Romantic relationships have quickly become the focus of my private practice.
They are a huge part of our lives, and often, when we are younger and learning about ourselves and our place in the world, we can put a large part of our own value as a person upon our ability to attract the perfect mate. Someone who is good-looking, exciting, fun to be with, great in bed, supportive - and if possible - financially comfortable. Magazines and TV shows encourage us to come up with a list of things that we are looking for in this imaginary partner. And we might pin our hopes to finding this rich, sexually gifted, sensitive beauty that we have in our mind's eye (I say this tongue firmly in cheek...).
But how does that square up with reality? Do we regularly meet people who fit all of these ideals? Or do we meet someone who has 9/10 but say to ourselves "there's a chance I might find someone even better" and discount them? Worse - does someone reject us on those grounds?
This idea of "the one" is at best a foolish ideology to my mind. At worst, a toxic one.
Today, on March 28th, 2018 there are estimated to be 7.6 billion people in the world. I wonder what logically, the chances are of there being just one individual - today one in 7.6 billion - who are suited to being in a relationship with us? Pretty small I'd say.
And even if that's so, what are our odds of finding them? It feels as though to believe this rhetoric is to set ourselves up for persistent heartache and failure. That we could spend a lifetime searching for someone who is just that much better than the person whom we are with now, or them doing that to us. How insecure that must feel. Never knowing if we are enough.
So when I'm working with clients who say to me that they feel down and disheartened by the fact that they haven't yet found "The One", it's customary for me to ask them to look at the relationships that they have already been in (if any, not everyone has - no matter what the age). We look at what did and didn't work in those relationships. We often score them out of 10.
One of my clients might say "Well my first boyfriend was probably a 6/10 - but my last one was only a 4". They might feel discouraged that the rating that they give these partners isn't improving as they get older, wiser and more worldly. However, I believe that this is something to be celebrated. Okay, so Boyfriend Number 1 was only a 6/10. Chances are that the connection that they had could be improved on. So ending that relationship was likely the right thing to do for them. That making themselves free and able to meet someone new was a good choice. Then looking at The Latest Boyfriend - well that relationship was only a 4/10 so it was almost certainly a good idea to end that relationship and become available and free to meet someone else who is a better fit.
But what about when we meet an 8/10? What are our odds of improvement? Well, logically they're smaller. We are less likely to meet someone who is going to exceed that quality of connection. And at that point perhaps it's a good idea to say to ourselves - "Okay, this person is not perfect. Nor am I. It is statistically unlikely that "The One" exists. If this person never improves their score, stays an 8/10 for the foreseeable future, and with all their annoying habits and personality traits that I need to overlook to be with them (just as they do us and ours). Can I accept them for who they are and agree that that is the price of admission that I am willing to pay to be with this individual?"
It's a long worded question. But a crucial one. If we meet a partner, and once the excitement of a new relationship and that period of being our "best selves" is over. When we don't go out for dinner as often because we are busy with work or a family, if we have sex once a week (or less) due to children or changes in our own desires, all these things considered - can I accept these things and accept the comfort and contentment that companionship with this person can provide?*
If so then I believe we should be making those assessments, and in the words of the great Dan Savage, rounding those people up to 10. So we've met someone who is a 7.8/10 but we love them and they have lots of qualities that we admire - great. We round them up to 10 and accept them for their flaws. We don't continue to search for an 8.2 or a 9.1. That would be hurtful to them, and painful for us.
If you'd like to discuss this in a session I'd be happy to work with you. You can book your concessionary £15 introductory session online at www.harleycounselling.com/bookonline - or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.
*The example I'm using here is of a monogamous relationship, but other relationship dynamics and choices may not be subject to these kinds of strains due to the increased variety - or conversely - stressors of being in a multi-person relationship (polyamory or open-relationships for example, or monogamous relationships where "special guest stars" are agreed to be included - sometimes called a "monogamish" relationship).
Laura is an online talking therapist and writer specialising in working with millennials and the LGBTQI+ community.