“So it's not gonna be easy. It's going to be really hard; we're gonna have to work at this everyday, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, everyday. You and me... everyday.”
Since I was little, I had an outline for my life. I would date and have fun in my early twenties, probably travel the world a lot. By twenty-five I would start to think about settling down, and by twenty-seven/twenty-eight I’d get married. We’d wait one year to start having babies, and then I’d have three or four preferably before I was thirty-five. And of course, I’ll adopt one, too.
However, now that I am twenty-seven and single, I recall the words my adorable little sister said to me a couple years ago when I told her I wanted to be married by twenty-seven: “That’s never going to happen. You don’t even have a boyfriend.” What a sweetheart.
Clearly life doesn’t happen the way we planned or imagined a lot of the time, if not all of the time. Yet, I haven’t lost hope at this present moment in my life. In fact, I’m a lot more hopeful than I have been in past years, possibly because I’m a lot healthier. I may not be married yet, but it’s still something I want and believe will happen for me eventually.
My parents were never married. My dad knocked my mom up and they had me when they were twenty and twenty-one. It was not the start of any kind of happy or successful relationship. It ultimately ended very messily with my dad eventually getting married to another woman. Despite their rocky, unhappy, tragic relationship, I, however, envisioned myself getting married from a young age.
My goal of marriage has had many internal setbacks, from the time a therapist told me that it would be hard for me to find someone on my intellectual level (was that supposed to be a compliment?), to the time a personality test similarly told me it’d be very hard for me to find someone. Revisiting my personality type, I learned that INFP's rate the second highest among people who are dissatisfied in marriage.
Throughout my dating years, I’ve been told by dates, friends, and my dad that I’m too idealistic and my standards are too high. After my most recent break up, my dad imparted this wisdom upon me: “I know I set a really high standard being so perfect, but maybe you should accept that you’ll never find anyone as perfect as me.” Yes, it is all his fault.
But seriously, I know I’m an idealist. I know I’ve had this perfect person envisioned since forever. And to be completely honest, I once found that guy, but it didn’t work out. Our lives took us on separate paths and I accept that. But because I found it once, I’ve always been convinced I could find it again. Whenever I had a date tell me the guy I want doesn’t exist, I’d always think to myself, “but he did.”
Am I the only one who thinks lowering their standards is a terrible idea? I hope not.
I think that others think I have this incredibly long unrealistic list of characteristics and qualities someone needs to meet. I’m not going to lie, that list is in the back of my head somewhere, but the truth is that I only have two. Two very important requirements that each of my parents accidentally taught me about who I should marry. And I believe these two requirements can be applied to anyone looking for someone to marry.
Before I lay out these two very important requirements, I’d like to start with the foundation. Even if you find these two requirements, if the foundation of the relationship isn’t solid, then these two requirements don’t matter.
The foundation is simply a healthy relationship that is non-abusive in any way and constantly works on communication, compromise, and understanding. This is what any kind of relationship, be it romantic or otherwise, needs to have in order to be successful. A relationship cannot flourish without this.
Now onto the two lessons my parents taught me.
Requirement #1 What My Mom Taught Me
When I was in high school and questioning if I was in love, I asked my mom, “How do you know when you’re in love?”
She told me, “When you can’t imagine that person being with anyone else.”
She asked me to picture the guy I thought I loved kissing someone else, holding someone else, doing all the things he did for me but for someone else. I was devastated at the thought. My eyes immediately started watering, because I couldn’t stand to think about any of those things. So that’s how I learned I was in love.
Loving someone may seem like the most obvious requirement in order to get married, but this lesson helped me in another critical time of my life. This same person who was my first love, well, I held onto that love for a very long time hoping that one day we’d find our way back to each other. And years later, we did.
Him and his longtime girlfriend had broken up, and he immediately sought out a friendship with me. It had been years since we’d been in each other’s lives, and I was terrified of the way I felt about him and the fact that he had loved someone else for so long. By the end of a week of trying to be friends again, his ex wanted him back, but he wanted to remain friends with both of us.
This was the guy I had once thought was perfect. This was the guy I harbored a secret hope of reuniting and marrying one day. This was also the guy I thought secretly loved me back all those years we were apart. So, I finally asked him if we were to continue to be friends and I started dating other people, how would he feel about it? He said he’d be happy for me, and I heard it in his voice that he truly meant it.
He’d be happy at the thought of me being with someone else, but I knew it still pained me to think of him getting back with his ex or being with any other girl. This is when I learned and accepted that he did not love me. And if he did not love me, then he was not the one for me.
Love is many things, but jealousy and possessiveness are two qualities we don’t normally associate with it. The fact is that love is jealous and possessive. Love says you are mine and I am yours and I don’t want you belonging to anyone else and I don’t want you to belong to anyone else. In fact, I can’t even imagine it.
My mom didn’t teach me that love was important, she taught me how to recognize it. How to recognize when I did or did not love someone, and equally important, when someone did not love me. If there isn’t mutual love, then there is no future.
Requirement #2 What My Dad Taught Me
So now that we got past the more obvious requirement, onto what my dad taught me. I’m very sure my dad doesn’t know he ever taught me this lesson, but many years ago when I was a worse version of myself and dating unhealthily, he did.
A combination of idealism and low self-esteem led me to spend a few years dating lots of wrong guys for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to feel better about myself, so I dated guys for the attention and affection, but then quickly knew they were not the ones I wanted to be with for long. So, I pushed many guys away very very quickly. At my worst, guys lasted an average of two weeks to a month.
The problem with my constant bringing guys in and then pushing them away is that it left me feeling worse about myself. I would lament that no guy would ever stay. I thought that if no one sticks around, then something must be wrong with me. I must not be worth sticking around for.
My dad is a “tough” guy. He is not an emotional one, nor does he know what to do with emotions when they’re presented to him. Yet, he’s still the most stable and constant man in my life, so though I try to avoid crying to him about my love life whenever I can, there are sometimes when all I want is my dad.
During one of those times I cried to him, I told him all I felt about myself. I told him I thought something was wrong with me and I questioned why no one would ever stay, knowing full well that I was the one pushing them away. My dad didn’t have much to say, but he did say something that has always stuck with me. He told me, “The right one won’t be so easy to push away.”
Those few words changed everything for me. If it was easy to push away someone and they left just as easily, then that wasn’t the person for me. I came to learn how important this lesson was both in short-term dating and even in the long run. Then of course, I like the caveat of not easily leaving, because it also means that there are times you should leave.
When you are with someone for a long time, and either you see a future with them, or you are living your future together already, you don’t want someone who can leave so easily when things are hard. You want someone who will stay and work things out with you. You want someone who will fight for you and the relationship, because it’s worth it to them.
As I continued to date, I kept these words close to me whenever someone did leave me, whether I pushed them to do it or not. When I once went out with a guy who gave me more hope than I’d had in a long time, I was devastated when he decided out of the blue that he didn’t want to keep dating me. Nothing wrong had happened. I didn’t push him away, and we had been having a great time together. It seemed like we were on our way to really liking each other.
I’ve never been good at letting go, and this was a good guy who I really wanted to hold onto. And perhaps I would’ve if I didn’t have my dad’s words. It was very easy for this guy to leave, and he left while nothing was going wrong. So what would’ve happened down the line if we had dated longer and things actually did get hard? The fact that he left so easily helped me to not hold onto him.
And this lesson is also what led me to hold onto my recent ex for as long as I did. We dated for a year and a half, my longest relationship since high school. From the beginning, we both wanted to fight for each other and our budding relationship. Whenever things got hard, and there were plenty of times that happened, often there was one person who wanted and even sometimes tried to leave, but no one ever did. We kept staying.
But in my eyes, he only filled half of my requirements. I could always easily imagine him being with someone else and I’d be very happy for him.
I may be idealistic, but I don’t think these requirements or standards are too high. My parents were never married, and they’ve never explicitly taught me anything about marriage, but they both gave me these invaluable lessons that I will continue to hold dear. Whoever I end up marrying, I’ll know it’s right when I can’t imagine him being with anyone else (and vice versa), and when it’s not so easy for either of us to leave.