Spoiler alert: You’re going to have to be yourself.
Relationships can be hard to navigate, but mostly because people don’t feel like they can be honest with each other (or even themselves). These 12 common behaviors are knee-jerk reactions that help us to guard our hearts or save face when things don’t go our way. However, they usually end up causing more harm than good. It’s time to toughen up and ditch these 12 habits for good.
1. Playing coy
It’s okay to be a bit shy; some people are naturally. But withholding details about your opinions and inclinations will only damn you in the long run. Don’t create work for the other person by forcing them to figure out your inner machinations without a toolkit. That’s annoying and unfair. It’s far better to set proper expectations from the start and to give the other person a more honest version of yourself. Save both of you the time and effort of unbundling your cryptic emotions by just saying what’s on your mind. Don’t like pine nuts? GREAT. Now you both know. Let’s move on.
2. Playing roles
You’re not doing anyone a favor by pretending to be what you think they want. Don’t begin inhabiting some sort of stereotype or caricature of who you are in the presence of your S.O. The truth is, that person probably doesn’t even know what they want, even if they think they do. Pretending to like golf only means that you will have to play more golf. The activity won’t be fun for either of you if you’re not actually enjoying it. It will inevitably become a source of conflict instead. If you’re real about your likes and dislikes, your partner will probably like your actual interests enough to let go of the golf thing and do something you both enjoy.
3. Having FOMO
Put down your phone. Don’t be a brat. You’re lucky that someone is willing to share a little space in their life with you, so take advantage of the opportunity to get to know that person. If you think there’s something better out there, leave this person alone and go out and find what you’re looking for. It’s not fair to put others on the back burner while you wait for something else to fall into your lap. That’s lazy and your partner can probably tell you’re holding your breath. Opt-in to being present with your partner. That’s what you’re actually missing out on.
4. Fixating on “chemistry”
I’m not going to lie to you. Having chemistry does matter. It’s the stuff that makes you want to be around someone, physically and emotionally. It’s amorphous, it’s vague, and somehow it’s all that matters. Here’s the catch: Chemistry only exists if you’re being sincere. This is what the movies get wrong about chemistry. It’s not a flaming-hot-tamale-train that hits you all at once. It’s not love-at-first-sight. It’s not a glass slipper. That’s infatuation, dear. While that’s fun and all, it’s neither logical nor lasting. Chemisty begins in your first conversation and builds over time. If both of you are comfortable enough with yourselves and each other to honestly express your thoughts and feelings, you’ll be able to create inside jokes and overcome differences in perspective. That is chemistry.
5. Expecting change
If you’re dating someone and immediately think about all of the things they should do differently, you should just stop dating. Stop dating anyone at all until you break that nasty habit. No one is perfect, especially not for you. There are things that annoy you that don’t even matter, and there are annoying things that you do too. Don’t imagine that once you fix a certain number of things, you two will achieve unwavering happiness forever. That’s unrealistic, and it’s unfair to hold your partner responsible for your daily happiness. You’d want to be accepted for your flaws, too, wouldn’t you?
6. Checking boxes
No one is going to fit your weird checklist of personality nuances, and you definitely don’t fit anyone else’s (nor should you ever want to). The only dealbreakers you should keep are rules against allowing someone to cause you or your loved ones any sort of harm (physically, emotionally, financially, and so on). Instead, try flipping the script. See how it feels to let others define their likable traits. I once dated a guy who gave polite and pointed compliments, like “I like the way you wear colors,” rather than “you look pretty.” I could have never put that on a checklist. It’s too unique to sum up in a few words, as people tend to be. Give your partner’s personality an opportunity to impress you. It probably will.
7. Expediting the Process
Don’t let your fear of time take the wheel. Your true feelings don’t care about mental timestamps, and each relationship takes its own unique pace. Don’t worry if you’re not meeting relationship “benchmarks” at the same time that your married friends did. You can meet the parents when you both feel ready, not because it’s been two months and your mom is asking why you’re still single, and definitely not because Becky’s boyfriend met her parents after three weeks of dating and now they’re taking their honeymoon in the Maldives and vlogging the whole thing. Becky’s life is irrelevant. Worry about you.
8. Expecting someone to “get” you
Imagine others complexly. Make this your dating mantra. You will never completely understand your partner, and they will never completely understand you. You can only get pretty close by communicating clearly and honestly. Never expect your backhanded compliments, quiet scoffs, or eye rolls to teach your partner anything about you (other than the fact that you’re annoying). People can only draw conclusions about you from what you’re willing to share. Share more to get more.
9. Congealing Personalities
Avoid becoming a two-headed couch potato. You will only learn to resent each other. It’s okay to have separate friends and interests. In fact, it’s healthy. Western culture has given us the insane idea that our partner is supposed to fulfill all parts of our lives—they’re our lover, best friend, running partner, bar buddy, sounding board, and medical emergency contact. This expectation is pretty much impossible to live up to. You’ll never find a partner with exactly the same interests as you, so find someone else to do those hobbies with, and let your partner do the same. Your couch will still be big enough for two when you get home.
10. Being goal-oriented
This is not a career path or a level-up in life– this is another person. Imagine them as such. When I say goal-oriented, I mean fixating on how the other person will help fulfill the image you have for your future. This is selfish. Your partner is a wholly complex individual with ever-changing thoughts and emotions. Ever wonder why people in long term relationships wake up one day to realize they don’t even know each other anymore? It’s because of this. You’re not done getting to know someone after you DTR. You’re never done. Focus on the person, not your end goal.
11. Not Smelling the roses
“There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto.”
― Cormac McCarthy
Take your relationship one day at a time. Relish in the day-to-day interactions that make you enjoy being around them. That’s why you both are there in the first place, right? (I sure hope so). Be present as you get to know each other, and don’t worry about the future so much. Deal with life’s big questions and problems as they arise. Anticipating them will only prolong your suffering.
12. Seeing an end as a failure
You’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself and your partner if you imagine things not working out as some sort of failure from either of you. It’s okay to get to know someone and part ways down the road. Remember that you can learn something from every person you meet, and no relationship is wasted time unless you make it so. Few things are as life-affirming as real, human connection. Be open to it as it comes—and as it goes.