Relationships are like Oreos: they come in different varieties and flavors. Sometimes we crave Oreo Thins, other times Double Stuf. We might want pumpkin spice ones around Halloween and peppermint bark ones for Christmas.
At each stage in our lives, we seek out different kinds of relationships with different people. And every once in a while, we find ourselves in an entanglement that feels so right and effortless we actually have trouble believing reality.
Here are a few indicators of the kind of relationship that feeds the soul.
1. You don’t have to play games.
The modern dating scene has somehow made us develop implicit rules of behavior that a large majority of us have agreed to follow. Like if we were the one to text first the last time, we have to wait for them to do it this time. And if they do shoot us a message and we just so happen to have our phone in our hand and could easily answer then and there, we wait at least a little bit so we don’t seem too eager or, god forbid, too available.
If they did something that upset us, we don’t bring it up and confront them directly but rather make a passive-aggressive post about it on social media. If we miss them, we stop ourselves from telling them because it might seem too clingy. If we want to see their face or hear their voice, we don’t call or FaceTime because they might think it’s “too much”.
I once briefly dated someone who would only text me once a week to set up a date. When we were together, everything was great, but we didn’t say a single word in between those weekly dates. I remember the agonizing wait of staying by my phone all day in the hopes that he would text me. I grew so agitated, I one day literally had to start playing a silly game with myself to resist sending him a message: I’d wait until at least 8 p.m., after which I would be allowed to text if he still hadn’t (I’m ridiculous, I know).
Safe to say, that relationship didn’t last very long. This dude was what is called a “breadcrumber”.
“Breadcrumbers will send you sporadic messages, … or throw you a like on Instagram just frequently enough so you don’t lose interest, but not too much so the relationship actually moves forward.” — Cosmopolitan
After a few weeks, it became plain to see that I was giving more than I was receiving; he just wasn’t putting in enough effort to allow us to create anything substantial. My time with him was like a binge-eating episode: you keep eating and eating with the hope that you’ll feel satiated at one point, but that point never comes. At least not emotionally. And Mr. Breadcumbs did not fulfill my needs — instead, he made me loathe myself for playing games in hopes that he would.
I’m a firm believer that real love and emotional intimacy don’t operate in these tactical ways. When the connection between two people is genuine and strong, playing games just doesn’t even make any sense. You’re not afraid to speak your truth. You both come from a place of honesty, authenticity, and strength. You don’t hide behind a veneer of half-interest because both of you are dedicated and mature enough to reveal how you really feel, even at the risk of getting hurt.
2. They make you feel seen.
Dating apps have become the epitome of superficiality. We swipe left or right on people based on some pictures and a few words they’ve written about themselves. Think about it: how many times could we have potentially missed out on a match that would’ve created something great with us just because of a small judgment we made about some part of their appearance or bio? Apps like Tinder have become the fast-food chains of dating; we tend to not invest the amount of time and energy needed to really get to know someone and find out if they’d be a good fit for us. We’ve been conditioned to favor instant gratification, and the overwhelming number of options has made us impatient and insensitive to others. It’s made us forget the fact that it takes time and effort to build something real with one person.
We’ve become unduly preoccupied with external characteristics. The reality of the matter is that there are a lot of ugly beautiful people — we’ve all met them. And that kind of beauty fades away real quick. But kindness, intellect, humor, honesty, and loyalty radiate outwards and have the power to completely transform a person. And the more you fall in love with someone, the more you see that.
There were three studies done by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in which they looked at the effect of non-physical attributes on people’s perception of physical beauty. In one of the studies, members of a college sports team rated each fellow member’s physical attractiveness in addition to “non-physical traits such as liking, respect, and talent.”
They found that the leaders in the team were described as being physically appealing while the slackers were seen as ugly. Interestingly, strangers who weren’t familiar with those same people’s personality traits rated them as being equally attractive based on photographs.
Beauty is about so much more than just looks. Attraction comes from the tiniest little nuances of a person’s behavior, mannerisms, and ways of thinking. The right relationship will make you feel seen for all that you are. The right person will want to be with you not because there aren’t any better alternatives out there but because they choose you. In the words of Paul Newman, they won’t feel like going out for hamburgers — not because burgers aren’t tasty — but because they’ve got steak at home.
3. Your vulnerability is met with acceptance
Brené Brown, an amazing researcher who’s extensively studied courage and the power of vulnerability, says, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences… it is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.”
Our struggles, inadequacies and the broken bits of our souls are all part of the beauty of who we are. Letting someone into those dark, gruesome places that we feel are undesirable is an act of immense courage. Because it is in those moments of naked honesty and fragility that we see the glory of someone’s incomplete beauty. That’s the stuff that real love is made of. That’s true connection and empathy.
Also, how someone’s moment of vulnerability is received says worlds about the other person. I remember the night I let my boyfriend in on my body insecurities, he put his two hands on my head, pulled me closer to him, and said, “Listen to me. I care about what’s in here, you understand?” And I will never forget the way my heart overflowed with emotion for him in that moment.
The right person will see your monsters and think they’re beautiful anyway.
4. You don’t feel pressured to rush into sex as a way of “keeping” them.
Hookup culture has become so prevalent that it’s actually a rarity to find someone interested in committing to a serious relationship these days. There are so many narcissists out there who will make it seem like that’s what they want but are really just trying to get what everybody else is: quick sex.
Because it’s become so normalized to sleep with people from the get-go, sometimes — as a girl, especially — there can be the pressure to jump into someone’s bed for fear that they’ll stop being interested if you hold off.
For me personally, sex is just one part of a whole; it’s an intensifier of the bond that’s already there in a relationship. That’s why I prefer to wait to build a strong emotional connection and intimacy first before getting physical. It’s like when you’ve been hungry for a few hours and then you finally have a meal — it feels so much more magical than it would’ve if you had eaten it when you were only feeling a bit peckish.
A Cornell study that analyzed data from the 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey showed that this tends to be the way a lot of girls think: “Women who entered into sexual relationships with their current partners the most rapidly reported significantly lower levels of relationship satisfaction than those who waited somewhat longer before becoming sexually involved. Women are just more sensitive to relationship-quality issues than are men.”
I think part of it is that we want to be seen, like I mentioned earlier. In a society that constantly objectifies and sexualizes us, we don’t want to be reduced to just a body. At least, not if what we’re seeking is a long-term relationship with a loving and trusting partner.
Everybody has their own convictions when it comes to a delicate subject like sex. I’m not telling anybody when they should and shouldn’t have it. But my point is that the right person will want you to feel comfortable when you get intimate, whether that’s on the first date or fifth or fiftieth.
5. They stick to their word.
I once had a guy plan a “movie night on the beach” date with me — he was going to cook us food and bring some wine and we were going to make a bonfire and spend all night looking up at the stars. It sounded like the most romantic first date.
About an hour before said date, he quite literally uninvited me because the movie night was supposedly a weekly tradition with his “bros” (a fact which he had entirely failed to mention) and they didn’t want a girl to tag along.
That was just one of the many countless times a guy has flaked on me last minute for some BS reason. And judging by my friends’ experiences, I know I’m not the only one.
When a person says they’re going to do something and they don’t, it tells me a lot about not only the kind of relationship I will have with them, but also the kind of relationship they have with themselves. Because as Gordon B. Hinckley says, “In all this world there is no substitute for personal integrity. It includes honor. It includes performance. It includes keeping one’s word. ”
Someone who breaks the promises they make to you also likely breaks the promises they make to themselves. Part of the reason why so many relationships fail is because one or both partners come into them without having worked themselves into whole, self-sufficient individuals first. To build the confidence and self-esteem needed to get to that point, we need to have faith and trust in our own selves. That means doing the things we say we’re going to do. It’s hard to respect a person who doesn’t respect himself enough to follow through.
Someone who truly values you and your time will keep to their promises and do their best to make up for it when they can’t. When they give you their word, you know that it actually means something and you can count on them to stick to it. Trust is one of the pillars the foundation of any healthy relationship is built on. How can you devote yourself to someone you can’t rely on or respect? I don’t think that’s anyone’s idea of the ideal relationship.
6. The “Commitment Talk” is not a difficult one to have.
Different relationships develop at different rates. For me, the ones that turned out to be enduring, meaningful connections were the ones in which we were both sure about each other and had no problem verbalizing our desire to commit.
One guy I was with didn’t want to be called my boyfriend even after months of having dated each other. When I discussed it with him, he got defensive and gaslighted me to make me seem like the crazy one. Not surprisingly, that relationship ended with him cheating on me.
On the other hand, my longest and most serious relationship to date was one in which we became boyfriend and girlfriend after only a week of having known one another. But it felt ridiculously natural and effortless. We were both so enraptured with each other that we had no doubts it was the right decision to make.
The “where is this going?” conversation can be such a confusing and difficult one to have in certain relationships. If it is, I think that’s a sign to maybe reevaluate the situation from a more objective standpoint. Because a relationship in which one person is invested more than the other cannot be a meaningful one.
When two people are truly all in, they have no doubts that they want to be together. And when the right time comes, revealing that fact will be so easy it will flow like a river between the two of you.
Relationships are complex and none are perfect. But if these have been qualities of the kind of “Oreos” you’re craving, I hope you hold out for the person who will give them to you because I tell you — it will be worth every little bit of the wait.