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Trial and Error: How One Person Eventually Benefits the Next

August 31, 2006 By:
Adina Matusow, JE Feature
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You feel like you've been dating for years. Lots of bad dates, lots of short-term relationships, and you're now ready to find a significant other to share your time with -- and perhaps, eventually marry. You want the real deal, and you don't want to waste your time dating someone for a year to find out they don't want the same things that you do. How can you find out early whether this person is right for you, without appearing to be cloying or picky?

First of all, you have to realize that if you dated a person for a year and it didn't work out, you were not wasting your time. A year with someone you care for is worth it for many reasons. During that period, you were getting to know someone and having fun, and whether you want to believe it or not, you learned a lot about yourself as an individual and as a committed participant in a relationship.

In contemporary times, it's become normal not to marry your first significant girlfriend or boyfriend, since many in our parents' generation proved that marrying their first love wasn't always the best choice. In no way am I saying that young love can't result in a happy marriage; my own grandparents met in middle school and stayed married for 62 years.

However, many of us are not prepared to marry a high school or college sweetheart, because we know we need to grow more as individuals. It's not that we love this person any less; instead, we recognize that there are miles to go before our maturation process comes to an end.

Gained, and Not Forgotten
Each relationship you enjoy contributes to your emotional and intellectual growth. In a first one, it's hard to know what you're missing because you haven't experienced anything else. In my friend Allison's first relationship, her boyfriend wasn't emotionally available, and he didn't respond to her in the way she needed. He tended to view her getting upset as complaining and annoying. She sensed this early on, but didn't want to admit the problem.

Instead of ending the relationship, Allison became more passive-aggressive by keeping her feelings inside, and then exploding at random moments. It wasn't until her relationship finally ended -- and she entered into a new one a year later -- that she realized she needed a boyfriend to be equally emotionally open. Today, she couldn't be happier.

The pain a person feels after a first break-up can be catastrophic, and until you begin fully healing, it's quite hard to enjoy the process of growing and changing. It's impossible to say to yourself after someone breaks up with you, "I need to embrace the fact that I am miserable and lonely." No, it's so much easier, after you've moved on, to think: "Wow, I was a mess, but now I'm only stronger for having gone through that because I can refocus on myself and what I want."

After each relationship, you have the possibility of becoming more and more picky. You consider the bad attributes of your failed suitors to be symbols of men or women who will never work for you. That's one way to look at it. Yet, a more positive way is to think about what did and didn't work with previous significant others. It's not that the last few people you dated made you pickier, it's just that you know what doesn't work.

Dating different people reflects diversity in you, and it can expose new goals and ideas that you never thought would interest you. Different relationships are a great way to determine what makes you most happy and comfortable.

Picky, Picky ...
Is there such a thing as too choosy?

I think there comes a point in all of our lives when we realize something we used to care about in a relationship is not as important as we once thought.

There was a time when I wanted a boyfriend with the same interests as me. I love museums, traveling, restaurants, seeing plays. It would be great if I could find a person who loved these things, too.

But lately, I've been focusing more on my date's character. I've realized it is so much more important that he be honest, respectful and open; that he have the same long-term goals and aspirations as I do.

We all have mental checklists we run through on a first or second date to see if this person matches up. You need to know your most important points and stick to them, but you also have to be able to realize when your standards are unreasonable.

Some relationships are short and passionate; others long and closer to friendship. We grow differently depending on the type of relationship we're in. What you take away from each relationship will only help you in your next one.

You grow through other people -- through different relationships -- until you find someone that fits the bill.  

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