Recently I met up with an old college friend. She described to me her most recent on-again off-again romance, which she knew wouldn’t last even from the beginning. The fellow was much too into her, while she knew she wouldn’t ever be that emotionally invested in him. “He wanted to spend time with me doing nothing,” she noted, “and I didn’t. But the thing was, I could remember wanting to do nothing but just be together with my ex.” This felt like as good a measure of a relationship as I’d ever heard.
Often, we talk about deal breakers, what works and what doesn’t, but it’s confusing to really know–what are the true limits of a viable relationship? And it’s as confusing at the hazy beginnings of a relationship/”we’re just hanging out”/dating stage, as it is when you’ve been together so long you don’t really remember what it’s like to be alone. But ultimately, I think the limits are set by whether you can be yourself around that person, appreciate that other person for who s/he is, and both feel fulfilled and happy in that intimacy. Here are 5 warning signs that your relationship just isn’t meant to be.
1. You can’t just enjoy each other’s company.
If the thought of just being alone with that person, without a particular purpose, activity, or distraction (no playing with your phone or drinking, for instance), is giving you a sense of dread, impatience, or profound boredom–it probably means you two are not well-suited. (Sorry for the Austenian tone.)
2. You’re looking for something better.
Another one of my friends once dated a guy whose parents wanted him to date within his ethinicity. They were passionately in love with one another; and yet, he used to say things like, “if only you were…” When they broke up, he rationalized the decision by saying, “maybe I can find someone just like you, but within my heritage.” If you’re ever thinking “I could find someone like this, except better,” it’s time to move on. For obvious reasons, looking for someone better while in a relationship is a bad sign.
3. You only care about your partner for the way s/he makes you feel.
Do you truly care about your partner as a person, with respect and tenderness for his/her past, present, and dreams? Or are you infatuated only with the way this person makes you feel? A long time ago, I dated someone very briefly–and while his attentions were incredibly flattering and exciting at the time, I never cared about his well-being for his sake. If he were working too many hours, or disappointed about something, I knew my heart wouldn’t just go out to him as it does when I truly like someone. And when he said something that rubbed me the wrong way, I immediately decided I didn’t ever need to see or talk to him again. A relationship lacking mutual empathy doesn’t have a foundation for truly lasting love.
4. You cease to grow together.
Sometimes you fall in love with the right person at the right time, but over the years grow apart from one another. You may have had different tendencies and priorities from the beginning, which grow even stronger as the years pass. Or, perhaps one person goes through profound change, while the other stays the same. But if you no longer see eye-to-eye on what the relationship means to you both, and can’t imagine the same future together, then it’s probably not working out.
5. You feel worse when you’re together.
This is a rather deceptively complicated one–you might think, “of course two people have to feel better when together, in order to be in a relationship,” but surprisingly, many people in relationships feel better being alone. Do you feel happier, lighter, and more content when you spend time alone, or when you’re with your significant other? Now, especially in a long-term relationship, it’s both natural and positive to relish occasional solitude. But if you feel more like “your best self” when you’re alone, whatever that means for you, it might be a sign.
So think not just about mood, but about self-esteem, too: do you feel more confident, positive, fulfilled, inspired, and optimistic when you’re with your partner? Or do you find yourself burdened with low self-esteem, doubt, frustration, and pessimism in their presence? If so, then it might be time to re-evaluate whether you should stay in this relationship.
Ultimately, knowing whether a relationship can work is your choice and never a clear, black and white picture. What do you think is an important sign to consider?
Photo: Tina Franklin via Flickr