When I was a single girl, I wrote The List in my journal – a collection of qualities that I hoped I’d find in my dream guy – and as a psychologist, I’ve examined this secret and somewhat embarrassing exercise. What I have found is, that when done consciously, writing The List can really help you identify what you really need, not just what you want in your future partner – and is a crucial part in processing past relationships; why it didn’t work, and how you may need to grow as an individual, outside of a relationship.
Let’s be real – The List is not a superficial grocery list of wants like ‘perfect abs’, ‘stack of money’ and ‘must wear matched socks’. The List actually requires a careful consideration and contemplation on past relationships. Why didn’t they work out? What needs were not met? I once dated a guy who was perfect on paper – he was polite, had his own business, my parents liked him, he cooked me dinners and took me on holidays to tropical locations. Seems amazing right? Unfortunately he lacked emotional intelligence, and cracked at the first sign of hard times. Emotionally intelligence went up high on The List. Another time I dated a gentle soul, totally devoted to the relationship, but lacked the ability to have a get-up-and-go attitude towards work. Here I realised the importance of my partner to be driven and hungry to make shit happen. At the end of the day, we’re all individuals and everyone’s list is going to be different and that’s why we need to examine not only our past relationships, but examine ourselves.
Have you ever stopped to think about why you are attracted to the people that you are? As much as we’d like to think that we make our own conscious decisions, so many of our decisions and behaviours are motivated by the subconscious (that sometimes dark scary place which we just can’t quite access but controls so much of us). With this in mind, when we examine some of the past relationships we’ve had – how many choices have been influenced by who our parents thought we’d be good with, what society and the media has shown us about relationships, and even what our friends think?
Furthermore, what drives you to want to be in a relationship? Do you want to be in a relationship because you’re trying to fill a void? Afraid of being lonely? Think it’s time to be in a relationship because you’re at that age where everyone is supposed to be getting shacked up and having babies. Ew! Being in a relationship, despite what Hollywood tells us, is a serious commitment requiring honest communication, authenticity, vulnerability and compromise. You need to be ready, and age or stage of life is not a great determining factor, especially when you’re still healing from past relationships.
This brings me to my next point. Are you ready? Many times in therapy, I’ve seen clients want to skip a crucial part of preparation for relationships – that is, developing a relationship with themselves. Do you like yourself? Do you know what triggers you? Do you have good emotional boundaries (standards that you will and won’t accept in a relationship)? Are you aware of your stuff that could affect the success of your relationship? Without knowing what really makes you tick, and a healthy amount of love and respect for yourself, relationships can be doomed from the beginning. Being single, learning how to love being alone, enjoying the freedom of not having to consult someone else and actually figuring out what you do and don’t like can give you the opportunity to be yourself when you get into a relationship and not an insecure, needy mess (however we’ve all been there). The perfect partner for you is more likely to be recognized when you’ve taken the time to see yourself clearly and it’s well worth the time invested.
So yeah, back to The List. Write it, and examine it closely. Separate the wants from the needs. Fuck off any influences you see from your folks, friends and society (unless you uphold the same values). Question your readiness to partake in the beautifully messy journey of a relationship. And most importantly, question whether you have been the perfect partner for you, because it’s the relationship with yourself that will most likely determine the success of your future partnerships.