I was in the shower, the place where all good deep thoughts happen, when I realized—somewhere in the past couple years of dating—I had neglected something. You see, thanks to a very honest dialogue with my friends, I had immediately raised my standards on the people I matched with on dating apps. They didn’t want me making mistakes just because I was sad, lonely, single, etc. So I did. I finally learned to have some standards about the kind of people I was interested in, seeking, and willing to meet—and hold them to it!
Why then did it take me almost two years to realize I wasn’t holding my relationships—the after match portion so to say—to the same standard? It seemed that once I formed some kind of connection with a person, tentative always to be sure, I’d make concessions, apologies, lower my expectations, and then (unsurprisingly) it would end and I’d be right back where I started. It’s only been as I’ve been dating a new person who confuses me in all the right ways apparently that I realized why.
My standards for support and how I expect to be treated are still mostly set at the same level they were in my toxic relationship.
This is why I don’t largely believe compliments when I receive them (what’s the cost or motive?). Why I’m uncertain of how to read others’ moods or jokes (what if I say the wrong thing?). Why I largely don’t talk about myself (no one wants to hear about me). Why I don’t expect apologies or why I do expect my boundaries to be disrespected (it was probably my fault anyway). Why I play therapist over and over again to others’ negativities even though they bring me down with them. And more.
The saccharine sweetness of my current beau confuses me, because I’m not used to being treated that way, much less expecting it. More than once I’ve cried over a basic, heartfelt text. Kirsten Corley of Thought Catalog said it well: “I think the saddest part is that moment you realize a simple act of kindness all the time became so unfamiliar to you.”
Dating apps are a unique kind of cruel because so many people judge at face value, aren’t looking to know the real you, or don’t care enough. In a world where they seem to be the main way to date or meet people romantically, it’s hard to be honest and old-fashioned. I prefer to chat and get to know people before attempting a meeting before maybe dating before thinking about a relationship. Look, we all know dating can suck, but when your expectations and standards for how you allow yourself to be treated are as low as mine have been, it turns out your experiences are more substandard than usual. Like the guy who wanted to meet, but would have to break-up with his girlfriend first. Or the guy who only messages once every few weeks but says we have a “connection.” Or the guy who was secretly engaged. Or the many, many ghosts, crude messages without a “how do you do”, and the like.
And so all of these things added up and I didn’t really expect much from dating—a fun time, a good conversation, laughter, entertainment and distraction from 2020. Not support. Not the kind of thought-provoking treatment that would make me analyze how I have been supported and would like to be supported in a relationship.
How have I been treated? Badly. How would I like to be treated? Well…
I expect the bare minimum. And by that I don’t mean that’s all I expect; what I mean is that I deserve the bare minimum and that it shouldn’t be an overwhelming surprise when someone does something nice for me “just because” or says nice things or treats me well without expecting anything in return. I shouldn’t have to demean myself to support them, and vice versa. I want their emotional support. I want them to be there on the days when I can barely function without making me feel guilty or crazy or broken. I want to celebrate the highs and lament the lows together. I want to feel their support like a heartbeat.
I expect them to support my career so I can support theirs. This doesn’t mean assisting in unwise decisions (or being a sugar-whatever), but never saying they don’t believe in me. Whether it’s writing or a job to pay the bills, I would like a person who will support whatever I do. They don’t need to read everything I write (and maybe that’s for the better), but if I’m reading or presenting my work and I look out into the crowd I’d love to see their face: smiling, nodding, encouraging. It’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of or tell me I’m not the worst or an imposter and I can do this. Whether I end up being successful or not doesn’t matter, but having someone along for the ride would be nice.
We can’t underestimate the value of physical support either. Sure, there’s the old joke about needing someone to reach a top shelf or open a jar, but it’s more than that. It’s a warm embrace on a cold winter’s night. A kiss on the forehead. A hand holding you steady as you find your balance. It can be nourishment in the form of cooking and food, or care in certain routines. In recent years, when my health took a turn for the worse and often became chronic, eventually my partner’s support would run thin, and I’d mostly have to rely on myself. So knowing that, maybe I’ll find someone who will help me on bad brain days or if my eyesight fails or if my stomach is being stupid. The thought makes me feel a little better.
I’m one of those “silent support system” types of people; I often do things without expecting recognition, value, or praise. Part of that is obviously because, at a certain point, those things stopped coming, but I also don’t inherently need them to offer my support for others. However, since Words of Affirmation is my love language, I am thankful for vocal support from a partner, and maybe I should expect it. Not all the time or anything, but hearing that they’re proud of me or other kinds of praise not only supports how I like to receive love but me in a more direct way.
I want someone who supports not only my big dreams, but also my more realistic goals. And they have their own which I support as well. Then, working together, we go out and accomplish these things and make them happen instead of just sitting around and talking about them. I want someone who encourages me to be the best version of myself instead of the worst, and who doesn’t pull me down. We should both be able to push each other forward towards our dreams and goals instead of staying still or falling back. We should want the best for each other, because that’s what a support system is for – raising something up. Not choosing one over the other, sacrificing again and again, or compromising bits and pieces of your soul until you don’t recognize the person in the mirror. I want someone who will support a future where we both can be happy.
This support will give and receive without expectations; this is no quid pro quo. Instead, it’s like a mutually symbiotic relationship—a clownfish and an anemone. The clownfish cleans the anemone’s tentacles and lures prey; the anemone protects the clownfish and provides shelter. So, yes, I am just an anemone in a wide ocean searching for my clownfish. I want support that mixes optimism and realism. I want empathy and honesty. I want respect and trust. I want the bare minimum and more.
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