We have grown up in a culture that has lied to us about love and relationships. It has sold us a version of The Emperor’s New Clothes and that’s stopped us having an honest dialogue about relationships.
Let’s start by understanding what has happened.
Our culture has told us that love is instantaneous. Just be beautiful or gallant enough and…
“One day you’ll meet this perfect person and everything will fall into place”
The Cause Of Relationship Anxiety
So there’s a pressure to not miss your chance. There’s an anxiety that you won’t recognise when it happens.
“You’ll just know.”
The result of all this is that people often feel that relationships are out of their control. It feels like it’s something that either happens to you or it doesn’t.
If it doesn’t happen, it seems that there’s something wrong with you.
“Wasn’t I beautiful (or gallant) enough?”.
This lack of clarity about what it takes to be successful in relationships. Added to the underlying pressure from our culture of ‘fitting in’ and conforming make people feel inadequate if their relationships don’t match up to what they ‘should’ be.
Shame silences. It means people don’t want to talk and so the real conversations never take place.
Instead people go on the offence and decide to bombard people with social media updates showing how happy and loved they are.
Because the fear is, if people really knew that I was unhappy they’d think there was something wrong with me.
Just as you don’t want to feel a failure, because the Joneses have a bigger car, you want to feel you have as good a relationship. So relationships become competitive.
“At least I’m in a Relationship!”
There’s an implicit social ranking system somewhere that shows you how you’re doing in life.
Being in a relationship, even a bad one, seems to net you a higher ranking.
So people stay in loveless marriages.
They try to make relationships work… even when they shouldn’t.
All of this, means we don’t have the deeper conversations that we should have. We stay locked in our own heads with a confused idea of how to make relationships work.
so None of us have the relationships we want
The statistics for relationships are dire. Anything that has a 55% failure rate shows there’s a serious systemic problem.
Anything where the results get worse with second marriages and worse still with third marriages shows we’re not learning from our mistakes.
But we still believe that it’s a problem with people.
“People are too fickle today and not willing to work at anything.”
People are willing to work when they have a plan they can believe and trust in. We just aren’t giving that to people on a big enough scale.
Relationships Need an overhaul
We need to change the game of relationships we are playing. The way we do relationships at the moment is a losing game.
One of the frustrations I see a lot from people dating is a lot of short-term relationships.
“I can’t even get to a year!”
This always shows me that someone is using the wrong metric for measuring success. Success is not how long the relationship lasts, but in the quality of the relationship.
Karl Popper, writing about the Scientific Method, argued that the goal of an experiment is not to prove your hypothesis, but to try to disprove it.
John Gottman says on average married couples wait six years from knowing a relationship is over to ending it.
That’s six awkward, wasted years.
It takes that long because people are fighting inertia. It’s easy to stay married. It’s scary to think about the impact for children. To confront the stigma and feeling of failure. To feel that you’re crushing the other person’s hopes and dreams.
Yet, try as they do, they don’t know how to make it work and ultimately they end it because it feels like it is stifling the life out of them.
Imagine the impact we could have on our society if we could make that process smoother and easier for all involved?
In the United States alone there are almost 2,500,000 divorces a year.
That’s a combined 15 million years of feeling stuck and miserable.
15 million years of reduced creativity and lower productivity at work because people are stressed.
15 million years where children are living in varying levels of hostility.
Simple Is Not Easy
Speaking as someone who is devoted to making relationships simple, I never say they are easy.
Simple is about knowing what you can do to improve them. Simplicity comes from the difficult conversations and the ability to be honest about what is going on.
A relationship with someone else is probably the most difficult thing we can do. That’s why the simpler approach is all important.
You Can’t Make Every Relationship Work
Because of the cultural propaganda we have all been programmed with, we think relationship failure is a relationship not working.
We think length of time is a marker of success.
The reality is that not every relationship is going to work.
Of course, many of the relationships that end up in divorce could have lasted with better relationship skills.
Yet, the biggest key to make a relationship work is to get into a relationship with the person we can make it work with.
Most of us really might as well take a lucky dip and pull out our future spouse. Because the way we chose our partner was just as random. We were attracted to them. We were at a low point. We liked an aspect of their character.
Yet when the relationship is pressure tested, as all are in time, the vulnerabilities showed through and cracks appeared. Then because the very relationship foundations crumbled, the relationship seems to be beyond repair.
The Goal of Dating
The goal of dating isn’t to get a date. A second date. A relationship.
The goal of dating is to find out about someone and whether you’d fit together.
How excited you feel. How in love you are. And how passionate the relationship is, the thrill of dating.
But dating and relationship building are different things. They’re inter-related of course. The memories of dating are a key part of building your narrative and relationship foundations. Yet a dating relationship is very different to a domestic relationship and they require different qualities.
Many people fall head over heels in a dating relationship, settle into a domestic relationship and realise the qualities they loved, don’t work in a longer term context.
There are a certain number of diamonds hidden among the rubble of all the single people.
The goal of dating is to sort through all the thousands of potential partners and sort them into the various boxes.
Not for me. For me, for a fling. Maybe. Yes.
To know you have a yes, takes at least a year. You can’t know until you have seen someone in all kinds of contexts, all kinds of moods and in all seasons.
The quicker you can get to no, the more people you can sort through and the quicker you are to finding your yes.
When we prolong a ‘No’ into a longer relationship, we delay finding our ‘yes’.
Many people are missing out on their happy ever after because they’re trying to turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.
When someone isn’t committed. When someone is attached, but promising to leave for you. When someone seems perfect if only…
They’re ‘no’s’. Accept that and move on.
The key to effective dating is partly velocity. How many people you can sort through.
That doesn’t mean you churn without giving people a chance.
It actually means being less picky on the superficial. And lots more picky on the deeper factors.