The How-Not-To Guides: The partner you can’t fight with

So many things make me cringe in recognition. One of the biggest is “Oh, we have a great relationship – we NEVER fight!”

That’s not a good thing, honey, that’s a flag so red it’s fuchsia. Why? Well, it most likely means one of two possible things:

  1. you’re entirely avoiding topics that might bring any conflict.
  2. one or both of you is going along to get along, i.e. holding your tongue when the other does or says something that bothers you.

We have a lot of good-seeming, well-meaning reasons to avoid conflict like this. The trouble is, it has a tendency to lead to surface-level relations without the depth it takes to grow roots. Never arguing at all is almost as bad as constantly being at each other’s throats. I speak from experience here: you can actually transition from one to the other in a head-spinning hurry.

That’s what happened in my relationship with Ezra. We stayed together for over a year and a half before we had our first argument. It seemed really amazing. We just got along so well! But, well, I wasn’t exactly the most assertive person at the time.

Three of my previous four partners had been, at best, emotionally abusive and manipulative. After surviving even one abusive relationship, your sense of self is pretty warped. After three, it’s basically in need of a total re-build. It really would have been in my best interest to have just spent some time alone to do that rebuilding. Self-awareness sometimes comes on during that whole 20/20 hindsight thing.

Along with that double-whammy of internalizing abusers’ message that, if they don’t love you, nobody will because you don’t deserve it… well, that can lead to some major fear of being alone, and some very intense emotional reactions to receiving positive attention even after it’d been hammered into your mind that you wouldn’t get that, you wouldn’t deserve it, and you were extraordinarily lucky if someone managed to be convinced otherwise.

So you’d better perform. You’d better be compliant, agreeable, and maintain that illusion that you’re desirable. Good Lord, if any of this is something you find relatable, please seek the services of a certified coach or licensed therapist.

What all this un-processed, un-examined background led to is that, basically, I never openly disagreed with him, and I found ways to rationalize things he’d say that didn’t fit in with my perception of our compatibility. The signs were there, I just didn’t allow myself to see them.

Does he debate to inform, with a motive to gain and receive some kind of understanding even if consensus won’t be found? Or does he fight dirty? Does he debate to win, to obliterate, to gloat over people he sees as inferior?

Three major things to look for in sussing out how to expect your partner or prospective partner to fight with you, well before you ever have a conflict, are these:

  1. How’s he argue with other people? Offline and online. We all probably have at least one or two instances we’ve flown off the handle in an online argument, but does he relish the fight itself? Or does he just get caught up in rare occasion? Does he debate to inform, with a motive to gain and receive some kind of understanding even if consensus won’t be found? Or does he fight dirty? Does he debate to win, to obliterate, to gloat over people he sees as inferior? If he’s a competitive rather than consensus-seeking arguer, are you the same way? Are you going to thrive on debating together, or are you going to tear each other down?
  2. How’s he treat his mother? No parent-child relationship is ever going to be perfect, but is his tone when he speaks about her generally respectful? Expressing his private disagreements with at least some tone of “well, I understand where she’s coming from at least.” Or do his interactions with and about her often drip with contempt? This is important because she was the first in-depth, interpersonal relationship he ever had with a female person. If there isn’t a damn good reason, a pattern of contempt toward her is usually a dealbreaker.
  3. Does he see an emotional response as evidence of some lack in logical basis for your position? If, the minute your eyes tear up, you’ve lost all credibility and he shifts into contempt-mode… That isn’t healthy at all. Depending on where you’ve come from, the most likely scenario is that whatever’s given you an “icky” feeling is valid. You may just not have the vocabulary to describe what you’re experiencing accurately. You may legitimately need to know more about logical fallacies, but nobody has a right to dismiss something that’s causing you harm and emotional pain just because you can’t offer a calm dissertation on why your rights and feelings matter.

I definitely would not recommend getting comfortable in your budding relationship until you’ve gotten some clear-eyed observation of how his patterns flow in this regard. Keep enough distance that, if you don’t like what you’ve learned on observation, you are as comfortable as you can be to step away. It’s hard to observe clearly in the pink-and-silver linings of your cloud of infatuation, but it is possible. Keep in mind, this is not manipulating or leading somebody on. Early-on, he’s evaluating you too. Do not stop scanning for flags just because he’s a good kisser, or good looking, or because he brought you flowers a time or two.

This is also a good reason to hold back on getting sexually involved too soon – a LOT of us get emotionally attached when we tangle like that. Make it as easy as possible to be kind to yourself and discerning in your choices. If you’re not just fooling around – if you’re looking for a long-time relationship prospect – then you totally can, and SHOULD, treat your first few months a little more like you’re the interviewer for a job! That doesn’t mean grilling with a ton of third-degree questions, or testing him. It means you’re in tune and observing behaviors.

Pretty sure it’s already been spoilered, but… Nope, I did not use any of these observation tips when I started seeing Ezra.

Being more strategic and assertive from the get-go could have saved us both a lot of heartache when I did eventually figure out that the most loving thing I could do was to let him go so we could seek better compatibility elsewhere.

I’ll also say that he was, overall, a decent fellow and probably still is. We just had fundamental incompatibilities in our character, life goals, motivations, and argumentative styles that did not come up until we’d already spent between 1.5 and 2 years together, because that observation and examination period was never done. Being more strategic and assertive from the get-go could have saved us both a lot of heartache when I did eventually figure out that the most loving thing I could do was to let him go so we could seek better compatibility elsewhere.

Because, wow, once we did start poking around at disagreements, they were everywhere. We couldn’t go a day – no, we couldn’t go HALF a day without being at each other’s throats. We couldn’t fight healthy. And it ultimately did tear our relationship to pieces.

If we’d paid more attention to actual compatibility and not just surface-level feelings, do I think the relationship would have lasted a lifetime? Probably not. But we certainly could have been a lot kinder to each other.

Even in highly compatible pairings, people who love each other are still going to disagree sometimes. It’s a normal part of every healthy relationship. I made a promise to my partner, very early on, that even if I didn’t like him very much in a moment, I would never act like I don’t love him. I may need to step out of the room for half an hour to collect myself before we try talking things out. But I still make sure the last thing I say if one of us needs to run an errand mid-fight is “I love you.” He can still lay his head in my lap while he watches NASCAR or Stranger Things. If he reaches for my hand, he can hold it for as long as he wants to.

In addition to observation and basic kindness, good conflict-resolution skills are SO important.

One of the best tools to fall back onto is the good, old fashioned, “I-message.” For example, instead of “WHY do you NEVER pick up your stupid socks?” try “When I find that you’ve left your socks on the floor, I feel disrespected and like I’m seen as your maid, not your partner.” More on effective use of I-messages can be found at this article.

For further reading on healthy arguing, this article at HuffPo is pretty high-quality.

In short, make as sure as you can, early on, that your prospective partner is compatible to you in goals, motivations, and arguing style. Once you are “official,” don’t hide from conflict, but remember that you are a team and that you care about one another. It’s not about never disagreeing – it’s about speaking truth in love.

The How-Not-To Guides: The Chase

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This was the day JJ and I were going to get married on the playground. He just didn’t know that yet.

My heart pounded in my tiny chest. My pale-pink tutu that Mom had sewn for last Halloween’s ballerina costume, a makeshift veil, flopped precariously atop my head.

This was not going at all as I’d planned.

It was first-grade morning recess, and my friends and I had pulled out all the stops. I even brought a cache of my prized dress-up clothes from home. This was the day JJ and I were going to get married on the playground. He just didn’t know that yet.

I’m sure I’d gotten the idea in a book somewhere. I was always escaping into the nearest book. I think that, in the book, the girls caught the boy, he played along, and the play-wedding went off relatively smoothly. But the boy in the book didn’t run fast. JJ was a regular little speed-demon. We ran and we ran. We tried cornering him, we tried trickery, and we tried just plain begging. All was to no avail. JJ was having none of it. Eventually, we wore ourselves out and just collapsed into a giggling heap of girls.

I don’t think anyone was necessarily bothered by his response – it was all in good fun! And it was definitely the talk of the class for a little while. None of the other kids brought toys from home and immersed themselves in play to quite this scale. I was an oddball, and at the time, I liked it that way.

Based off thousands of hours of observation, experience, research out the ying-yang, and HEAPS of therapy, I’ve come to know I’m far from alone in this personal history of chasing less-than-interested men.

The problem is that this pattern of behavior toward the objects of my desire continued for over 20 years after this day. Based off thousands of hours of observation, experience, research out the ying-yang, and HEAPS of therapy, I’ve come to know I’m far from alone in this personal history of chasing less-than-interested men.

The fact of the matter is, it SHOULD be obvious. Just think about how much of a turn-off it is when you can smell desperation coming off someone who’s pursuing you as a romantic interest. When someone chases too hard, you’re repelled.

I had a pursuer in high school who, every day for months, would give me a rose. He would go to the nearby gas station, and carefully select a rose in a color he hadn’t given me before. The kicker? I was already dating his best friend. But this dude kept at it with the roses. He followed me around like a puppy, and occasionally he’d verbally remind me that he was interested. Sometimes, he’d pass me notes. I’m actually a bit glad this went on pre-social media, because whew. It was exhausting. It looked, to me, every bit as bonkers as that chase-scene probably did to JJ back in the first grade. I was very, very uncomfortable with the whole thing. And that’s how it looks when we stalk our interest or partner’s Facebook or Pinterest, send them endless strings of texts (and then get left on Seen, ugh!) show up unannounced, and so on. You’d think that if we smell desperation on others, we’d be better at detecting and avoiding it in ourselves.

But it isn’t really our fault, most of the time. What do we get trained on from the days we’re barely old enough to walk? The princess, getting her prince. The happily-ever-after. All those Disney movies, the bride Barbie, and so on. It’s worse if you were raised in a devout church, like so many of us. I often make the joke that there are two kinds of women: the ones who have a wedding Pinterest, and the ones who have one a secret wedding Pinterest and lie about it. I know so many women who think they’ve failed because they weren’t successfully married by the age of 25. Or, they married young, but divorced. If you don’t have the house and the spouse before you hit your 30’s, boy, does that pressure ratchet up!

And that’s such a messed-up thing. Sure, some people know themselves enough to do OK partnering up that young, but in this day and age, that’s almost certainly the exception, not the rule. And it’s not like men are subjected to the same pressure! We’ve been done a real disservice by society, and to be honest, most of us don’t even start un-learning that until the late 20’s. If you’re not in that age bracket yet, and you’re figuring that out sooner, good for you! If you’re closer to my age, or older, y’know what? Good for you too! We aren’t a gallon of milk! We’re nowhere near expiring – we can do better, and we deserve to!

So, how do we break the cycle of chasing? I’ll definitely dig more into that in the months to come, but the short version is confidence. There’s nothing more sexy than knowing who you are, what you want, and that you absolutely can afford to hold out for it. I’m gonna suggest a book right now, that completely changed my life. I read this not too long before I met my very own charming partner. I read this book, and almost immediately leveled up in the paradigm shift I needed. Here it is:

This was, to be honest, the first major step on a long overdue journey. I’d recommend this book to anyone. My friends are probably sick of me pushing it on them. It changed my freakin’ life. I can’t understate it. I wish to God I’d read it ten years earlier!

Start here if you want to start learning how to stop chasing, stop reeking of desperation, and actually rest confidently in your ability to attract, not just partner prospects in general, but quality people. To have your choice of a person who will appreciate you, pursue you, and feel like they’re the lucky one if they catch you. I couldn’t believe it either. But isn’t it worth a shot?

Thanks for joining me today. We’ll definitely have more to discuss very soon! Oh yeah, this is not even the tip of the iceberg on fail-stories I could tell on myself. For now, though, here’s to your being more confident than I was.

How to fail right into the loving arms of success

“Fail forward,” my friend Robby always says. Well! If success is about failing hard enough, often enough, I’m the most successful woman who ever lived!

I’ve had failed career launches, failed interviews, failed hobbies, and I failed to develop no fewer than 7 blogs, because I lacked confidence or conviction in what I was saying. I’ve failed at recipes, failed in relationships, and I’ve had TWO failed engagements. It could be said that the first thing a lot of us become experts at is failing!

People say trite crap about the only failure being if you don’t get back up and try again, all the time. It’s mostly only trite because people repeat it so much. Sure, from person to person, the economic circumstances or personal background can vary quite a bit, and some people have an easier time than others. But that doesn’t make the truth behind the statement any less so. As this conversation between us continues, you’ll learn I don’t take well to BS, to sugarcoating, or to mindless cliche. If I say something, it’s because I believe it with everything in me.

And here’s what I believe. That fail-forward stuff is real. It HURTS a lot to fail – and true, if you never stick your neck out and try, you probably won’t feel that pain nearly as much. Especially when it comes to relationships – Those awful, sucky feelings like your guts are empty but also squished and on fire, all at the same time. No matter how many times you get dumped, shot down, cheated on, ghosted, or taken for granted by someone who said they loved you – or turned down without even giving you a try – somehow it never hurts less. It’s impossible to numb that out. (Well, unless you’re a bit sociopathic.)

There’s no such thing as a perfect romance, but a great one is worth the effort.

So, the first things I’m going to talk about over the next few weeks are ways I’ve really blown it, and times I’ve really failed to value myself enough to walk away when I should have. The hope is that you’ll have a better shot than I did at NOT learning the hard way. Because lemme tell ya… Ow.

(Important lesson! If you walk away from a relationship that wasn’t serving you, that isn’t failing! It’s succeeding at valuing your heart, protecting it, and learning what you want by turning away from people who can’t or won’t go there with you.)

Once we’ve shared some of the vulnerable bits together, we’ll move into some theory and technique – what decisions might have been much better in my own past, how you can apply those lessons to your future, and what it means to “do the work” so you’re a complete, confident person who can catch a mate more perfect than you even dared to let yourself desire. Or, if you’re already attached, how to communicate better and fall more deeply in love.

Every morning when I wake up, and every evening before I fall asleep, I look at my partner and I can’t believe how glad I am that I didn’t give up and I was brave enough to say yes to trying again, even after all the pains of every past failure. (I ALMOST turned him down – I’ll tell you all about that sometime!)

Even after every time trusting was not rewarded. Trying again, failing forward, means believing in yourself enough to be brave, and knowing yourself enough to stand up and accept no less than what feeds the truth of who you are and what you want to give and receive.

Thanks for joining me. Let’s go forward together!