We get a lot of calls and emails from people who want to meet someone in order to a) have a companion for activities like hikes, movies, or sports, b) create a more personal, but not necessarily permanent or long term relationship, or c) experience being in a committed partnership with the intention of holding the relationship as a means of mutually supporting each other’s growth and inner development with the relationship itself being a spiritual path.
Being clear about your intention, regarding a future relationship is a crucial factor in the process of finding a suitable and appropriate partner. There is no “correct” intent when it comes to this process, no ‘one- size fits all’, no superior or inferior hopes or expectations. Committed partnership isn’t for everyone, and even for those who make this choice, there is an infinite variety of models and shapes and sizes, depending upon the preferences of each partner. While certain conditions do tend to support committed partnerships more effectively than others, a relationship can be defined by whatever two people agree works for them both.
While this understanding provides a great deal more freedom and flexibility for those who are not restricted to traditional or tribal conventions (which excludes much of the world’s population), such freedom does not come without its prices. The idea that marriage can or should provide something beyond material and familial security is much newer than most of us realize. It is no more than a few generations old and in much of the world, still doesn’t even exist. An emotionally and spiritually fulfilling relationship that is based upon both individual and shared commitments challenges each partner to know their own values, priorities, and intentions in a way that may have seemed irrelevant or unnecessary to our recent and distant ancestors whose main concerns were more focused upon survival issues and the fulfillment of the family’s basic needs.
Having the “luxury” of seeing your relationship as a means personal fulfillment is a concept that is much newer than most of us realize. We have very little in the way of historical tradition to provide us with the necessary tools and wisdom for this process. Even the wise elders of our culture have had precious little experience traveling in this territory. We are all, for the most part, novices at this game. Fortunately, however, there are some general principles for the creation of conscious partnerships that can serve as general guidelines for those intrepid travelers who traverse the territory of the heart. One of these principles has to do with the willingness to bring honesty, authenticity, and integrity into the relationship from the very beginning.
This means defying the notion of putting our best foot forward in order to attract the partner of our dreams and instead offering a more integrated and whole picture of who we actually are, rather than a picture of the person that we think our prospective partner will find most attractive. This doesn’t mean that we focus exclusively on our deficiencies or shadow side, but rather that we acknowledge its existence and don’t try to deny that we are imperfect beings. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and in this case general statements like “I’m not perfect’ or I have my faults too”, doesn’t quite cut it.
Without going into unnecessary minutiae, specifying the nature of our shadow side as well as our virtuous and more noble side (which many people find it even harder to acknowledge) is perhaps the quickest and most effective means of determining whether someone is attracted to a possibly distorted picture of who we are or a more accurate one. If there is a gap between the perception and the reality, then we are setting ourselves and each other up for a fall that could in the long run prove to be lethal. The tendency to project an idealized image onto our partner in the early stages of romance is already strong, and such distorted projections can set us up for feelings of disillusionment, disappointment and betrayal, if they are not challenged or at least questioned.
One way to neutralize this possibility is to put a more balanced picture of ourselves up front, one that not only reveals our dark as well as golden aspects and tendencies, but one that expresses our deepest intentions, rather than our more superficial desires for our relationship. While this may disturb or even repel potential partners, it may serve to entice those who can appreciate such honesty and can respond to it reciprocally. If we don’t take “rejections” personally, but simply view them as mis-fits, any response or even non-responses will be viewed as valuable information rather than a personal assessment of our character. What follows is an example of what such a self- characterization can sound like when it is delivered at the beginning of a relationship with the intention of setting a context of honesty, authenticity and integrity.
“I appreciate the desire that we both have to create a relationship that is based upon our individual and shared values, needs and intentions. It is my intention in writing [or speaking] this to you to create a deeper understanding of our respective desires and concerns in the hopes of becoming more conscious of who we both are and what we each bring to each other. As you may have already figured out, I am composed of a package of traits some of which are easier to love than others and I’d like to start with those that are more difficult and save the best for last.
What may be my highest priority for this lifetime is to experience what it is to fully love and be loved. I feel that I have been committed to this experience for most of my life, but I must admit that certain fears and unhealed emotional wounds have, at times inhibited my ability to bring on open and vulnerable heart to those I love. I can be and have been defensive judgmental and at times overtly or covertly critical, particularly when I feel threatened or frightened of emotional vulnerability. I can be perfectionistic in terms of my self-expectations and I have experienced plenty of evidence that I am imperfect in terms of my ability to be consistently and unconditionally loving of myself and others.
It is important to me that you understand this so that you are aware that I cannot be counted upon to fulfill an expectation that is not at this point possible for me. Despite my best intentions. I know that I can’t be counted upon to never let you down. I don’t say this to excuse irresponsible or disrespectful behavior, but rather to help you to see more clearly who I am at this point in my life and to discourage any unrealistic expectations that you may have of me. Although I have a high appreciation for the ability to listen respectfully to others and deeply appreciate their listening to me, I can’t always be counted upon to provide that quality of attention to you, particularly when I am feeling anxious or frightened of being abandoned or engulfed.
At those time, it is harder for me to drop my defenses which may show up as withdrawal, argumentation, or withholding my truth. I can also be manipulative, particularly when there is something that I desire from you , such as sex, approval, money or validation. If you don’t provide what I want I may try to punish you by being distant or critical. I find it easier to get angry when my needs are unmet rather than to honestly acknowledge my fear or pain at those times. I might look very ‘together’ and self confident, but appearances can sometimes be deceiving. Underneath the surface I may at be feeling needy, scared or lonely. I may insist that I don’t want you to fix or take care of me, but there is another part of me that wants just that.
Consequently there will be times that you will experience getting mixed messages from me. It’s not your fault if you’re confused at these times, it’s just that I have conflicting agenda that make it hard for me to always send consistent messages. While I will try to be sensitive to your needs and feelings I won’t always be successful, and if you need someone who will never let you down, hurt your feelings or disappoint you, I can’t promise that. In fact I can assure you that there will be times that you feel some or all of those things. That is not a threat, but simply an acknowledgment of my own limitations. Although I want you to be strong and independent and to be able to take care of yourself without needing me to be your primary caretaker, there is a part of me that feels threatened by your independence because I fear that you may be more likely to leave me if things don’t go well.
My desire to support your independence is sometimes stronger that my fear of your strength, but not always. It depends more upon where I am at the time, and has little to do with you. These are some but not all of the aspects of my personality that may concern you and if you feel that you cannot abide with any of them, then this is, I feel a much better time for us to find that out than at some point in the future. If however you feel that you can live with or work with these conditions, there are some potentially beneficial things that I can bring that are worth more than money (which I may not always have a lot of). I’m working on myself and committed to loving more authentically, consistently, and respectfully.
This is process of trial and error and although I cannot promise you that I won’t make mistakes along the way, I can promise you that I will do my best to learn from them and that I will be as open as I can be to your feedback and honesty. I realize that you bring me information that I am otherwise unable to see within myself and I truly value your input. I want to love you the way you want to be loved and I welcome your willingness to tell me how. I also welcome your willingness to let me know whenever I respond in ways that are hurtful to you. When these times occur I will do my best to make amends to you.
When I do hurt your feelings it will not be out of intention or malice, but because I am frightened or hurting myself. Again this is not an excuse, but rather an explanation of what drives me to do or say things that are hurtful to us both. My intention in sharing my flaws and shortcomings is to provide you with the information that you need to know who you are getting involved with and also because I know that I cannot experience being truly loved unless I am clear with you about the contents of the package that I bring to our relationship. You will need both courage and perseverance to be with me. I am not yet entirely grown up and the little child within me will sometimes be frightened or lonely, despite your best efforts. I will try to remind you that this is neither your fault nor your responsibility to take away my pain, but I won’t always be able to do this. What I will need at those times is for you to give me what you can without compromising your own integrity or abandoning yourself. I want you to know and love the real ‘me’ and I want to know and love the real ‘you’. I am hopeful that together we can create something that exceeds even our greatest expectations and that whatever it requires to do so will not only be worth the effort but will ultimately be life enhancing to others as well. I am grateful for the time that you have spent considering my thoughts and feelings and I welcome any response that you care to give.” (adapted and inspired by How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo, Ph.D).