Value people for who they are, not who they are to you.
This phrase I discovered within my mind and silently told myself has become my mantra as I have navigated the murky waters of heartbreak and casual dating.
These last six months have taught me to love unselfishly and to give love freely without expectation of a return on my investment. They have taught me about the beauty and power that lies in platonic love and deep friendships.
And yes, they have even taught this hopeless romantic heart of mine to get its fix from different kinds of love, without ever feeling that anything is missing.
Shifting my views on relationships and approaching them differently has changed everything.
Before, it was all about the chase, with the end goal being that I would land myself a boyfriend. If things didn’t work out, the time, energy, vulnerability, physical and emotional labor put into the “courtship” would be a waste. A loss. An investment in a dream that was never realized.
I was constantly thinking of how to get him to like me. I was trying to earn brownie points. I didn’t think about doing acts of kindness or love simply for his sake. It was all about winning him over. Acquiring a relationship for myself rather than building one with him. I was selfish.
Casual dating changed everything because surprise- no one has taken on the official label of my boyfriend (that’s why it’s called “casual”). So is the time I spend on dates all a waste? What’s the point? What am I working towards? Aren’t I just on a high-speed train to nowhere? Why do I bother when everything has an expiration date? There’s no point, is there?
I used to think so. I didn’t see any value in making connections that didn’t “go” anywhere. But I realized that having an end goal with everyone would cause me to miss out on some incredible connections and people.
Now, I do everything I would want a partner to do for me, regardless of the romantic potential I have with someone. I listen. I buy gifts. I offer help. I simply show up and be a friend. I give love in whatever ways are appropriate. Because if it is meant to be, those unconditional, unforced acts will have shown the person just how dedicated I am. I have nothing to lose.
I realized that in order to make genuine connections with other humans, I cannot have an end goal in mind upon first meeting them. Expectations lead to disappointment and superficiality. If I want anything real, I have to approach the relationship with zero preconceived ideas about what should happen.
This is how I shifted my mindset:
I Stopped Believing in the Friendzone
The friendzone is not a thing. But if you think you’re in it, revel in it rather than sulk. Friendship is just as valuable (and in some cases is more valuable) than any romantic relationship. Laughter, endless support, and yes, even some level of physical intimacy if acceptable, all have a place in friendship too. If you cannot first be a good friend, you will never be a good lover. And if you can only be a good friend when you are trying to scale the walls of the nonexistent friendzone and level up into the relationship zone, you are not a good friend at all. Yes, I’m talking to you, who buys them gifts and listens to all their problems in the hopes that one day they will realize it has always been you. If you grow angry with them for never seeing how hard you are trying, if you only give love with an end goal of receiving romantic love, you are no friend of theirs.
I used to think the friendzone was a prison. I was heartbroken and feeling at a loss until I did some reflecting and realized that if I only wanted him as a boyfriend and did not want to be friends, wouldn’t that mean I didn’t really want him at all? I realized that his presence in my life was what mattered most, no matter how it manifested. I wanted him around, and I wanted to lift him up and give as much to the relationship as I would if he were “mine”. And that is how I found a best friend after going almost ten years without one.
I Started Thinking: “I Want To Get to Know You,” Not “I Want To Get With You”
People say friendships lead to the best relationships, and it’s true. When we choose to see people as simply unique individuals we want to get to know first instead of through the cloudy lens of “potential romantic partner,” we ensure that we do not fall in love with an idea. We do not lose our sense of their individuality or our own because we love and value them first and foremost for who they are, not who they are to us. We love them in such a way that we would keep loving them even if they never crossed our paths again or gave us the time of day, and it is not the sad, pathetic sort of unrequited love that we are taught to pity- it is beautiful because it is love in the rawest, unadulterated form. It is not concrete or commercialized. We do not need a photo of them on our Instagram feeds to prove that yes they mean something to us. Their simple existence in the world is enough.
Love doesn’t need to be returned to be valid or fulfilling.
This approach also drives more powerful, deeper conversation. Think about it. If you go into a conversation thinking about how much you just want the person to be your partner, your questions may be obligatory, not asked out of genuine curiosity. We all know those small talk first date questions. And I’m sure many of you have been on a date where you or your date are clearly asking them just to ask. At times I can sense that the person is going through a mental checklist of questions, never really absorbing my answers, as if they are simply completing a project that will allow them to advance to the next round of Getting In My Pants. I am also guilty of asking questions without having any genuine interest in the answers. In those cases, I run out of things to talk about, and it becomes clear that my heart isn’t in it.
I was locked in a relationship (the fault is all my own) for two whole years with a man I had learned to love, but never liked.
What does that mean? I learned to give back the love he gave to me, to care about him, to value him for being a good boyfriend, to dream up plans with him, to spotlight the good in him and leave all the bad in darkness under the bed, never to be brought up, but I didn’t like him as a person. In fact, if I came across his social media accounts before meeting him, I would have stayed as far away as possible. He didn’t always get my humor. Our politics weren’t aligned and because of that, he was condescending towards me. He thought I cared too much about things that didn’t concern me and to me, he was never conscientious enough. When I was ambitious and wanted to try and see everything in this world, he was ready to settle for a small town and a small life.
But I approached him looking for a boyfriend, and so that is what I got. Not a friend or a soulmate. He was damn good at being a boyfriend, I’ll give him that. But he wasn’t good or right for me. In fact, when I stripped away all of the parts of him that were intertwined with “us,” I realized I did not like him as a person at all. If anything, I disliked who he was. I realized I would not miss him, I would only miss us. And while that realization made getting over him easier, it terrified me to think that I had been on track to get engaged to someone I loved but never fell in love with. I was never excited or proud to introduce him to anyone because of his personality, but only because of the fact that he was mine. I stayed because I was convinced no one else could love me so fully and unconditionally. But I didn’t realize that I had boxed up and left so much of myself to gather dust because most of me didn’t fit into his and his family’s ideas about the kind of woman he should be with.
My misguided approach to love caused me to lose myself for two years and hurt someone in the process. If I had kept on that way, I would be so far gone now. I would never have been introduced to incredible humans with stories that have forever changed the way I view the world. I would have never experienced love in all its forms.
In relationships, it’s about the journey, not the destination, and recognizing that has led me on an adventure of a lifetime.