During and after my break-ups of recent years, I have lamented why I wasn’t worth their fight. There is a lot of good about me, so why wasn’t it good enough? Was there something inherently broken, or was there something about me that was so bad that it outweighed the good?
In part 2 of this series, I wrote about what I find valuable in a partner. In part 1, I wrote about what I find to be valuable about myself. In hindsight, I do believe that the men I’ve loved found me inherently valuable. Whether or not they valued themselves, I’m not even sure I know, though their actions would indicate they valued themselves above all others.
But one of the things I realized recently is that we didn’t necessarily value the same things in a relationship. Shared interests and similar social and political leanings cannot sustain romantic interaction, if both parties aren’t looking for similar things in romance.
So what do I value in a relationship?
I value communication. It’s important for me to be in regular contact with the person I’m dating. It doesn’t have to be constant, though I fully admit that I am a very active texter, emailer, and caller. I will think of something that I want to share with that person, and I’ll send it before considering any ramifications. I don’t expect that there will always be an immediate reply, but it is important to me to get a response eventually. Ongoing conversation builds rapport, expresses affection in subtle ways, and strengthens bonds. But it’s just as important to me that expectations—of plans, of emotions, etc.—be shared. Far too often, I have inferred one thing to be true, only to be met with irritation that my interpretation was not at all what the other person intended.
I value reliability. Interaction doesn’t have to be constant, though it does have to be regular. Just as importantly, I have to be able to rely on the person to be there. Both because it’s just downright irritating when people don’t do what they say they’re going to do and because I have this deep-seated fear of abandonment, I need my partner to show up. I need them to show up when they say they’re going to, but also when they should. Dismissing important events or forgetting to do the logistical things that you’ve promised to do is an indicator that something in the relationship isn’t worth your time and effort. If you tell me you’re going to do something, show up and do it.
I value kinesis. I spent a lot of time during my marriage and later in my relationship with Rango sitting around and waiting. I was waiting for them to get up on a weekend or waiting for them to get home from working late again or waiting for them to finish what they were doing to join me (or me and the boys) to do whatever. I stagnated in my marriage, and I became stagnant again during that subsequent relationship. It’s not that I can’t just sit and chill sometimes, but I enjoy going for walks at the park or going to see a concert or a show at a museum. But I also value emotional kinesis. I need movement forward. Not necessarily toward a goal of cohabitation or marriage [in part because I don’t know that I’ll ever be willing to do either of those again!], but at least toward shared future. Happily ever after shouldn’t mean stopping at some self-imposed pinnacle and hoping the balance of my life stays exactly the same.
I value family. My boys are a huge focus of my life, and that’s not changing any time soon. My extended family is important to me, and my girlfriends are the sisters I never had. Whomever becomes a part of my life becomes a part of that. It’s vital that we forge our own sense of family, as well, and that necessarily includes my babies.
I value safety. Yes, physical safety is a big deal. I was in one physically abusive relationship and for far, far longer than I like to admit. But emotional safety, for me and for my partner, is just as important. The relationship needs to be a safe space to share feelings and thoughts and ideas, without recrimination. Far too often, I have felt punished by my partner for expressing emotions he didn’t like. In healthy love, there’s no tolerance for stonewalling or emotional abuse.
I value passion. Look, physical passion may well dwindle after that ubiquitous honeymoon phase, but the loss of physical intimacy is the death knell for a relationship. I know; I’ve been there twice. Sex is natural (and wonderful and fun) and is a healthy expression of emotion and trust between two people. For me, a loving relationship will necessarily be emotionally and physically intimate.
I can write about what I want or need, what’s important to me in a relationship. But until I’m actually in a relationship again, I have no way to put these things into practice. Queen Frostine commented that my break-up with Finn was probably the healthiest and most mature I’d ever had. I do believe that I’m capable of clearly discerning when something is not working for me, of giving it time to grow rather than starting from a place of intense, immediate emotion, and of evaluating clearly whether or not the other person may be a healthy, cohesive match for me.
So I’m going to try dating again. At least theoretically, I’m open to the possibility.
But I’m also going to keep spending more time doing the things that are fulfilling to me, even if I don’t have a partner to join me. I’ve done a couple of 5Ks this year. I joined a fantastic philosophy discussion group that meets monthly. I’ve started volunteering.
If I meet someone who wants to join me for some things, I’m willing to let someone into that space. But I’m also keeping that space well-defined. It has taken me a very long time to realize that I’m worth my own effort, and I’m not willing to let that stagnate again.