I recently entered into my first relationship in what feels like eons but was actually only a couple years. Despite having known this man since high school, I was alarmed by how much I resisted the committing process. In the past I was always willing to jump into a romance with both feet—this time around I was filled with fear. Every fiber in my body questioned whether or not it was worth it to let someone in. It’s always hard to re-enter relationship mode after having your heart kicked in the ass, but bad luck in love was not the only reason for my reluctance to commit. The reality is my refusal to date exclusively had less to do with my potential boyfriend and more to do with my unwillingness to abandon my (extremely rigid) way of structuring my life.
Having always been a bit of a control freak, I aim to excel at everything I do. This only worsened with college; I was hell-bent on receiving the approval of every professor and every classmate. I cringed at the idea of my parents being any less than obnoxiously proud of me. I took pride in my seven to eight hours of sleep, my regimented workout schedule, my perfectly portioned meals. Above all I scoffed at the friends who stayed out all night partying–didn’t they realize the art of success? I didn’t understand the appeal when I was so comfortable in my tiny, safe bubble. I was one box of Cheerios away from being that 67-year-old man who yells at neighborhood kids for their disturbances.
This need to exceed has always affected my dating life as well. Because of my tendency to view the men in my life as extensions of myself, I would become frustrated and discouraged when our relationship was less than picturesque. I didn’t understand how to deal with conflict and I was always harboring feelings of inadequacy. My suppressed emotions and gripping fear of failure wreaked havoc on my relationships time and time again.
It took some reflection, patience, and courage but as months passed I worked up the guts to view the role of “girlfriend” as an opportunity for growth rather than another thing I have to be perfect at. Upon doing so, I learned a few lessons in how to enter a relationship as a total and complete perfectionist.
01. Be realistic.
The old phrase which says we’re only human is a cliché I was never willing to accept, yet it’s an essential concept to master as an adult seeking love and marriage. We will fail as friends, mentors, parents, and partners in relationships. Poor communication, pushing our significant others away, or relying on them too much are all habits that require effort in order to break. This doesn’t mean we’re incapable of loving or we deserve to disappear from the lives of the people we hurt; it only means life is never going to stop presenting challenges, especially in the face of love.
02. Be open to growth.
It might feel counter-productive, but if you have the opportunity to challenge your comfort level then do so. My boyfriend is the epitome of spontaneous, and I order the same thing every time I eat out. He is likely to stray during a hike, and I prefer to follow a precise trail and be back before sunset. If it weren’t for his unintentional habit of making me fret, I would never grow as a person. I would never witness a sunset from the middle of nowhere.
03. Let your man see your flaws.
If a guy has chosen to make you his, it’s because he wants to get familiar with all of you–even the parts of you that you might not like. Instead of allowing shame and embarrassment to overwhelm you every time your discomfort becomes visible, muster up the courage to explain your struggle with perfectionism as well as your fear of letting him down. It’s very likely he’s already picked up on these people-pleasing tendencies of yours.
04. Discover yourself.
Surprise! You are more than your intense work ethic and your daily visits to the gym. Now that you’re in a relationship, someone is going to bring out parts of you that you might not have discovered otherwise. Don’t allow some desire to appear self-sufficient and admirable shun anyone that might get in the way of maintaining such a façade. Learn to love yourself for all the things you are that are bound to come about naturally as you finally share your lovely, soft, and imperfect heart.
Above all, remember that no person has to prove themselves worthy of another person’s love and you are no exception to that. Rather than planning your life around a set of unrealistic standards, try accepting your flaws and the flaws of those you love and then committing to working on them together.