You’re at the time of your life when you’re ready to settle down and find a life partner. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s or your 50s — you’ve played the field, gotten dating out of your system, or maybe you’re tired of being lonely and want to grow old with someone.
Surely, you’ve had enough life experience to know your likes and dislikes, what you absolutely cannot put up with. Problem is, you may meet (or have met) someone you feel passionate about who isn’t a good fit for your long-term plans. Maybe you’ve even fallen in love. There’s the risk that you don’t want to let what feels like a good thing go, so you downplay to yourself the fact that if you settle down with them, you’re ignoring your priorities.
What Are Your Priorities?
It’s hard to have a long-term satisfying relationship if you don’t (1) know what your priorities are; and (2) make decisions taking them into account. It may feel good to be with someone in the moment, but if you have certain goals that your potential partner isn’t able to support, you might be lying to yourself if you don’t think that will become frustrating.
There are some key categories where you may need to feel aligned with your partner if a long-term relationship is going to work:
- you both want (or don’t want) kids
- you both need to be financially independent OR you’re both OK supporting the other person for some length of time
- you both want to live in the city/country/’burbs
- you’re both wanting the same type of relationship structure (monogamy, ethical nonmonogamy, polyamory, etc.)
- you both can accept (and ideally embrace) each other’s kinks
- you’re both willing to uproot your lives if the other absolutely has to move for work or family
If you’ve talked yourself out of honoring your own priorities, these are the kind of things where the shit can hit the fan years down the road. In the thick of passion, it may not matter if the person you’re dating is the kind of person who will embrace your sexual fetishes or move across the country if your mom gets sick. But years down the line, you may regret that you put the excitement of connecting with someone over choosing someone who is willing to go on the journey with you, no matter where it takes you. Yes, some people will do anything out of love, but lots of folks are very set in their ways and want to honor their own priorities.
I’m not saying you should settle for someone who checks all the boxes on your priorities list if you’re not crazy about them, but you also shouldn’t downplay your core needs because you’re afraid the right person won’t come along. Life can be long, and you don’t want to be in a relationship where years down the line you feel unfulfilled and resentful because you didn’t listen to yourself.
Using Filters Wisely
Whether you’re seeking a partner online or you meet the old-fashioned way, you should make your priorities known pretty early so that you don’t waste your time.
- If you’re using a dating app, don’t hedge in your profile because you’re afraid you’re not going to get enough matches if you’re honest.
- If you really want kids, think about how willing you are to be shown matches that “might want kids” and definitely filter out those who don’t.
- If you’re in the kink lifestyle, at the very least use keywords that others in the lifestyle will understand.
- In general, try to be clear in your profile about what you’re looking for. And recognize that not everyone who contacts or responds to you will even read your profile, so don’t assume they’ve picked up on your signals.
- If you meet someone the old-fashioned way or are dating after you’ve matched on Tinder, set some kind of deadline for yourself at what time you want to have The Conversation. Of course, at the beginning you may just want to ride the wave, but if you’re at the stage of your life where you don’t want to bullshit anymore, you’ll want to know where your potential partner stands with regards to your priorites if you’re feeling a strong connection. I’m not going to set down rules here (by the third date, within two months, whatever) because everyone moves at their own pace. But don’t put it off indefinitely, either.
Obviously, some of these conversations are harder than others. “Do you want kids?” is less risky than “Do you like S&M?” You may be afraid they’ll judge you. But you may be at a point in your life where you know what you want, and you’re not willing to compromise on the things that are essential to you. So in a case like this, you’re gonna want to get answers to your burning questions. You may try to get that info in a roundabout way with hints, or you may straight up ask. That’s up to you. But you need to know.
That’s a tough one. There’s no right answer here. If you believe you’d regret it for the rest of your life if you didn’t have kids and you fall for someone who in no uncertain terms doesn’t want a family, then you have to decide which road to take. If you think you’re going to feel a big hole in your life and end up resenting your partner, it may be best to cut your losses and seek out someone who’s a better fit.
For better or for worse, people change, or they realize they had given up their dreams for the sake of a relationship, and that it’s now too painful to bear the burden of what they’ve given up. You owe it to yourself and your partner to communicate about what you need from the relationship in order to be satisfied. They could be willing to make sacrifices so that you can get your needs met. If they won’t (or can’t), it may be time to move on.
It’s always good to try to make it work, but it’s not a failure if you separate because the two of you are in different places in your life. We are not static individuals, and relationships are not set in stone.
Relationships are a balancing act. You probably want passion and enduring love, and you may also have some “must-haves” that, if not met, could leave you feeling bitter or conflicted down the road. Being clear about your priorities, committing to honoring your needs, and having the communication skills to assess where your potential partner stands are all essential tools to building a happy, long life with the person of your dreams.
Having difficulty honoring your needs while navigating relationships? Psychotherapy can help.