A dear friend is trudging through the perilous minefield that this mid-life dating and spills over with emotion every time we meet. The tears, laughter and longing are always followed by a smile and the phrase, “You two give me hope.”
After spending over 2,000 days attached at the hip, my boyfriend and I are the best of friends, sharing equal parts tenderness and playful teasing. We deeply cherish all the little idiosyncrasies of our love. And yet, to have someone else not only recognize, but aspire to what we have feels like the biggest and most sincere compliment in the world.
Lately, I’ve been prescribing my friend loads of advice: trust your heart, honor your boundaries, have fun, and stop overthinking things. Five and a half years ago, I hit the jackpot. I found “the one” and I knew it, instantly. While we’ve had our share of disagreements and life challenges, our confidence in the relationship hasn’t once wavered.
Recent conversations with that single friend have prompted me to truly consider what it is about my relationship that works so well. With so many struggling to find deep connection and long-term commitment, what insights and wisdom might offer to help bridge those gaps?
The simple and not-so-secret keys to a successful relationship are communication and respect. Communication includes honesty, depth of discussion, body language and more. Respect applies to values, beliefs, preferences and physicality. Both qualities are simple in theory, but often more difficult in practice. And yet, I would argue each is well-worth the effort.
When you first meet someone, open up and go deep. Share your big dreams and a few of your crushing insecurities; lay all the cards on the table, as if to say, “I’m real. I’m human, too.” If the person sitting across from you can’t reciprocate, don’t waste your time. Communicate early, often and especially when it’s hard. Vulnerability fosters trust, which clears space for deep connection. Your online façade isn’t going to cut it if your seeking out the real deal.
Let your partner know how you feel, openly share what it is you need and don’t be afraid to speak up when a certain behavior must stop. If the fears from past relationships are rising to the surface, talk about them so they can be permanently dismissed rather than continually pushed away. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for some space and some time to process things. You don’t need to be at your best all of the time. If you partner is pressuring you to move in together or join bank account, it’s okay to shake your head and say, “not yet.” Despite knowing we would would be together indefinitely by the first date, I waited over two years to move in with him because my apartment was emblematic of my independence.
Listen to your partner, hanging on every word, to not only hear but also to understand. Ask questions and seek clarification. Pay attention to how your partner expresses affection and ask what makes them feel most loved. Do all you can to make them feel loved, even if their love language doesn’t come naturally to you. . Develop a joint dictionary of inside jokes and playful interactions. Learn to laugh at yourself and not take everything so seriously. Constantly recount the special memories and remember those moments that made you fall in love in the first place.
Treat yourself and your partner with respect. Be considerate of boundaries, feelings and personal opinions–both your own and those of your partner. Stay true to your values and honor your partner’s preferences. Notice what makes your partner laugh and pay attention to what causes them to recoil. Tread lightly, observe and base future interactions on lessons learned from the present. Express interest in their interests; even if your not inherently interested in football, ask questions that do interest you: “how did you become interested in football, and what gifts has it brought into you life?”
The old adage goes, “treat others as you wish to be treated.” Yet, if your partner has communicated what they want, why not treat your partner the way they wish to be treated? Understand that we are all different and that just because your partner can only meet up once per week or wants to take things slow, it doesn’t mean they’re not interested. Likewise, you must treat yourself with respect. If you’re still licking old wounds, it’s okay to set boundaries and to say, “no.” If you partner respect you, they will be understanding; if not, that’s a red flag.
Pay attention to body language–people will let you know, in no uncertain terms, when you’re disrespecting their values and personal space, even if they don’t say a word. If you partner is uncomfortable, yet too afraid to speak up, and you acknowledge their hesitation, you will earn their trust and lay the foundation for a successful relationship.
It’s hard to see a dear friend suffer through the modern dating scene, and it’s hard to believe how much has changed in just six years. It’s disappointing to see the quality of partners that both women and men are settling for. Each of us is deserving of the undivided attention and unlimited affection of a doting life partner. Before meeting my boyfriend I thought love was a “pick two of the three,” where I could choose between looks, smarts and humor. I didn’t realize I was allowed to ask for all of the above, and more.
To any single and seeking: Be patient. Be picky. Set the bar higher than you ever have before. Walk away if skillful communication or unrelenting respect are not present. You, with your big heart and curious mind, are worthy of someone who can offer you the same in return. Dream big and keep seeking. You deserve more. You deserve better.
For any in happy relationships, what advice would you add? What has been the crux of your relationship’s success?