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Standards and Expectations in Relationships

How to answer, "What are you looking for?" by Kayla McCullough


Do you ever go out-to-eat and have a hard time choosing whether to order burritos or a burger? Same. Have you ever started talking to a guy and wonder whether he's the one for you? Same. Or have you ever caught yourself mid-drink and wonder whether it's okay to have sex with this guy after the first date and never talk to him again? Same!

However indecisive this may seem, I think being able to think through all the possibilities is smart. If I don't ask myself, "What am I looking for in a relationship?" before getting into one, I usually end up alone and in bed binging Netflix the week after the breakup - and of course, this is no one's fault but my own.

To full-circle the what-to-eat debate, let's say I went for the burger. A terrible and regrettable decision on my part, as I always end up feeling self-conscious of the innards dripping everywhere and the bloating that happens from the gluten and dairy. Still, there's no one to get mad at but myself because I asked for the burger.

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Similarly, if I go into a date with a non-descript, "down for whatever" vibe, but then catch feels and have a borderline exorcism when I realize whatever romance-hook-up hybrid I'm involved in will never turn into a relationship, there's no one to blame but little old me. Rather than defaulting to your next date's idea of what the relationship should be defined as, take matters into your own hands and decide for yourself what you are looking for.

First things first, do you want a serious relationship? If you ask yourself this and your answer is "yes, I want someone to grow with," then you should cut out the in-betweens and what-if hook-ups you have lined up. I mean, you don't have to fast-forward to labeling the relationship on the third date, but you should be aware that this is what you want so that you can keep an open mind as you learn more about this person's wants and dreams and the relationship that they have with themselves. Take it from me, I speak from experience.

I've been so infatuated with people that I've ignored the fact that I wanted an actual relationship and defaulted to what they were looking for. (Because I live in the middle of a cornfield and want guys that just so happen to live in cities, it's usually "nothing too serious.") After my last heart-wrenching breakup with a guy who lived across the country, I finally learned that I needed to be very honest with myself when answering this question and what this question meant to me.

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So, I did the only reasonable thing to do when you’re 23 - grabbed an adult beverage, sat down with myself, and asked myself, "Do I want to be with someone in a serious way?" My realization scared me (because it is scary to be that transparent with yourself), but I was finally happy to unearth what I truly wanted – something that lasts longer than a month of hook-ups and a week of ugly tears.

If you haven't gotten anywhere with asking yourself what you want, ask yourself, "what hasn't worked in my past relationships?" This question might be more challenging to unpack than the ones above, but brave the wave and discover where things have gone wrong with your exes (this might call for two adult beverages and some ice cream.)

Did you feel overprotected or controlled by a partner in the past? If you answered yes, find someone cool with your sense of independence and freedom. Did you feel like you were tossed aside while your partner did the things he wanted? Then find someone who isn't always out at night and considers your needs. Taking stock of old relationship patterns and buried emotions will help you figure out what you're looking for in another person and yourself.

After going through those two questions and unearthing a few things about yourself, I want you to ask yourself how happy you are with the rest of your life. Are you satisfied with how things are, or is there something missing? Are you happy with where your life is going, or do you want it to take a turn? It's essential to look at your life and think about where a relationship will fit into it before finding a new boo.

If you had a recent significant life change, maybe you want a new relationship because you are looking for a temporary Band-Aid to fix things. If you are having a hard time on your own, it can be hard to be your best self in a relationship. On the other hand, if you have plans for a cross-country move or Grad school, you might be resentful of a relationship that keeps you tied to a particular lifestyle. Get happy with yourself, your career, and your goals, and then you can enter a relationship with a lot more clarity about where you want it to go.

Above all, I think it's important to ask yourself precisely what you are looking for and why before getting into a relationship and possibly settling for a life you never wanted. Make sure you understand where you are coming from before checking off standards and expectations. To me, questions like "who, what, where, when, and why" seem like a perfect start.

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