How To Set Relationship Standards That Work For You

Flickr / Cincono
Flickr / Cincono

The infamous checklist! The standards, the dealbreakers, the must-haves and the hell nah’s – the at times shallow, but ever essential consolidation of what we look for in a significant other. The thing is, a list is actually not what we need, because connecting with someone is not equivalent to grocery shopping. You can’t forget to laugh with someone who just gets you the same way you forget to pick up skim milk. Human intimacy and relationships are far more dynamic than a Trader Joe’s run (although both can be very gratifying).

That being said, coming to an understanding of your own standards, expectations, and desires is essential to recognizing a real connection, allowing your best self to thrive, avoiding settling for something that’s no good for you, and maintaining the elements of your life – personally and as it pertains to interacting with others – that are most important to you. It’s a dynamic process but eventually you find yourself with the permanent standards and dealbreakers – the criteria that have stood the test of time and of your own transformation.

A few important points to keep in mind:

  • I recently talked about how the most important standards begin with yourself, and are very personally cultivated, and I sincerely believe that to be true. So before you establish your criteria as it relates to other people, establish the standards within yourself! That’s your foundation, your scaffolding, your core to fall back on and re-center yourself if you ever find yourself lost.
  • You don’t want to be held hostage by a generic list of qualities that actually have nothing to do with what you really want. The vague laundry list of “attractive, nice, smart, loyal” is useless because it’s just expectations you feel you’re expected to have. Try not to confuse it with what actually matters and means something to YOU in the context of YOUR life. That’s why becoming comfortable and fluent in the language of yourself first and foremost is so crucial.
  • Finally, take everything here with a grain of salt, because after all, what follows are my standards (since that is the only “list” I am able to make honestly). We all may share some qualities, and that’s my hope, but these criteria that have become utterly essential to me, are borne of my own process of coming to understand myself, so keep that in mind. Ok, here we go…

At a fundamental and rather simple level, I think the most significant shift has been in my understanding of what a real, mutual, deep connection feels like. I have many connections like that in my life. It occurred to me, though, that this depth of connection can be present in any really close relationship – it’s not exclusive to a particular type of relationship. I think I always have known that level of connection is important to me – hence many years of singleness, much preferred to something lackluster – but the realization that I have connections like that already, and therefore, would undoubtedly be able to recognize it, was important.

See, that’s where some of the doubt was: the uncertainty that maybe I was blowing off potential soulmates because I was incapable of seeing the potential for something wonderful. But ultimately, I think I know myself better than that, and am in far more fluent and frequent communication with my instincts for that to be the case. The bottom line was, if I wasn’t interested, we just didn’t click. That’s not necessarily due to any obvious shortcoming on either side, or even some glaring lack of compatibility; sometimes it just ain’t there. And that’s ok! This has been another important realization: it’s good to value (and not take offense to) the lack of connection with some people because in comparison the real connections will be impossible to ignore and wonderfully inevitable.

You can’t click with everyone, and frankly, it’s better that way. It makes the clicks that do happen so much more amazing. Not to mention the fact that when you do develop that high-quality, undeniable connection with someone, it’s an investment. It requires your time, your effort, your emotional presence – all of which should not seem like a burden because it’s a joy to make an effort, to spend time, to be emotionally present with people you really care about. But if you had that connection with every person, you would exhaust yourself, or you would have to dilute the quality of the relationships. That’s why every encounter can’t be a click.

So that lays the foundation. Some might call it a spark, I think of it as more of an “organicness”, or magnetic affinity for each other – that effortlessness that happens when personalities are drawn to each other in their true form. When being yourself is the best way to be with someone, so it’s easy and natural and constant. You know the type of connection where you’d rather do nothing with that person than go to Six Flags or a Kanye concert or to a fancy dinner with someone else. Their presence outweighs any activity. That’s essential.

Probably inherent within that type of connection, but worthy of mention nonetheless, is the ever indispensable, sense of humor compatibility. Can you make me laugh? Can I make you laugh? Does our humor ricochet off each other, gathering momentum and inspiration and ridiculousness the more we interact? Can you be goofy and silly and witty and sarcastic and deadpan and bust out a random accent with me no questions asked? Do you champion your youth? Can you find the hysterics in a stressful state of delirium, and make a grocery shopping trip a ridiculously hilarious adventure? Do you know that taking life too seriously all the time is never the way to go, and that responsibility is important but it should not overshadow all impetuous impulse, and that maturity is great but in moderation? Do you know the truth about completely growing up – that it’s a trap? This is the stuff of beautiful friendships.

Which brings me to the next essential element: friendship. That bolsters the relationship significantly and opens it up to so many more wonderful domains and another level of closeness that enhances it all around. Friendship is a unique form of intimacy, and coupled with the romantic element, it makes a relationship dynamic and enduring and multi-dimensional and resilient and versatile.

Because I have been lucky enough to have some incredibly close friendships as well as tremendously tight-knit relationships with my family, an absolutely critical factor in my dating someone is that they be interested in getting to know my people, and essentially, forming a friendship with them as well, but at the very least making an effort to get to know them and be comfortable hanging out with them (and I express that same interest in reverse). In my mind, the friendship is inevitable because I have some amazing people in my life so it seems to me it’s impossible not to love them. For example, my best friend and I live together and hang out a ton, so if you’re not cool with all of us spending time together, then it’s not gonna work. I obviously value the one-on-one time as well, but someone who only wants that simply would not fit into the life that I have developed and value immensely.

This may seem like an annoying or unnecessary factor to some of you, in which case, that’s totally cool: let’s agree to not date. That’s another important thing to keep in mind: it’s okay to respect or like someone or get along with them on many levels and find that, dating-wise, you’re simply not compatible. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not an insult, it’s truly just life and the occasional inevitable outcome of living on a planet of billions.

All of these essential elements have solidified in my mind and heart over time. There are other factors of course – mutual attraction, honesty, loyalty, compassion, drive, intelligence, and so on – but what I’ve found is that if the real, substantial connection is there, it means those elements are as well.

As I’ve grown and discovered myself, I’ve become far more in tune with what it is that matters to me. All my closest relationships have developed organically without being sought out. What’s more, they felt so wonderfully undeniable and inevitable. I’m so grateful for that because it has gifted me the ability to be utterly content regardless of my relationship status, and to find tremendous value in my own growth and self-discovery, which is always, always a process to appreciate. TC mark

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