Before we get into things, I want to preface this with the following: I AM NOT AN EXPERT. I've gone on dates and dated a person for a few years, but I'm mostly clueless in the world of flirting, I don't know when it's appropriate to call that person, what signals to look for when someone likes you, and I really have no idea how to live my life perfectly. I have always been this way and there seems no end in sight. Don't feel bad for me, because I don't feel bad for me.
I've thought about this essay a lot. Since, March, really, I've mulled it over extensively, and I finally feel like I'm ready to write it sans bitterness and, hopefully, to help some other people out.
The only background you need for this is as follows: I dated the wrong person for two years. And, in the spirit of fairness, I was the wrong person for him too.
I learned a lot through that relationship, most of it common sense, but it's so hard to see the forest for the trees when you're wandering through weeds. I can live with my decisions (and mistakes!) It's important for me that you know I am who I am, and the grace I've received isn't in vain. I want to use my foolishness to help others succeed and live vibrant lives.
So, how do you know you're dating the wrong person? This is what I've learned...
1. You feel like you're doing all the work
Dating (and eventually marriage) is a team effort. No one achieves anything alone, and that goes for a successful relationship. Are you pulling all the weight? Planning all the dates? Thinking of ways to serve the other person better but not getting the same in return? Say goodbye, because a life like that is exhausting. In all the time we were dating, I can count on two hands how many dates we went on. Most of them I planned. (It's okay, you can say, "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?" It won't hurt my feelings.)
2. Your family and friends keep telling you it's probably not the best relationship
There will always be nay-sayers to any relationship (hi, mom and dad!), but the people you have known and loved for years who know your personality and mannerisms KNOW when something is off, even if they can't name it. Listen to them. Please.
I know you're thinking, "oh Sydney, DUH, I will listen!" But again: The forest. The weeds. It's going to take some major humility.
3. You feel your boundaries being pushed again and again
These can be physical boundaries or emotional boundaries, they can even be life-style boundaries. Have you decided not to drink for a few years and your partner keeps trying to peer pressure you? A boundary is being crossed.
This may sound silly, but the guy I dated didn't like how I lifted weights. He never outright said those exact words, but whenever I would talk about my workout for the day and how I'd increased my set or something, he'd make a comment relating to how it wasn't "lady-like" or what have you. This was offensive to me, and I felt a respectful boundary was being crossed. I liked (and still like) being strong. Lifting weights wasn't hurting me. Some people may find that stupid, but I didn't and still don't.
Your decisions, your comfort levels, these are all essential parts of who you are and they're there for a reason! If your boundaries are being violated again and again and no one is listening, that's a pretty great time to say "adios, muchacho," because you don't want to play that game. It's a dangerous, exhausting, shame-filled game.
This was the hardest red flag for me to realize, and probably the most important. I am a very confident person by nature, very sure of myself and very firm in my convictions. I have opinions about just about everything and I love planting my feet (honestly; ask me how much I love planting my feet). As my previous relationship progressed, I felt constantly disregarded and insulted for my opinions.
No, I don't want to hang out with your friends, they make fun of me. No, I don't want to watch ______ because it's inappropriate. No, I don't want to play that card game because it's crass. Yes, I want to ride this ride because it's FUN and I've never been to Disneyworld before. No, I don't want to hang out with your sister because she ignores me. Yes, I do want to go to the grocery store to pick up fruit so I can make this dessert instead of going out.
These were all things I said in that relationship, probably word-for-word, and they were immediately slapped down for any number of reasons. It. Was. Painful. I was made to feel terribly for the things I wanted to do, the decisions I felt secure in, and I started to doubt myself constantly. Did I mention it was painful? Just recalling how I felt when I was shot down (especially in Disneyworld! That one stung a lot) makes my heart ache.
You are YOU. You ought to feel celebrated. You ought to feel excited about your life. You should look forward to the future. Your partner should celebrate you. Your partner should be excited about their life and yours. Your partner should look forward to the future.
Imperfect people date. Imperfect people get married. Imperfect people populate the world. We are all very, very imperfect people who will make mistakes, but there are some mistakes in relationships that ought not be ignored.
Have fun. Celebrate life. Try new things. And run like crazy from people who make you feel less-than.