August 9, 2021

Is there Hope if we Suck at Relationships? 5 Ways to Tell.


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I dream in feelings.

I woke up from a dream a few weeks ago and everything about the dream put me back in my early twenties. Friends stretched out on Main Street sidewalks, their girlfriends practically attached to their sides, fingers curling around belt loops and cigarettes and lots of whispering. The kind of whispering that only made sense at that age where you assumed everything you did and said was of grave importance.

Like I said, early twenties.

I was alone. This was also an accurate indicator of this time in my life. So more than anything else, I woke up feeling single and alienated from the world of “couples” around me.

None of this was Earth-shattering, except for the fact that I was in a happy relationship, which, at that moment, showed no indication that anything was wrong—let alone just about to come to its unceremonious conclusion. So I woke up and lumbered to the coffee pot thinking how fortunate I was that I was not alone, after all.

But things went off the tracks with that relationship only days later.

When all the smoke cleared and I had a moment to reflect on everything, I remembered that strange dream. Was there actually something going on inside of me, unbeknownst to my conscious mind, that this relationship had already run its course? To be honest, it spooked me out a little.

I spoke to a friend of mine who, among other things, has a PhD in psychology. When I told her about the premonition dream, she laughed and assured me that it wasn’t a premonition.

“Sometimes our bodies know things way before our minds catch on.”

Jokingly, she went on to say that my body was well aware of my how long it usually takes me to run away from vulnerability and my time was up. To put a sharper point on it: I suck at relationships.

It’s always been a lot easier for me to be sexual than to be intimate. With the right person—or the wrong one, depending how you look at it—that will work for a few months.

Of course there are myriad reasons why one might suck at relationships, but this one figures pretty prominently for most. A lot of us steer clear of vulnerability because we developed certain survival skills as we grew up that required us to do so.

The question remains, though. Is there hope for us?

The most honest answer is “maybe.” It hinges on whether or not we are willing to do the work. Nobody ever lucks into building a good relationship, unless you happen to be part of the small percentage of people who landed into adulthood without any deep-seated issues.

For the rest of us, it comes down to whether or not we’re willing to work on:

1. Keeping an open mind.

If we decide that our perfect partner is a certain age, looks a certain way, or has certain possessions, we are subconsciously ruling out the very person who might be great for us. I can say, from first-hand experience, this requires quite a bit more work than it might seem. When we always have it in the back of our head that there might be someone better for us “out there,” it gives us the perfect escape route. Letting go of that can be uncomfortable, which leads me to…

2. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

I will be the first to admit, when conversations begin to get onerous in relationships, I have a really hard time concentrating on what’s being said because I’m so busy silently putting together a list of everything I don’t like about the person. This is not fun, but neither are the vapid conversations we are usually treated to on Facebook dating and Match.com, so pick your poison. And, as you navigate your way through this jungle…

3. Be willing to give more than you take.

Again, not that easy. For many of us who grew up as latchkey kids in constant survival mode, it goes against our instincts to put ourselves second. This is obviously because no one else used to put us first. But we need to get over that at some point and there really is no time like the present. It requires maturity. And as long as we’re talking about maturity, we should probably also think about…

4. Putting our outlandish expectations in check.

To loosely and irresponsibly paraphrase Esther Perel, there was a time when our romantic partners only fulfilled a single purpose in our lives: romance. People used to have family and friends and an elaborate network of support to get them through the rough spots. These days, people try to hang that all on their significant others. There’s only one way that can go and it ain’t pretty. And finally…

5. Stop assuming the grass gets any greener.

If there is any one message that we can glean from winding up in the same jackpot year in and year out, it’s that there is no tryst, love affair, or romance that is inherently better than any other one. The quality of our partnerships are wholly determined by what we bring to them.

With all that being said, we’d be wise to bring as much energy and consistency into our next chapter, lest we continue to live out the same one forever—because that just isn’t sustainable.


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