When people say, “Be careful what you wish for,” they do not mean you’re foolish for wanting what you want. They simply mean you may not be seeing the whole picture of what may come. This is often true in dating and relationships. We may be attracted to someone who has a certain look, attitude or lifestyle, while not fully appreciating important elements that are not so compatible or desirable. Instead we get caught up in the delicious excitement of possibility. Our long-held hopes and dreams are ignited and we are off on the pursuit. Ah, if only anticipation could reliably translate into a happy, healthy relationship in the future. Unfortunately, things rarely play out exactly as we wish. This is not always a bad thing, but it is different from what is imagined.
In reality, so compelling are our hopes and longings that we often blind ourselves to anything that does not meet with our created ideal. Instead, we foster our hopes by creating a safe, but temporary cocoon of denial by amplifying the positive, and ignoring or down-playing any elements (traits, habits, circumstances) that do not meet our fantasy outcome. To complicate matters, in the early stages of a relationship, we also make every effort to project our best self, versus real self, and so is our partner. This is normal behavior. Yet the combination of denial and the projected best self can really trip us up if we do not know what to look for and how to reason with our racing hopes.
Over time, denial may ease and both partners will reveal their true self, yet many people find themselves in denial years down the road wondering why they feel something is missing or things have not turned out as hoped. The truth is, no matter what we tell ourselves, if we are not open and careful to accept what is revealed instead of what we long to find, we may find ourselves hurt or disappointed when reality differs (sometimes significantly) from our fantasies.
You may be thinking, “That’s not me. I am smart, successful, and aware. I see things clearly.” Yet a funny thing happens when we are under the influence of attraction and affection, our brains are hijacked by the natural dopamine and norepinephrine released during infatuation and the early stages of love. Make no mistake, these chemicals light up the brain with powerful mood elevation and we crave more of that great feeling. We focus only on the happy beginnings of a great relationship, not the possibility of painful disappointment of unrealized hopes and dreams.
So what is a person to do when riding high on excitement and anticipation? Look for these key events and pay attention so you can keep remain down-to-earth while shooting for the stars:
- The Tell: Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Wise words. Have you been in the presence of someone who is very nice to you, but petty or stingy or rude to others? Be forewarned, you will one day be in the same ranks as the others. Pay close attention to how your date/partner treats random strangers. Another Tell: when someone’s initially so nice, but later becomes critical or controlling. They will not return to that nice guy or girl. Consider it a deal-breaker and move on.
- The Confession: “I am not ready to be in a relationship.” When you hear this, believe it. Don’t assume you’ll win them over with your charms or love. Instead, enjoy the moment but save your longing for someone who is ready for your love. You can leave the door open, just keep in mind they may never walk through it. Sometimes your date will even blurt out a verbal confession. When this happens ask a few questions and give careful consideration. Do not dismiss a confession. They always happen for a reason. There are other moments of confession that pepper the early stages of a relationship, be ready to listen and take note.
- The Confusion: One minute amazing, the next, distant. Oh the divine appeal of uncertainty and a challenge. Do not be fooled! People capable of and ready to love are consistent. They show up. They keep their word. They make room for you in their life. They value you and do not risk losing your interest or losing you period.
- The Houdini: Everything is amazing and then (usually suddenly) poof! They are nowhere to be found. This person lacks the maturity and respect to give voice to the fact that something is missing for them or they don’t really want a relationship. Their immaturity leads them to seek your approval (by being amazing), but their ego cannot handle any degree of disappointment (not yours obviously, but theirs).
- Bad Press: Are you hopelessly infatuated with someone but your friends and family see his/her flaws and are worried about you? Or maybe even your date’s friends or family have lobbed a few polite warnings (“He gets so angry, but he’s had some hard times,” or “She’s a gold digger, but it’s because she’s poor.”) Take heed! What they are really saying is “Watch out! This one is bad news!” Most people try to be positive or say nothing at all, so if you are getting a warning it is real. If you doubt the motives of the person giving warning, consider their motivation and proceed with caution, but keep your eyes wide open. It’s hard to be objective in the early stages of a relationship. If others are jumping in to protect you (not with a difference in taste, but valid concerns) it’s time to sit up and take notice. Sometimes an early warning can even save your life. Consider all input and be wise. Don’t wait until it’s too lake to take action.
- The Player: These individuals are sometimes attractive because they enjoy life and live in the moment, but usually they see others as a challenge and dating as a sport. Be forewarned: you may enjoy the ride, or moments of it, but like a couple of Long Island Iced Teas on a hot summer night, it may seem harmless in the moment, but the next day you are left with regrets. Our advice: Smile and just say no thanks.
- The Almost Perfect: This one is tough. They have many good qualities, but something important is missing or remains elusive. Now, we all know no one is perfect, but compromise can become a slippery slope. If a compromise is not very important, no problem. But if you think something can be changed to meet your needs that is not already present in a relationship, beware. You cannot change anyone. They must want to change themselves, and even then change is no small task. So if your “Almost Perfect” is lacking in even one of your nonnegotiables (must be loving, kind, faithful, zero violence or substance abuse, no cruelty, no control/jealousy issues, and anything else you can’t live with or can’t live without), do not let the hope of their positive qualities sway you away from what you know is best for you to have a full, complete, happy, healthy relationship.
The important thing to take away from this post is that people always reveal themselves to you over time. Listen carefully. Observe and take note. Try not to amplify only the positive and build a happy fantasy. We can tell you, if you do, it will not lead to a happy conclusion. Instead, it merely delays the inevitable and creates a self-imposed blind spot you’ll later regret. When you ignore your core needs and desires and compromise your nonnegotiables, at best you will end up in what noted psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone terms a “fantasy bond,” instead of a truly loving relationship; at worst you may place yourself in serious danger.
Know yourself and the other person, and be ready and willing to accept what actually is versus assuming everything will work out. Do be understanding. Keep your nonnegotiables in check. Be realistic and forgiving because everyone needs this. Relationships can be happy and fulfilling, and at times disappointing and challenging, but at all times your partner should care about your needs as well as their own. Hold out for a healthy, rewarding relationship. Look for a partner that is on the same page with you. You’ll be so glad you chose wisely.
Do you have other moments you experienced that foretold the future of what eventually unfolded? Share your experiences with our community in the comments section below.