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Relationship deal-breakers, Part I

Relationship deal-breakers come in many forms.

Last week I posted about working in the sex industry and dating people who are uncomfortable with your occupation, and dating a sex worker and being uncomfortable with their occupation.

Those might seem like extreme examples of potential deal-breakers in a relationship, but it’s all relative. Humans are colorful creatures, and what counts as an absolute disqualifier for one person might not be a very big deal to another.

Figuring out what’s right for us – and what we want nothing to do with - in romantic relationships is important stuff. Engaging in connections that feel good, interacting with people who delight us, and building relationships with partners who are right for us can enhance our lives in countless ways.

And spending our time with people who aren’t right for us can be pretty awful in countless ways.

That part is (probably!) relatively obvious. Here’s the hard part: humans are – albeit to varying degrees – crazy, messy, odd creatures. Even wonderful people have features that, under certain conditions and from certain perspectives, could be considered absolute disqualifiers. Some of these features reveal themselves quickly… maybe that unbelievably hot person you went home with has extremely questionable taste in bedsheets, or snores so violently the walls shake.

Maybe you get over that stuff, and you enter into a committed partnership with a person that you’re generally quite thrilled about… and then over time, things change and get harder. Even the most robust long-term relationships have their existential challenges. (May every single deity within the pantheon of the world’s religions bless Michelle Obama for talking openly about the difficulties within her marriage to Barack in Becoming. Talk about a breath of fresh air.)

The thing about intimate relationships – whether they last a night or two, or for years or decades – is that they are, well, intimate. Closely acquainted, familiar, close. Meaning we get to know all of the things we like about the other person really well, and we also get to know all of the other parts of them.

And this is – for some people, anyway – one of the great gifts of human existence. Knowing someone deeply and fully, and embracing all of their parts is a wonderful thing, as is being on the receiving end of this sort of recognition. But in order to get there, we usually have to learn how to accept aspects of another person that we might not be automatically inclined to love, or even like.

AND at the same time, we need to figure out where to draw the lines. We all have the right to setting and enforcing healthy boundaries. We have the right to choose behaviors we expect from others, and identify behaviors we will not tolerate. We’re allowed to have likes and dislikes. We have the prerogative to be attracted to some qualities and attributes in people, and not at all interested in others.

Where does this leave us?

It’s okay to want what you want, no matter how petty or arbitrary it may seem. But figure out what you want, and take responsibility for your preferences. This might sound ridiculously simple, and maybe for you it is.

But for some of us, this gets a little more complicated. Some of us never got the message that it’s okay to have wants and desires in the first place. Some of us never learned that we’re worthy of receiving what we want.

We can all benefit from getting really clear about exactly what we want in our romantic interactions, whether we’re looking for quick no-strings-attached dalliances, or exploring potential long-term mates, or are already committed to someone. Why? Getting clear about what we want makes it a lot more likely that we’ll get it – and that we’ll appreciate it when we do.

That’s powerful in and of itself, but knowing what we want and being able to recognize it when we have it is critical if we want to have a healthy sense of what we don’t want, and what constitutes a deal-breaker vs. something you might not like but can learn to live with.

I’ll write more about that next time. For now, you have a homework assignment. What are five qualities you value and appreciate in a romantic partner? What are five attributes of a romantic relationship that are important to you? I’m using the word “relationship” lightly here – it could be a one-night stand or a till-death-do-us-part situation, or anything in between. You’re still spending time with a person… so what do you want the quality of your exchange to be like?

In other words, what are your deal-makers? Figure that out, and then we’ll talk more about knowing when to walk away and knowing when to run.


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