost 30 years ago. Looking back I can say I was young, naive and inexperienced, but there is more to my story than immaturity.
There were lessons to be learned. Lessons I would only learn after much heartache and pain. These “lessons of love” I hold close to my heart. I’d like to share them with you.
1. Rescue Me
When I was a teenager, like many young girls of our time, I was hooked on watching General Hospital, the daytime soap opera of our generation. I was in love (or thought I was in love) with the character, Scotty. I still recall now, how I wished that I was the girl of his dreams and that he would come sweep me away.
Now this doesn’t sound too unrealistic, does it?
I mean a young teenage girl wishing the boy that they like, liked them. But the problem with this is, whenever you “wish” something that doesn’t have reality to back it up, it’s a fantasy. Pure and simple, just a fantasy.
Fantasies keep us feeling that an imagined event or situation actually has possibility, value and depth when it doesn’t.
A fantasy can be anything really, a “crush”, winning the lottery, or even the idea of having a baby to miraculously save your marriage.
No one is going to rescue you. No one. You have to accept your situation, face your fears and make a commitment towards what’s real.
I was looking for someone to tell me I was pretty, that I was valuable and that I was “enough.” In the absence of validating myself, I craved the attention that he was giving me.
Whenever you look outside yourself to feel worthy; a relationship, a job, the next fast car, the bigger house, you give up “who you are” for someone or something outside you.
This is a negative cycle that will keep you hooked to something outside yourself.
If you can tell yourself daily that you’re enough (and that you’re more than enough!), anybody or anything on the outside is just “icing on the cake.” Never forget, you are the cake!
3. Filling a Void
During that time I felt an empty space inside of me. I was well aware of it but often ignored it by distracting myself, seeing him or seeking his words of reassurance.
I believe we all have this empty space. Whether it’s a result of childhood family dynamics or part of being human, we have it. It’s sometimes described as discomfort or uneasiness.
That void can only be filled by you. It can be filled by your self-love and self-validation. It can be filled by sitting quietly. It can be filled by breathing through the discomfort and self-soothing and telling yourself it will be “OK.” It can be filled by proper self-care and healing.
I couldn’t stand the thought of being lonely. Feeling lonely just scared me. I would do whatever it takes to not feel that way. I never learned as a child that feeling lonely is a normal, healthy emotion.
Fear of being alone led me to jump too quickly to saying yes, when I needed to say no.
There are several ways to work through this and other fears. The simplest way is to write them down. Take out a notebook or journal and write down your fears. “What if this, then…” and so on. Write them all down. You will quickly see that you can overcome your worst possible fear and be stronger because of it.
5. Taking responsibility
As long as I was focused on him and our relationship, I didn’t need to focus on myself. As long as I said our relationship needed “fixing,” I didn’t need to focus on myself. As long as I said I can make things better, I just needed to try harder and put more effort, I didn’t have to focus on myself.
So that’s what happened for many years, I didn’t focus on myself. My emotional self, my physical self and my spiritual self were all abandoned for the relationship. Looking back, I can say that no one abandoned me, I just abandoned myself.
Take responsibility for yourself; your feelings, your needs, your thoughts, your behavior, your choices, and your dreams.
You will quickly see how taking responsibility will improve your self-esteem, your relationships and your life.
Now I can look back and see how much I’ve grown.
I can only say this because I’ve met people along the way that have forced me to look at myself. All I have is nothing but gratitude for them. Through the years, these lessons of love keep me centered and allow me to appreciate who I am every day.
The hardest lesson I’ve learned is that the first commitment that I need to make is to myself.
Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC, NCC- www.phoenixcounseling.net
It feels great to be in a relationship when you’re with someone who’s compatible with you and everything seems to be going well. It makes you want to move forward faster.
Often, in the initial phases of a relationship it’s quite “normal” for things to go smooth.
However, if you could just put the brakes on a little bit and wait things out, other things might show up as well.
How long is a little bit you ask? That all depends. At any rate, don’t rush or be in such a hurry during this honey-moon or love-struck phase. Pace yourself and give it some time.
If you’re a good fit, time won’t hurt you. But if you’re not a good fit, time could be well worth the wait!
You might be amazed at what could show up that seemed to fly right past your fluttering love-struck heart.
When you first meet a guy, you know if you care to see him again or not, right?
Well, after you see him again and again AND again, it might not be such a good idea to start thinking about going to the altar; not just yet, anyway. This is simply a good time to evaluate the direction the relationship is going.
Some things to consider might be:
1. How compatible are you?
2. Are you interested in similar things?
3. Does he care about being around certain people you like being around?
4. How’s participating in specific activities together?
5. Does he like animals?
6. Is he more withdrawn or more outgoing over time?
7. Does he like being around children?
What are your thoughts about the questions above?
When you rush a relationship, you also rush the process of getting to know, like, and trust a potential life partner. This is not fair to either of you.
How consistent is he? Does he tend to change around certain people, places, or situations? Pay close attention to this. These are questions you may later wish you had known to ask, observe, or ponder over.
Any antenna warnings or red flags gone up that you may be ignoring, denying, or justifying?
These are like pop quizzes along the way that prepares you for that big question. How well do you really know him at this point? And more importantly, how do you really feel when you’re with him?
If he’s worth having in the long run, the relationship is worth waiting for. Don’t rush it! Let it happen organically.
I can’t tell you how many women I’ve spoken with who said, “if I had only known before”, or “if I had only listened or paid attention before.” In most of these cases she barely gave the relationship a few months, even a year before jumping into something more serious, with later regrets.
So, how long should you wait?
As long as it takes for you to feel like you’re not rushing and giving yourself the time and space you need to feel your feelings. Also, ask others the two of you have been around together what their thoughts are about him and the two of you. This is not to say you will make judgments or decisions based on the opinions of others, just insight.
My motto is, two heads are better than one, which makes three better than two.
It’s just a different perspective; something to make you think. But at the end of the day, it’s your call.
Are you going to feel better rushing or taking your time and weighing what you’re confronted with?
I’m just saying, make the best call you can with all you have been provided. It’s your life, your relationship, and your choice. Use it wisely!
Barbara Ann Williams, LPC, MS – www.barbaraannwilliams.com
As someone who has a lot of personal experience in a marriage (51 years) and over 35 years as a Marriage & Family Therapist I guess I do have thoughts for those who are considering a true commitment. Plus, there is a lot of research in today’s world that is available to guide the development, growth, and sustainability for relationships.
There are key ingredients that can indicate readiness for a significant relationship commitment, which can mean marriage, engagement, moving-in together, sexual exclusivity, and/or a mutual agreement to be intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically intimate on a deep level.
Readiness for any of these isn’t a simple checklist to mark-off, but here are a few important areas to help in order to “know” if the next step is right for you.
- Each person feels a true respect for the other even if you may not always agree.
- You both enjoy being around one another (not every second).
- You argue (yes!), but then can heal the rift.
- You both have a sense of purpose for your relationship.
- You know a lot about each other…and never want to stop learning more!
- You both know there will be hard times but are willing to grow through, not around, these.
Knowing what positives to look for is important. There are also strong predictors for a relationship’s likelihood failure.
- Persistent criticism not around issues or behavior but directed at the person.
- When one or both partners are frequently looking at problems as the other’s issue without taking personal responsibility for their contribution.
- Feeling so overwhelmed by negativity from the other that leads to feeling numb or in a state of shock.
- Attempts to make-up or repair a rift repeatedly don’t work and issues are left hanging, unresolved.
- The use of sarcasm, mockery, vile humor directed at a partner.
- Any form of physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual abuse.
Linda M. Rio, M.A., MFT – www.lindamrio.com
I have a front row seat to women 30 +, panic-stricken about having not found the right partner, and also the frenzy of engagements announced non-stop at this age and perhaps due to the uncertainty that we all are holding during this time of Covid. My secret source is a 30-year-old daughter not necessarily looking for her ring by spring.
So when is it time to get engaged?
Don’t think of it as a relational timeline.
Engagement needs to be the thoughtful, soulful connection between two people who have shared values. If there is not common ground there, game over. Then look at the goals each have for the future. Have clear discussions and decisions about things like religion, children, rules for living.
Determine what “engagement” means for you.
If engagement is time to give you and your partner a chance to get to know one another, you’re a little late. If you need that amount of time to plan a wedding, remember that in these sad Covid-ridden days, large gatherings are frowned upon so smaller events are a lot easier to plan. Maybe the average length of engagement being 13 months can shrink as well.
So the final answer as to when to get engaged?
Make sure you have found Mr. or Ms. Right, not Mr. or Ms. Right now.
Susan Winston, MFT – www.susanwinstonmft.com
Only fools rush in; not just a clever movie title or harmless cliché. You may have heard this before and questioned what it means or even felt like surely it doesn’t apply to you.
You are an intelligent person who will make informed decisions and after all, you know how you feel, and it just feels right, so how could this apply to you?
This applies to you if you clicked on this topic header- if you are asking the question “is it too soon?” then, yes, it is too soon.
Rushing in only guarantees that we end up in a long -term contract with someone who doesn’t bring out the best in us (and we them) and at their worst is a really poor choice (abusive, neglectful, etc.).
While there is no definitive timeline for becoming engaged to someone what should be established is why you are in a hurry to be married to begin with?
Many people have abandonment fears and believe that a ring will prevent their partner from leaving them.
Other reasons that people may rush into an engagement include seeking reassurance from their partner that they love them in order to assuage some insecurities that they have within the relationship, a worry that their partner isn’t as committed to the relationship that they are, and a fear of running out of time.
None of these insecurities or fears will be solved with an engagement and instead require one to meet their own needs internally.
For example, no matter how much your partner tells you that they adore you and want to spend all of their time with you, if you are afraid that they will eventually leave, it doesn’t matter what they say.
You have to figure out where this fear originated and address it internally so that your partner isn’t responsible for healing old wounds. We are all responsible for our own happiness and seeking it from an external source is bound to fail.
It is also important to note that in the beginning of any relationship we are not in our right minds nor do we fully understand whether or not we are compatible long term, what our conflict resolution styles are, and what our partner’s flaws are (note here; if your partners flaws are glaring red flags for you already, you absolutely should question your motives in wishing to be engaged and even together for that matter).
Oxytocin (a bonding hormone) is released in the beginning of new relationships which is why it feels so good and the sex is so great in the beginning.
Generally speaking, this wears off within the first three- six months and we will see our partner for who they really are. This does not mean get married after 3-6 months!
After the initial infatuation wears off we should get to know our partner, disagree with them, find out what our differences are and whether or not we can work through them.
If the oxytocin wore off ages ago and we are still madly in love, can work through problems, honor our differences, aren’t trying to heal old wounds or assuage insecurities, and still can think of no one we would rather be with, then maybe it’s time to consider honoring your commitment and love for each other with marriage, until then, do yourselves a favor and wait.
Kate Kelly, MSW, LCSW – www.willowcreekwellness.com
Gil and I got engaged within five weeks of meeting, we were married within five months, bought a house and instantly got pregnant with our first kiddo. 28 years later, we’re still best friends and have been through SO much together.
Is this kind of quick knot-tie what I recommend?
Well, not usually, but for people who are crystal clear about priorities, who are in alignment about what truly matters in life, a quick launch into matrimony can be just fine.
He was a 44 year old bachelor and I often joke that we have to catch these crusty older guys off guard before they know what hit ’em…
What matters most, to ensure longevity in a relationship is for the two to be thoroughly committed to the commitment, to be on the same page in terms of goals, both short term and longer term, and for both to have the ability to bend and flex, to communicate with compassion and to adapt and evolve together, no matter what.
In other words, for each to take those marriage vows seriously, as there will be sickness, there will be financial and emotional challenges. We can count on all of that.
The magic isn’t in the amount of time two people have been together, it’s much more about a shared commitment to commitment and the ability we have individually and together to keep creating those loving moments that serve to strengthen and continually renew the bond.
Love doesn’t just “happen” — we cause it, one loving moment at a time.
Julie Ferman, Matchmaker and Dating Coach – www.julieferman.com
Relationship seekers have more options to meet people now than ever before.
Yet, they seem more discouraged and weary as they still find themselves unable to meet the right person, no matter how hard they try.
The patients I see today are more sophisticated, more knowledgeable, more seasoned, more aware, and more cynical. They want the same things as people have always wanted but multiple choices are not necessarily better odds.
The questions they ask me are consistent:
- Should I wait longer in between relationships and take the time to reflect on all the reasons my last interaction went wrong?
- Perhaps the way I should go is to start the next new relationship more cautiously?
- Or, should I just stop looking for the veritable needle in romantic haystacks and just accept that serial connections are going to be a way of life for me?
- Do you think that dating several people at the same time is the right way to go?
- Or, should I just plunge in to a new relationship whenever it presents itself and damn the consequences?
They are not just young people.
I’ve been asked those questions from today’s daters at all ages and in all circumstances.
The new media options that give us practically no background on whomever crosses our path have driven people into an array of choices that may seem like a positive smorgasbord of possibilities, but more often end up with superficial, time-limited experiences that don’t help people understand themselves or others any better.
Many of my relationship-seeking patients feel powerless and adrift in a sea of uncontrollable variables that will dictate their futures outside of their control.
Because they see potential intimate connections as likely-to-end-badly, they either avoid risking themselves or rush into interactions without maintaining their personal integrity or value.
And, there are still terrible gender biases out there.
Women who have had many sexual partners just don’t get the same support as men who have. There is literally no equivalent word in the English language for “slut” that describes men who have had an equal amount of experience, unless that man gets paid for a career in prostitution.
That reality leads many women to either hold back the desire to sample impulsively or to hide prior experiences from new potential partners. Instead, they are supposed to present each new sexual relationships have some substance or potential, when they have little way of knowing in advance.
When there have been many relationship disillusionments and disappointments, it is natural for anyone to feel pre-defeated in finding “the one.”
Yet, just waiting without fully living adventure, love, and experience in the present can make people less willing to risk and less open to possibilities. We become what we practice, both negative and positive.
That means behaving and thinking as the person we want to become, no matter what present circumstances dictate, keeps us more valuable when the next possibility emerges. (See my article on Psychology Today, “Touch and Go Relationships – Do They Need to be Superficial?”)
So, what is the answer?
If you regularly practice how to be the best, most authentic, most self-respecting and alive person you can be, no matter how many relationships you enter and leave, you will be the most likely to eventually end up in a quality relationship.
If you know who you are at your best, what you want, what you have to give, and what your odds are in the open marketplace, the timing of how soon you become intimate and connected is not the issue.
Entering a new relationship with clarity and self-confidence, you will automatically be able to discern early-on whether a potential partner is worth your investment.
When you and that new person are chosen candidates, you both are in for an adventure that should feel as if you are mutually entering a new adventure that cannot have a pre-decide attachment to outcome.
Your reasons for entering that unknown culture are the desire to fully experience, to learn, and to grow. You are not as concerned as to the future of the relationship, whether temporary or permanent, but more committed to being closer to the person you were born to be whenever it ends.
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
I’m going to define engagement as the intent and promise to marry within the coming year.
If the marriage is to be scheduled farther out than that, I think you’re probably not yet ready to get engaged. There are often very good reasons to wait. Sometimes people are still in school or don’t feel financially able to start a life together. But if that’s the case, maybe you’re not really ready for that next big step.
Loving someone isn’t the only criteria for getting married.
There needs to be shared values, goals and life-style compatibility. It takes a while to figure all of that out so rushing into an engagement might curtail the important process of assessing the likelihood of a happy future together.
Sometimes people use an engagement as a way to lower anxiety about the viability of a relationship.
Because engagement signifies long-term commitment, you can move the focus away from any nagging concerns about your chosen partner.
Of course, not addressing those concerns seriously raises the possibility that things really won’t work out.
Concerns are normal and suggest that you’re really serious about assessing the potential for the marriage. If you rush to the engagement you lose the opportunity to address and possibly correct issues that are or could be troublesome.
Getting engaged, like getting married, is fun.
There are parties, dresses, rings, menus and of course an enormous amount of attention from friends and family. From the engagement period, through the wedding, it really is all about you. Who doesn’t like that? But please don’t rush it. You don’t want the next time you’re the focus of attention to be because you got divorced!
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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