The best hack I’ve learned about dating and relationships seems obvious:
You cannot control how the other person perceives you, and what he or she does.
To which anyone would respond: “No shit, Sherlock.”
But after I thought about this several years ago, I realized how little I actually believed this. I would get mad at my girlfriend when, after I told her how I needed her to be selfless for me this week, she got drunk and I had to take care of her instead. I would pick a fight with her after she failed to do something I had asked her to change seemingly dozens of times beforehand.
In reality, I just hadn’t completely accepted that she was a person. I hadn’t accepted that there was nothing, and I mean nothing, I could do to prevent her to do mean things, be selfish, or even cheat on me. Though I was saying, out loud, “I can’t make her do anything,” I did not reconcile that with my subconscious, and accept that as a fact.
When we enter into relationships, we have an natural and unrealistic expectation that we are now a “unit,” and that we “make decisions together.” In reality, we are two people who really like each other, would probably do a lot of things for each other, but are ultimately independent. I can’t make my significant other do a damn thing—and now that I’ve truly accepted that, it’s quite wonderful to be free of that unrealistic train of thought.
This same thinking works great in dating. If I walk up to a girl and start talking to her, she can decide to completely ignore me, or tell me to f*** off, or she might decide to have a conversation and see where things go. But again, it’s out of my hands. All I can do when she tells me to f*** off is smile and say I hope she has a nice day. A date could be perceived by her as horrible or wonderful, but all I can really do is try to have fun with it and let her interpret it however it’s going to be.
The funny thing about that train of thought is that you’ll find they do a lot of things you’re happy with, once you realize it’s out of your hands. My now girlfriend moved 2,000 miles, away from home, where she knew nobody, had no job, after we were dating for only two months, so that we could be together while I go to school. That happened when I told her “I want you to move down and live with me, but it’s ultimately your decision.” Then, I shut up. I didn’t try to argue why she should move down there—I didn’t try to control her decision, or even influence the outcome. There was no “we decision,” because we are actually two individuals who just really like spending time together.
That’s the reality that took me awhile to truly realize, but it was hands down the most useful realization I’ve learned about relationships with other humans.