The beginning of a new year is always a time for looking ahead and making life improvements while trying not to repeat the past. All too often, we look back at our past relationships as the benchmark from which we must spring, stronger, and more successful. But is the success/fail model actually keeping us from learning what we need to from our past?
For a lot of us, just being vulnerable enough to get ourselves into a relationship is a big win, so is it really helpful to think of all of the experience we gain from intimately relating to another person as a failure simply because that relationship has ended?
After a break-up, it’s super common to feel like you didn’t meet an expectation, that you didn’t make love last. That expectation could originate from external sources like parents and friends, but it can also come from within. Unless you grew up with another model, long-term monogamy is the relationship worth striving for in our culture. If you’re lucky, you had messages other than “Finding the One,” but that is the predominant message we all get and expect. Each relationship becomes an interview for that special undying love. When we think we’ve found it, aha! Success! It’s no surprise then that if we lose it, we feel that we have failed.
Let’s look at relationships for what they really are: opportunities to be uniquely bonded to someone else for a period of time.
On top of that, women are taught that “having it all” includes having a partner for life. When we have something that feels like it could be that and we lose it, it can feel like there’s no way we could possibly have it all. A piece is missing; we are alone.
The equation for "having it all" isn’t you = enough, but it really should be.
In light of the fact that the majority of us will not spend our lives with one person, I would like us all to reject the expectation that we must succeed at having one good relationship. Many of us will experience periods of time when we are not in a relationship. Are we failing? Have we failed because we took a relationship to its natural conclusion?
The failure model is so commonplace that it runs through most aspects of our life. Let’s dismantle all of the unrealistic ideas we have about dating and relating! Let’s embrace the relational nature of relationships. Let’s look at relationships for what they really are: opportunities to be uniquely bonded to someone else for a period of time. To help, I’ve broken down how we can move away from the success/failure model for dating, sex, and coupling.
Reframing Success in Dating
There’s a ton of pressure on us to do dating right, when there really is no right way to date. As a dating coach, I’ve noticed that my clients often express how they feel that everyone else is better at dating than they are. I don’t believe that they actually want to be good or “successful” at dating. Being good at dating just means you are an excellent dinner companion; most of us are dating in order to stop dating. What my clients are really wanting, and what we all want, is to be good at relating to others and a good judge of character, which is a completely separate thing.
The ability to relate to others is something that varies from person to person, and quite frankly, from day to day. There are some people with whom we just click and others that will be a challenge to connect with on any level. The blunt reality is there will be far fewer people who we click with, so if it doesn’t happen after you’ve gone on lots of dates, it’s not because you’re a failure. It’s because the people who you have a connection with haven’t shown up in your life yet.
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Reframing Success in Sex
When I give workshops about how to have better sex, one of the things I teach is letting go of expectations. It’s a difficult task, but sex isn’t a great time for being goal-oriented. Expecting a mind-blowing, earth-shaking orgasm adds pressure and stress to what should be a sensual and pleasurable experience.
Being present and accepting can exponentially improve your sex life. This is easier said than done sometimes. I’m not saying you should lay there and take whatever comes (pun intended). I am saying that if you believe that your sexual experiences are so much more than the check-in at the end of, “Did you cum?" then an orgasm can’t and won’t determine how successful you are in bed.
Reframing Success in Relationships
The idea of not seeing past relationships as failures came to me when I was in therapy in NYC years ago. I started seeing my therapist at the time after a break-up (duh). We actually worked together through at least two major break-ups. In a moment of particularly grave despair, I remember lamenting, “I just feel like such a fucking failure!” My therapist sternly but lovingly responded that there is no way to fail at relationships — they exist, morph, grow, change, and end. That’s it. This was the first time I actually started thinking about relationships relationally.
This is now something I work with my clients on — stripping away the success/failure dichotomy and replacing it with an experiential narrative. You lived, you loved, you learned. Now, what did you learn? This perspective has transformed how I date, have sex, and manage my relationships. I encourage you to do the same.
Rather than focusing on doing everything right, it’s better and more rewarding to view each new person in your life as an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect.