On Dating and Healthy Relationships

Oh, dating, casual sex, friends with benefits, and more committed relationships in the Tinder Era. It's a tricky area to navigate, and sometimes it can be even trickier to tell where exactly you stand with a partner - even when you've tried your best to keep things open and ask where you stand exactly, other peoples feels can seem like a total minefield. Unfortunately, I've been involved in discussions lately where miscommunication and shifting priorities have left otherwise awesome, strong as fuck women doubting themselves and their self worth. It got to a point a few years back where an entire group of women I'm fortunate to be part of adopted the phrase, "FUCK FEELS" as a kind of slogan.

Having been involved in my share of casual relationships over the years, I'm no stranger to those feelings. I want to make it really clear that I'm not against casual sex, and that this isn't about shaming anyone for their choices - whatever those might be. It's great to have fun so long as you're being safe and respectful with other safe, respectful and consenting adults.

What I'm seeing a lot of lately, is a lack of clarity.

If you're finding yourself repeatedly disappointed by partners who just aren't ready to commit, you're in no way alone. This might be a good opportunity to step back, reflect on what's going on for you, and how you might be able to change things up and break away from the same old pattern that's been getting you down.

I often joke about how my boyfriend and I got together, saying that, "He came home with me after one of our friends' weddings, and he kind of never left."

While this is true, it is essentially only the TL:DR version of the story. The reality is that our relationship didn't just happen, nor was it some random fluke hook-up that happened to work out.

The truth is that I manifested our relationship and the life I have now without knowing what the fuck manifesting even meant. Had I heard of the concept beforehand, I probably would have dismissed it along with affirmations as total bullshit.

In late 2013 all I knew was that I had an idea of what I'd like my life to look like, and a much clearer picture of what I DIDN'T want to experience ever again. For the purposes of this piece, I'd essentially been single for 3 years with a couple of hook ups here and there, but had mostly spent a great deal of that time really getting to know myself. Friends, acquaintances, pets and housemates had come and gone during that time which gave me the opportunity to look at my life from many different perspectives.

I don't just mean that I got to know the things I like about myself, or that I spent that time pointing blame at everyone who was no longer in my life. Of course I got to know what kind of experiences made me feel confident and strong, but I also got down and dirty with the darker stuff - the fears, anxieties and the despair. I owned up to myself for all the fuck-ups I'd made along the way, and accepted responsibility for creating the kind of changes I wanted to see in my life. 

I spent so long trying to understand myself that I realised that I'd not only never experienced unconditional romantic love from another person, but that I wasn't even sure that I knew how to give it, or feel it anyway. At one point, I reached out to a group of some of the most amazing women I've had the privilege to know and spilled my guts out in a big mess and asked for their thoughts, "What does being in love look like, feel like or mean to you?"

Thankfully one of them recommended that I check out Brene Brown's TED talk on Vulnerability, which really helped me to clarify a lot of what I was trying to process.

So anyway, back to the end of 2013. I'd been working through Gretchen Rubin's 'The Happiness Project' for about a year by this point, so I'd gotten pretty clear on my personal values and goals for the kind of experiences I wanted to have in life. I sat down in the lead up to Christmas with a new notebook, some coloured pens and I started writing down a bunch of questions and answers about the kinds of things I hoped to Be Do and Have in the coming five years.

I had already been working really solidly to create a life that made me happy exactly as I was: Single; Coffee Drinking Cat Lady; Art School Drop Out; Lover of Sleep; and Occasionally Cranky.

Rather than needing a relationship in order to feel complete as a person, I realised that I was ready to open up space to share my life with another person - but not just ANY person. I'm not going to lie, most of the things I listed down and described in that notebook seemed so outlandishly improbable at the time, particularly to the level of detail I was describing them.

Given that the details seemed so outlandish, I was hardly fixated on achieving them nor was I attached to needing a specific outcome. I had not written down, "I want a boyfriend".

Instead, I had described the qualities I was looking for in the people I wanted to share my life with. Anyone who was going to be spending a decent amount of time around me, would have to GET me.

They would need to be bringing something more to the table than I could enjoy on my own while complimenting my lifestyle.

They would absolutely have to be cool with sharing space with my three cats, be down for snuggles on the couch with bowls of soup and watching cartoons.

They would also be respectful of my independence and need for my own space, and support me in working towards my goals.

I was open to spending time with people who were creative, intelligent and able to challenge me to think differently and encourage me to be my own Best Person without coming across as patronising. While it's totally cool to figure things out as you go, and I absolutely believe in the right to change your mind as you please, I was in no was down for spending time with anyone who wasn't confident enough in themselves to make sound decisions, or who was interested in playing games.

This was a big one for me.

I'd spent enough years being emotionally unavailable, and spending time around people who were even less so, that I was not interested in being jerked around. Ultimately, I think this one is a form of absolute self respect and setting strong personal boundaries when it comes to how you want to be treated - one of the women in my Girl Gang put it this way, "I don't even buy supermarket shampoo! In other words if you wouldn't put that on your hair why are you settling for this person".

One of the lessons I've learned over the years, is that we get to set the standards on how we are treated, and that we teach those around us what we will tolerate and accept through our own actions and behaviours.

Once I was really clear on what I actually wanted, I then made the effort to start going out more, and started trying to meet new people. It just happened that a couple of weeks into 2014, one of our Art School friends got married, and the rest is kind of history.

So, how can you make this work for you?

My suggestion here, is to sit down and ask yourself, "What do you really want?"

If you're truly happiest as an independent person and you desire the freedom of casual partnerships or an open relationship, that's absolutely cool, own it. Play safe and play respectfully.

If you're starting to think that maybe you'd like something a little more involved, then I think it's pretty important to be totally honest with yourself about that.

This isn't to say don't play the field, or don't go on dates with different people, and I'm certainly not suggesting that you just settle for the first person you happen to meet.

I think that if you're starting to desire a committed relationship, then it's important to ask yourself if hooking up with people on the premise of casual sex or a one night stand is genuinely fulfilling.

Part of creating the circumstances for a healthy relationship to thrive involves being happy and committed to loving your life as it is right now. That doesn't mean that everything needs to be absolutely perfect all of the time, but a partner isn't there just to fill an empty hole in order to make you feel complete (which is part of why I despise the title "The Better Half").

A partner should compliment the person you are right now, hold similar ambitions and reflect your values.

Part of why things have worked so well for us, has been that we were both totally honest about the fact that we were enjoying each other's company, and we were both open to seeing how things went. 

It's not the case that any of us are, or aren't "Good Girlfriend Material". It might just be that you've focusing your attention on attracting a partner - rather than the right partner for you right now.