What to Look for (& Offer) in Relationships

Have you ever made a ‘List?’ Maybe it was a list of Must-Have Qualities or of Red Flags

Maybe it was just a mental list or maybe you actually wrote it down on paper. In my case, it is written out and backed-up in the cloud. My list has become so detailed that it isn’t even a list, it’s a table. It has three columns: Must Haves, Nice to Haves, and Must Nots. I even formatted the Must Nots column to use red font, just to reinforce the idea in case I am ever tempted to make an exception (which happens).

I created the list a few years after my divorce when I noticed that I was making the same sort of mistakes over and over again. I figured that the least I could do was try to make new mistakes! My aunt once told me that every time she had a breakup, she tried to make sure the next guy was at least a better prospect than the previous one. That seemed like a good goal.

I have updated my list a few times each year for about six or seven years, generally after breakups. I like to think about where I may have gone wrong in my choice of partner and consider whether I should have seen any red flags and if I learned anything useful. Over time, my Must Nots list has become a scrapbook of my more toxic relationships.

  • Must NOT buy (or keep) things just to impress or “keep up.” Superficial people suck.
  • Must NOT treat others rudely and act entitled to behave that way.
  • Must NOT ridicule or invalidate my beliefs, feelings, opinions, or interests.
  • Must NOT make judgments/comments about others based on race, religion, physical appearance, weight, etc.
  • Must NOT have poor boundaries with other women. No ‘confidantes,’ ‘work wives,’ or texting pals.  
  • Must NOT smoke, do drugs, or drink to excess.
  • Must NOT have a temper, verbally or physically. NO EXCUSES!
  • Must NOT be in excessive debt (other than student loans).

I’m proud of my list of Must Haves because they have evolved over the years into something that reflects how I’ve grown and what my values are.

  • Must have personal insight into strengths and weaknesses and work on personal growth.
  • Must be able to love my kids and see it as a privilege to help parent them. Does not need more babies to be fulfilled.
  • Must have a career he enjoys and that is sustainable. Must live independently and plan for his future responsibly.
  • Must values traveling and enjoy trying new things. Collects experiences, not stuff.  
  • Must be comfortable communicating openly about thoughts and feelings.
  • Must be in commuting distance and be willing to stay here for now.
  • Must be in good health but not obsessed with it; must not seem to focus on my weight.

While ruminating on not dating during recovery, I had an epiphany about my List.

The List is all about the other person. What about me? What should I expect from me as a partner?

During this period of recovery, I want to work on healing and growth. I want to learn to take care of myself so that I don’t feel like I’m approaching relationships and life in general with this big, open wound of insecurity. I want to learn to meet my own needs and to take care of myself so that I’m not putting that heavy load on my future partner.

In order to be the partner that my ideal partner deserves, I need to be in a better place myself. 

When I consider dating again, I need to commit to the following:

  • Must NOT view marriage and commitment as a solution to my aloneness
  • Must NOT blow off friends to hang out with my partner all the time
  • Must NOT make excuses for a partner if behaves badly
  • Must NOT set up fallback guys if my relationship is struggling
  • Must NOT give up on a good thing when I get uncomfortable/bored

Before I’m ready to date again, I think I should be able to do the following:

  • Brush my teeth twice every day (don’t laugh – depression’s a bitch)
  • Pay off my credit card balance in full every month
  • Pay all my other bills on time every month (this is both a budget item and an executive functioning issue)
  • Make contributions to my retirement and payments toward my student loans
  • Maintain a healthy weight (I relapsed with my eating disorder last year and I’ve been gaining since treatment)
  • Plan meals and go grocery shopping for nutritious food
  • Eat food at least three times a day
  • Exercise or be somehow physically active
  • Have a social life with female friends that I keep even after I start dating again
  • Be honest with myself about my thoughts, feelings, and motivations
  • Be honest with others about my feelings and activities

I want to work toward something like radical honesty.

I want to have an open, honest relationship in the future. I want total openness, even about the uncomfortable stuff. I want to know and be known; I want to mutual respect and accepted. Nothing less than that.In order to avoid getting hurt and feeling rejected, I will

I’m not sure if it’s realistic to expect that, but I know that the alternative is not satisfying and it leads me to dark places. In the future, I do not intend on investing my energy and emotions in a relationship unless I am sure that it’s worth it; and to me, that means that I need to trust that I can be who I am (long, complicated past included), and still be loved.



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