When you’re single everybody and their mother tells you how to find a mate. They’ll tell you what you should do: follow your interests and you’ll meet people with similar interests, do something different so you’ll broaden your options, join a gym, be yourself, be authentic, step outside of your comfort zone, play the game, be honest, lower your expectations, believe that you deserve love, etc. They’ll also tell you what you shouldn’t do: don’t try too hard, don’t be too eager, don’t show how much you care, don’t date someone who is older, younger, too much like you, too different, etc.
One of the truisms we hear most frequently is “You have to love yourself before you can love others”. This and those other “recipes” implicitly suggest that there are verifiable techniques one can use to find love. Perhaps. We are more inclined to think that there is no formula. It’s sort of like banking on the stock market; even if you have a sure bet, it is never an exact science.
And that may be the greatest strategy of all–realizing it’s always an exchange between two people. It’s different each time and you can never exactly predict how it’s going to go.
They also say we need to know ourselves–our values, what we want/need, what we enjoy, what our dreams are, etc.-before we get involved with someone else. However, there are some things we simply can’t know until we are in a relationship. We can try to prepare all we want in advance, but it’s another matter altogether when someone else gets into the mix.
The same goes for loving ourselves. That is also a lifelong process and if we’re not there yet, we’re not there yet. We may never get there, for that matter. But that doesn’t mean we can’t love someone else. They are related but not always mutually dependent. In fact, we can often learn how to love ourselves better through loving others.
With that in mind, we do have two strategies that we have found helpful in the relationships game–whether it’s looking for or keeping one. The first is to notice that, regardless of who we think we are getting involved with–the right person, the wrong person, our soul mate, etc.-we can be curious about who is actually in front of us. Probably the greatest challenge we have in relationships is seeing people for who they are rather who we think they are, who we want them to be, or who we think they should be.
The second is to adopt a growth mindset toward relationships. This includes seeing “mistakes” and “failures”- whether it’s just hiccups in a relationship or the whole thing is an epic disappointment-as opportunities for growth. It means lowering the stakes, embracing all of our relationships-successful and satisfying or not-as part of the process of learning about ourselves and others and ourselves withothers. It includes the possibility that even the best relationships have many and sometime significant “issues” that may never be resolved.
We can also adopt a growth mindset towards patterns that recur in our relationships. Some lessons take awhile to learn. When we get discouraged, we can be gentle with ourselves and practice self-care. Self-care is not exactly the same as loving ourselves. Self-care involves strategies that help us to cope better and prepare for life. It also makes us more likely to perceive positive aspects about ourselves, others, and our relationships, even if they are not perfect.
With this in mind, we share with you a self-care download (click here) with strategies to address emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, and professional wellbeing. Figure out which ones are most relevant to you, but also those which have the most impact on your relationship(s). And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page.
Positively Yours, Rebecca and Gioia
Download the self-care handout at this link.
Divide a mandala (a circle on a piece of paper whatever size you like-5 x 5, 9 x 9, etc.) by the domains of self-care that are most important to you when you are in a relationship-physical, emotional, psychological, professional, and spiritual–and include symbols for the activities that support your health in those areas.