How I Learned to Have a Satisfying Relationship
Dating and relationship lessons from my life.
Posted October 2, 2012
Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor:
I don't often share my personal life with my readers. Instead, I prefer to focus on research, which is more universal, consistent, and easier to generalize to others. Usually, I regard this as a position of strength. It allows me to provide more than just "one guy's personal opinion" - which seems so rampant in dating and relationship advice.
As time goes on, however, I am exposed to the personal lives of more and more readers, bloggers, commenters, and clients. Many of them have experienced being manipulated, cheated, divorced, and hurt. I too have all of those stories. I'm divorced. I spent my young adulthood being ignored, picked-over, and teased by the opposite sex (and same sex). I spent college and some of my post-divorce years being manipulated, cheated on, and used for free meals by women. Nevertheless, my relationship outcomes are VERY different now than others.
I have a successful and satisfying love life. I have for some time now. I maintain a loving, long-term relationship that works for both myself and my girlfriend. I also don't hold hatred or frustration for the opposite sex. Nor am I perplexed by any self-serving tendencies in myself or others. They are all just things I successfully manage for the benefit of myself and my partner.
I don't share these things to boost my own credentials or "rub it in". Rather, I share them to highlight a different path. I am curious about why people can go through the "same" experiences and come out so differently. I hope, by reviewing the lessons I have learned, that others can escape being bitter, frustrated, and hateful too - and actually have the relationships they desire.
Therefore, here are some of the lessons I learned for having a successful love life.
1) No one is "entitled" to love. It is elicited by being valuable.
There is a wonderful fantasy promoted by romantic comedies that we are all entitled to someone "loving us just as we are". That simply isn't true. People automatically feel love for others who are valuable as a survival and reproductive partner. If you don't have value, you don't trigger those feelings in others.
Nevertheless, I labored under this entitlement fantasy for much of my early years. Frankly, it was easier than doing the work to change myself back then. I was very overweight. I had few social skills at the time. I had no money. Yes, I was a "good person". I wanted to believe that was enough. Needless to say, others were looking for more.
They also had a right to look for more! After all, I didn't "fall in love" with the overweight, shy, poor girl in the corner either! So, why should I expect the high value girls to "love me as I was"? What right did I have to get mad, indignant, and entitled when others didn't find me appealing?
Fortunately, I didn't stay entitled, angry, and entrenched in others being wrong for having their own preferences. In fact, I learned that those preferences were not conscious and they couldn't "choose" to love me anyway. Instead, I tried to figure out what elicited loving feelings in others, what features and value made someone attractive, and worked to get those features too.
Yes, I still struggle with my weight, but I maintain it as best I can. I also learned to be socially skilled in ways that were charismatic, confident, and attractive. I earned an advanced education too and work at making money in various ways. In short, I made myself into someone of value that triggered attraction and loving feelings (at least in some others). I didn't sit around complaining that others "should" love me. Instead, I made myself someone that had something of value to trade and influence.
After that, the people I wanted became interested in me too. If I had stayed stubborn and entitled, waiting for them to just love me for me, life would have continued to be lonely. That doesn't mean I wasn't a wonderful person all along. It just means I had to bring something of value beyond that to exchange with others - especially when I wanted something of value from them too!
2) All fair trades are negotiated.
Yes, I dodged the bullet of staying stuck in my rut of entitlement and frustration. However, I wasn't out of danger just yet. You see, once you have value...others often want to steal, manipulate, and cheat to get it. In other words, if they are able, many people don't trade fair.
So, I got cheated, manipulated, and used a lot. I assumed a fair trade and didn't get one. I thought that my date would appreciate me spending my hard-earned money on her. I thought my lovers would be grateful for my time and social skills. I thought my care and concern would be reciprocated without asking. More often than not, however, it wasn't.
Here again, many people get bitter and distrustful of the opposite sex. I did too for a time. But, ALL people don't deserve to be put in that category. Besides, I too played a role. I didn't negotiate. I didn't advocate for myself. I didn't hold others to my own boundaries and standards. So, if I didn't care about myself, then really why should anyone else? If I let "bad people" take advantage of me, then I was partially to blame.
So, I learned how to negotiate, influence, and set boundaries. I learned how to manage a fair trade. I learned how to ask for what I wanted. I also learned to walk away when I didn't get it.
3) Validation isn't part of loving or trading - only low self-esteem.
Finally, I "made it" - or so I thought. I had value. Others wanted to trade. I knew what I wanted...
I wanted "love". I wanted to make somebody feel special...and have them make me feel special in return.
Unfortunately, that was also a problem. That isn't really love. It is requiring validation and approval from a partner to feel good about one's self. People confuse emotional neediness for love all the time, but they are not the same. I needed a lover to make me feel good about myself at the time, despite all of my success, worth, an value. That was simply low self-esteem.
Here again, many people get bitter. They say others didn't love them, appreciate them, or make them happy. They complain that they were lied to, misled, and ignored. They spend their lives chasing after validation. Sometimes this takes the form of "nice guys" (or gals) doing endlessly for others, looking for a pat on the head. Other times it is a player, pick-up artist, or promiscuous woman, looking for the validation of another one-night-stand. Either way, it is trading effort and value for nothing more than an ego-boost.
The truth is that they (and I) just made really bad trades in our neediness and low self-esteem. We traded our tangible value and concrete services in a relationship for nothing more than "feel goods" and validation. When you are dependent on the approval of others to feel good, that seems like a fair trade. But, in reality, it means giving all of your time, money, energy, and love to someone else for nothing more in trade than the occasional lip service of "you're wonderful" and "I love you".
So, I learned to trade value for value...not for emotional validation. I learned to make myself feel good, so I wasn't emotionally needy and dependent. I learned to trade and exchange with a partner as equals, for the things that actually met my real physical and psychological needs.
I also learned that spoken words such as "I love you" were essentially meaningless. They only hold meaning when they are backed up by actual loving and caring BEHAVIOR. Those words of approval are simply I.O.U.'s. If you can't trade them in for reciprocity and effort from a partner at a later date, then you've simply been shined on, conned, and validated.
Now, I give actual behavioral demonstrations of love and concern, and expect them from my partner, rather than just accepting or giving emotional validation. Behavior talks...and b.s. validation walks.
I don't expect everyone to understand or agree with this perspective. It might be shocking. It certainly won't appear politically correct, new-age loving, or kind to myself. It is also difficult - requiring putting aside blame, scapegoating, and entitlement, while working on self-esteem, efficacy, boundaries, and self-improvement.
I won't sugar-coat that point. It was hard. It still is difficult at times. But, I do have the love life I want. I also have the type of relationship that many say are impossible in this country and time. So, I know, from both education and experience, that it works.
It isn't easy, but it is simple. If you want a good relationship, then become a valuable person. Learn to set boundaries, negotiate, and make others trade fairly with you to meet both your needs. Work to feel good about yourself too and don't rely on others for validation. Do that and you will have satisfying relationships, with desirable people, and experience real loving interactions. Don't do those things, continue to complain, and life will not change.
If you choose to get what you want too...I will be here to help!
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Until next time...happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor
- Maximize Your Chances of Picking a Satisfying Partner
- James Holmes: Mental Illness or Social Frustration?
- Why You Shouldn't Believe in Soul Mates
© 2012 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.