Are We Setting Our Relationships Up To Fail?



In life, they say there are the type of people who look at the glass half-full and those who see it as half-empty. But lately, I’ve come to believe that we are divided between those who look to see how much our potential OKCupid interests are matches and those who go right for the enemy section. I used to think that it was out of a morbid fascination with the site’s seemingly arbitrary rating system, a NASA supercomputer deciding how sex-able you are, but I’ve come to see it as a mindset, continually watching out for failure.

Before Enron collapsed in 2001, they said it was “too big to fail,” a company responsible for so many employees jobs and stockholders’ financial fortunes. Imagine your dating life is like Enron, each prior relationship a different room and unrequited crush an office worker toiling away at their desk, minding their own business, seemingly independent of you but tied to your romantic whole. Your hopes and dreams are like different departments, a Department of Babies and a Department of Having It All — all of which add up to a large company. Instead of being too big to fail, it all feels so big that you think it has to. The pressure is too much to sustain.

Thus, when we meet someone new, we’re as likely to be engaged by this person’s presence as we are to be sniffing out kinks in their system. We’re just looking for that fatal flaw that will bring the whole operation down, an insurmountable dealbreaker that proves there’s no room for expansion right now. Sorry, Charlie, we just can’t take that on right now. The costs are too high, and the quarterly projections don’t look good.

On our dates then, everything becomes code for failure. A single bed means that he’s not ready for commitment. A part-time job shows that he can’t be dedicated to his career and he’s not going to be financially dependable. Too many cats and he’s clingy, too much clutter in his house and he’s a slob, too much tongue and he’s bad in bed. We have no realistic expectation of a person’s organic flaws, the sour and the sweet that makes someone worth getting to know, and we end up throwing out a lot of good apples because they have some spots on them.

I know a girl who dumped a guy who had too much back hair. When I told her she could have just shaved it for him or gave him a trip to a spa, she looked at me as if I asked her to translate Ulysses into Swahili. Because so much of our dating lives take place online, where the next match is just a click away, it’s easy to scroll down to the next option when we find a detail we don’t like. If all of dating is just an extended look at someone’s profile, we seem to operate with another window already open.

I have a friend who won’t date less than three guys at a time, just to have fallbacks. However, that means that two out of three guys are going to be San Diego State. No one deserves to be treated like a safety school.

Everyone does this to an extent — in order to keep our options open and have realistic expectations when it comes to our dating lives. When I’m still in the nebulous in-between stage with someone (not official or exclusive but definitely dating), I always make sure to see other people, so I don’t hound them with too much attention. I’m a people-focused person and I like to make my partners feel secure, but all that energy early on could be jarring for someone who doesn’t know you and has seen Fatal Attraction. But the problem is that keeping ourselves too open leaves us with one foot forever out the door, just waiting for the shoe to drop.

When we can just text someone else at any moment, what’s the incentive to wait it out? The last two guys I’ve seriously dated both met their successive partners while we were dating, which I only found out afterwards. At first, that made me feel like Good Luck Chuck, the person that prepares you for a real commitment. However, I wasn’t the Set Up Guy. I was the Stand By Guy. We all have them, and some of us even have those people we know we could date some day. We’re just waiting for the right moment, when we’re ready and have our shit together. This is the Holy Grail of Stand-By Guys.

For the past month, I’ve been dating a guy who wasn’t my safety — but a solid first-choice university, the kind you could see yourself bringing your parents to go on a tour of. He’s my Bennington. He might not be for everyone, but you could see yourself fitting there. However, the longer you spend time with someone, the more you notice the campus is rough around the edges. His apartment is a disaster, and he doesn’t kiss the way you’re used to, maybe not enough tongue. Everything is a giant red flag, instead of just a sign that you’re still getting to know each other.

We’re so conditioned to make everything mean something that we can’t just accept things as they come along or that we might not have all the information yet. This is why we freak out when they don’t text back or everything doesn’t line up the way we thought they would. When you’re looking for failure, you’re going to find it. You’ll find a reason not to call or to throw away something that’s perfectly good, just because the surface didn’t look exactly the way you thought it would.

I have a friend whose mother is from India, where women of her generation counted on their elders and their parents to arrange their marriage. Although it’s a sign of ingrained patriarchy, she defended the practice from an angle I hadn’t considered. When you are told you have the rest of eternity with someone, you don’t focus so much on the love aspect. You concentrate on how to co-exist and how to build a life that’s truly compatible. You know you have no choice in the matter, and it forces you to get to know them on shared terms — rather than just your own. You build trust, honesty and communication through hardship and sacrifice. The love comes later.

I’m not recommending that we all go out and get married to total strangers, but I think there’s something to be said for accepting someone else’s flaws as part of the process. What’s more important to you, rigidly rejecting everyone who doesn’t fit into your pre-defined system or working with someone else to build something greater than the sum of your parts? The end result might not have been in the original plan, but who knows? You could wind up with something even better, all because you stuck around long enough to find out.

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image – Good Luck Chuck