For a long time, when I dated it was all about the goal: marriage. Every date I went on was with the idea in mind that I wanted to get married. I wanted a lifelong relationship. From the very first date, I was assessing his potential as a husband, as a father (or stepfather, after my divorce), and whether I could see us together in 10 or 20 years.
I wasn’t looking for a marriage proposal on the first date, of course, but I needed to know that he was on the same page. That marriage was what he wanted too. And if he didn’t want that, then I didn’t see a point in continuing to see him — no matter how great he was otherwise.
I imagine I may have missed out on more than one truly incredible guys by doing that. I know that I ended up in more than one bad relationship by doing it — by using a desire for marriage as essentially my only metric for whether we were compatible, I frequently ended up dating guys I wasn’t otherwise compatible with.
And it also meant I stayed in those relationships far too long. Because marriage was my ultimate goal, I saw the months and years I spent in those relationships as an investment toward marriage that I couldn’t let go of. I needed to reap the reward of that investment.
It took ages for me to realize that even if I had reaped it, the reward was going to be miserable and unhappy.
But finally a day came where I asked myself a simple question, the same question I’m going to pose to you now.
What if this were enough?
What if a first date that goes well could be enough? What if just getting to know someone was enough? What if casual dating could be enough? What if dating exclusively could be enough?
What if you could let go of the things you think you ultimately want from a relationship and just let whatever is happening right now be enough? What if you could enjoy what you have right now with no expectations or hopes for the future?
Could you do that? And if you could, how might your life and relationships change?
Think about this for a second. Think back to a year when you were a kid (or maybe an adult) when you really wanted something for Christmas. Maybe it was a bike, or the latest electronic something, but you wanted it all year. You knew it was going to be a Christmas present if you got it at all because it was too big for just a random everyday gift.
You waited and hoped for it. You anticipated it. You crossed your fingers. You promised you’d do all your chores and never ask for anything else ever again if you just got this one thing!
And then, Christmas morning arrived. And there it was! You were thrilled! This gift was just as incredible as you thought it would be. It was perfect and wonderful and you couldn’t wait to play with it. You ignored all your other presents because you got the one big thing you really, truly wanted.
How long did that excitement last? You played with that gift all Christmas Day, for sure. And for a week or two, maybe a month, it was still your most played with gift.
But it didn’t take long before the excitement started to wear off, right? You kept playing with it, but it wasn’t quite as much fun. And then it became even less fun, so you played with it less often. And eventually, this thing you wanted so much that you thought about it all day, every day for almost a year ended up stuffed in a closet or a garage or on a shelf or in a drawer and you forgot all about it.
Or maybe you got excited about another new thing, and set aside the first great present because you got the new great thing.
Either way, the end result is the same: you spent so much time wanting something, craving it, and then when you got it, you ended up getting bored with it and not enjoying it anymore.
The same thing can happen with relationships. If you’re constantly pining for marriage, you’re unable to enjoy the moments you have with your partner right now. You might even choose partners who aren’t good for you just because they promise you the marriage you desperately want.
But even if you get married, you’ll end up finding that the shiny newness wears off and you start wanting something else. It might be children, or buying a home, or maybe you’ll even start to think you don’t love your spouse anymore because you want that thrilling, high-on-love feeling that comes with the early days of a relationship and the honeymoon period after marriage.
So what would happen if you stopped seeing marriage, or whatever it is you’re wanting from dating, as that exciting new Christmas present that will make you the happiest person on earth if you could just get it? What if, instead, you stayed in the moment of your relationship and just enjoyed what is right now?
Maybe dating wouldn’t feel like a chore anymore. You’d enjoy going on dates because you’re going purely for the sake of enjoying a nice afternoon or evening with a nice person who might be good company for the 2–5 hours you’ll spend with them.
Maybe you’d be happier in your relationship because you’d be satisfied with what you have right now. You wouldn’t feel like something’s not right, or missing, because you’re not waiting for your partner to be ready to take it to the next level.
Maybe you’d end a bad relationship sooner because you’d recognize the red flags. Instead of being so determined to make the time you spend with this person pay off in what you want, you’d see the time as a chance to get to know them better. And when you leave, maybe you’d learn more about who you are and what it really is you want in a partner because you’ve remained present and seen the signs of an unhealthy relationship.
“But marriage is important to me!”
You can still want what you want. Whether it’s marriage or something else, there’s nothing wrong with desiring something. In fact, having things we want is a good, healthy thing.
If we didn’t want things, like marriage, we’d settle for whatever we got — including unhealthy relationships and partners we don’t really like.
Consider this: what do you eat when you’re hungry but don’t know what you want?
If you’re like me and most people I know, you do one of two things. You either don’t eat anything at all because you can’t make up your mind or you eat a little bit of a bunch of different things in the hope that one of those things will satisfy your hunger.
If we didn’t have desires around the kinds of relationships we want, we’d either never date at all or we’d end up dating tons of randos in hopes that eventually we’d just fall into something that would make us feel satisfied.
Without knowing what we want in a partner, we’d struggle to figure out if we’re compatible with someone. We’d have a hard time identifying why we’re attracted to certain people or recognizing the red flags that indicate we shouldn’t be with someone.
But just because we want something bigger doesn’t mean we can’t be happy with what is in this moment. Understanding that you can love your partner and be happy with the relationship exactly as it is right now while also wanting to one day marry them or have kids with them can make you happier. It can stop you from walking away from what could potentially be the relationship you always dreamed of just because it’s not moving fast enough for you.
The biggest problem with the idea of allowing this to be enough is that sometimes we worry that we might stay in a relationship too long waiting for something that’s never going to come. It’s the concern that we’ll think the relationship is heading toward what we want while our partner is content with exactly what we have and would never want the same ultimate goal we want.
Being able to allow this moment to be enough doesn’t mean you never talk about the future and what it could hold. You should talk about those things. Making sure you both want the same thing is an important part of assessing compatibility and whether you want to be with someone. And you can check in from time to time to see if you’re still both seeing the same future for the relationship.
But here’s the key: If you can allow this to be enough, if you can let yourself be happy with what is, you’ll be better able to sense if the relationship has stalled where it is.
You see, when you’re so determined to get to your goal, you’ll drag your partner, and the relationship, along with you like a reluctant dog on a leash. This means you’ll either end up breaking up because your partner feels pressured or they’ll go along just because you’re forcing it. And that means you’ll get what you want but you’ll have an unhappy partner and/or always wonder what might have happened if you’d just let the relationship follow its natural course.
But when you can be happy with what you have, allowing it to be enough even when you still want something more, you’ll be able to relax. You’ll be able to melt into the relationship. You’ll feel when it’s still breathing and heading toward a future together or when it’s gasping for breath or already died.
You won’t stay in a relationship too long because you’ll be able to see the end is coming before it arrives and walk away when the time is right.
Give it a try. Whether you’re dating around or in a relationship, allow this to be enough. Allow whatever you’ve got right now to be enough. Allow yourself to be satisfied with whatever is. Feel the contentment, the joy in just living in the moment, the happiness of not needing anything more in this moment.
See what happens. You might be surprised at how much easier things get in an instant.
Wendy Miller is a Certified Happiness Coach, freelance writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love & happiness they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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