When Do You Actually “Know” Someone?

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I recently read an interesting post over at Lisa Arends excellent blog, lessonsfromtheendofamarriage.com, where she discusses a number of misconceptions about marriage (and relationships in general).

Her first “misconception” really got me thinking, and it’s about how long it takes to “get to know someone” before you know the relationship is solid enough to consider something like marriage.

I won’t rehash her post as you can give it a read on your own.  But I do want to explore this idea of getting to know another person, and how long it can and potentially should take; not just for marriage but also before relationships “go through milestones”.

 

First, what are some of the milestones that relationships go through?   Off the top of my head, here’s a quick list (that I’m sure is missing some important things) in an order that is probably fairly common:

  • Holding hands
  • Kissing
  • Sex
  • Spending the night together (which may or may not include sex, but let’s be honest, probably does)
  • Introductions to friends
  • First fight
  • Meeting the parents
  • Living together
  • Making major purchases together
  • Marriage

 

Notice that I didn’t include “getting to know someone” as a milestone?

I left it off because there is no event or milestone for getting to know someone.  Getting to know someone is a continuous process that will probably go on for your whole life (or at least the duration of the relationship); I don’t think it’s something you ever finish.

You can never fully know another person, because they are always growing and changing.  Hell, I don’t think you ever fully know yourself!  I’m 43 this year, and consider myself to be a pretty self-aware guy.  But even now events occur that change me, in ways both big and small.  Sometimes things happen and how I respond surprises me.  So if I can even surprise myself sometimes, it’s a pretty safe bet someone else will never be able to accurately predict everything I will do.

We are always growing, and changing.  And our partners are too.

 

If accepting that continuous growth and change means we will never fully know our partner, the question becomes when do we know them enough (for whatever the next step in our relationship is)?

Going back to my list of relationship milestones, when do we know them enough to hold hands?  For the first kiss?  To have sex?  To meet the parents?  To get married?

Does it depend on the number of days/weeks you’ve known each other?  The number of hours you’ve spent together?  The things you’ve shared?

 

Looking at these milestones I’m not convinced there’s a “right” way to do this, or a “right” timeframe.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a fairly common flow here.  I would say in most cases, a couple will at least kiss and hold hands before having sex.  The time gap between those things could be counted in months, weeks, or it could be counted in minutes.

If you somehow are having sex before kissing or holding hands, then you’ve probably got some sort of Pretty Woman thing happening where you’ve fallen in love with a prostitute.  Probably not common, but hey – if it’s happened to you who am I to judge?

Meeting friends, parents, living together – these are all things you probably don’t do until you have a belief the relationship has a shot at lasting a while.

And marriage (for those who go down that road) is something you REALLY shouldn’t do until you feel you know the other person fairly well; and have a high degree of confidence the relationship will make it.

But looking at marriage – what’s the “right” time?  How long do you need to know someone before you can feel you know them enough to have that confidence and make that sort of decision?

A year?  Two years?  Twenty?

 

I’ve seen it recommended that you should wait one of two years before getting married, and I guess that makes sense.

But I know a couple who were engaged on their first date, and 50 years later they are still together.  I can’t say I would recommend that, and statistically the chances of success are pretty slim.  But for them it worked.

I also know a couple who dated for almost 20 years before getting married (and are still together).

I know couples who dated for the commonly recommended one to two years and are happy 20+ years later.  I know others who married after two years and divorced a few years later.

 

Here’s the thing …

Almost 50% of marriages end in divorce, and often the very characteristics that endeared people to each other as they “got to know each other” in the first place are ones that contribute significantly to the relationship falling apart.

So it’s not like there’s some magic way of measuring whether or not you know each other “enough” for things to work out.

Things sometimes go wrong.  Relationships don’t always work out.

 

So, what do you do?

It seems obvious that how well you know someone DOES matter.  But how do you best position your relationship to succeed?

 

Let’s start with you.

If you need to know someone, then it stands to reason that they also have to know you.  For this to happen I think you always need to be willing to be authentic; which means you need to be willing to be you – whoever that is.

Of course this means you actually have to have some idea of who you are (which isn’t always the case).  Are you self-aware?  Are you accepting of yourself and your faults, and are you willing to let someone else see them?

A common paradox in relationships is we want to be accepted for who we are, yet at the same time we are afraid of being rejected for who we are.  So we often try to be who we think the other person wants us to be.

Some people will play a role and try to become someone else.  Other will be themselves, but will be careful about which sides of themselves they show – hiding the parts that they don’t feel will be accepted.

 

In the short term, these strategies may work.  But if they do, what have you really accomplished?  You’ve succeeded in convincing someone to like…

…umm.

Not you (at least not the real you).

Help me understand, how exactly is this a good thing?

Because eventually the real you will surface.  And if your partner doesn’t like the real you once they see you, then all you’ve done is waste time.

 

So being always being true to you is the best approach.  And if someone doesn’t accept you for who you are?  Then they probably aren’t someone you want to be with anyhow.  That doesn’t mean you should never change – because change in the form of self-growth is a positive thing.  But any changes you make need to be because you want them, or see a need for them yourself.

 

Let’s say you do everything right.

You accept yourself for who you are and go into a relationship being honest and authentic.  That’s great, and is (in my opinion) the best and healthiest way to approach things.

But YOU are only half of the equation – and you have no control over how the other person is approaching things.  For the best relationship to occur, both people need to be honest, authentic, self-aware, and willing to be vulnerable.

When that does happen and two people are being authentic and are willing to let each other in, I think you can know each other well enough to know if things can work pretty quickly.  Within a few days you can get a pretty good sense of each other’s core character and value.  Within weeks, you should have a strong idea if the two of you are compatible.

And within a few months you should start to see if there are any “red flags”, showing that perhaps the other person isn’t being as authentic as you think they are – because it’s hard to keep a mask up over extended periods of time.

 

Looking at relationships, what are the things that actually matter?

  • Are your core values aligned?
  • Do your personalities complement each other?
  • Do you accept that a relationships is about more than just you?
  • Are your love languages in alignment with your partners, and if not are you willing love your partner in the way they need to be loved?
  • Do you know enough about each other’s hopes and dreams that you can see the two of you growing, building and sharing together?
  • Are you both willing to accept that periodic issues in relationships are normal, and are you willing to deal with them when they occur?
  • Are you both self-aware – willing to accept that you each have faults and willing to take responsibility for your own contributions to the relationship?

 

If you can answer yes to at least most of those, then I think you have a pretty solid foundation and everything else should be pretty easy.

 

Thinking back to the question of when do you know each other enough; it doesn’t matter what the milestone is – whether it’s holding hands, living together or getting married there will always be risk involved in taking that “next step”.

But there is no magic timeline.  What works for one couple may not work for another.  I believe that if both people are self-aware, authentic and open with each other, they will quickly know enough about each other to know with a high level of accuracy if the relationship can work or not.  When things feel natural and easy, you know that it’s a good fit no matter how long it’s been.

After that, it’s up to you.

Because the success of a relationships is less about how well you know each other than it is about how well you accept that you will need to grow together and choose to continue to choose each other each and every day.

FeelingofLoveAsChoice

Sorting Things Out

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In the past I’ve written about relationship doubt and some of the things that can cause it.  Broken trust, anxiety issues, a belief that there may be someone out there who is *better* for you; all of these things can cause doubts.

Doubt is understandable but it’s also very dangerous, as belief is tied to effort.  At both a conscious or an unconscious level, the more someone doubts the less they put INTO the relationship.  As a result, if doubt is not dealt with it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, destroying the relationships.

 

In this post I want to look not only at the person having doubts, but also how it impacts the other person in the relationship.

 

 

If someone is having doubts about whether or not they really want their relationship or if it is the right one for them, there are a few things to think about.

First is the nature of the relationship.  It’s one thing to have doubts if you are casually dating, as those doubts are part of determining if it’s a relationship you actually want to commit to.  Once you have committed, things change a bit; and if you are living together, married, and/or have kids together then the complexity of the situation increases significantly.

Even in complex situations it is important to remember that a relationship involves two people.

If you are having doubts, you owe it to your partner to be honest with them.  Any problem or doubts you have affect them too – they NEED to know about it and they need to have an opportunity to be part of any solution.

 

I can understand the idea that sometimes we want to keep our thoughts to ourselves, especially when periods of doubt can be times when we don’t even really know what’s going on in our own heads.

However it’s pretty common to hear stories where one person thought that things were going pretty well, until one day they find out their partner has decided they want a divorce and they have already made up their mind.

To me, that should never, EVER happen.  Relationships are based on communication.  No one should ever be blindsided by these types of things.  If there is a problem, they have a right to know about it, and to at least have an opportunity to try and work on things; instead of being faced with a position where by the time they know it’s too late.

When someone doesn’t share their doubts, those doubts tend to grow and deepen.  And when that happens a distance will form, as the person with the doubts will naturally tend to withdraw and detach themselves from the relationship.

Some people may claim that their partner knew there were issues.  They had to, because they obviously saw the changes in behavior.

Well yeah, maybe.  I’m sure they did know something was up.  But unless it was communicated to them they had no way of understanding the severity of the doubt.  Relationships go through ups and downs all the time, frequently someone thinks they are just going through a down time – and then one day they wake up to find they are facing a divorce they never saw coming.

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Time to Figure Things Out

Relationships change, things happen, and sometimes people question whether the life they have is really the one they want.  When it happens it sucks for everyone involved, but it’s part of life.

And when this happens, the person with doubts often wants some time and space to “figure things out”.  I get that.  It’s understandable that they can’t be fully engaged in a relationship if they aren’t sure they want it anymore.  And depending on the source of those doubts, I think most people’s partners will try to be understanding and give them a bit of time.

Here’s the problem though – a (committed) relationship isn’t a part time gig.  It’s not the sort of thing where you can just take a sabbatical, and come back when/if you decide that yeah, you are actually committed to it.

There has to be some empathy and understanding on both sides, but people need to find a way to continue the relationship even during this time.

If they can’t?  If they really need to “take a break”?

In my mind, that is what separation is for.

It is completely unfair and selfish for someone to expect to be able to “stay” in the relationship that they aren’t committed to it anymore.  People can’t just pick and choose the parts they feel like dealing with (usually the security of home, and family) while checking out on the parts they don’t want to deal with (usually emotional and physical intimacy).

To the best of their ability they need to find a way to do both.

 

In these situations the person with the doubts often wants time to figure things out in their own way, at their own pace.  They want their partner to give them time and space with no pressure.  To wait for them.

In a way there is something romantic about the notion of waiting for someone.

It brings to mind stories of WWII, where soldiers would go off to war and their girlfriends would promise to wait for them.  And the joy they would have when they were finally reunited.

This is different though.

In those cases the relationship was separated by circumstance; and the person waiting believed they would be coming back.

In the case of someone having doubts, why should the other person wait?  They are essentially being told that the person they love is “no longer sure if they want to be with them”.

Think about that for a moment.

No longer sure.

So they love someone and have committed to them, but that person isn’t sure they want things anymore.  Instead of being committed to getting through anything together, the person they love sees them as simply an option – not a priority.

Yet they are expected to just put their life on hold and wait, in the hopes that maybe their partner will continue to choose them.

And if they don’t?

Then that time spent waiting was time wasted.  Time of their life they will never get back.

 

You Can Never Go Home Again

Doubts happen, and as noted there can be all sorts of reasons that aren’t even directly related to the relationship.  Identity issues, depression, anxiety – all of these can cause doubt.  And sometimes those doubts will never go away.

But you need to identify the real cause of the doubt and actively fight back against it.  Because when someone checks out of a relationship because of those doubts they fundamentally alter the relationship forever.

Once you have been made to feel like an option, things are never the same again.  They can still be good, or even great.  But that magic of knowing that you will always be there for each other no matter what life throws at you?

Once that has been broken it’s gone forever.

 

I recently read a blog written by someone who’s partner had checked out on the relationship, and he wasn’t sure what to do.  One of the commenters told him that he should use this time to show his wife how much he loves her, because (in her words) “women like to be chased”.

Sorry, I can’t disagree with this more.

Maybe he had been taking his partner for granted and that was contributing to her doubts.  If so, and those doubts made him realize he had been taking them her for granted (sadly something that is natural in relationships), that’s one thing.  Then he should use this as a wake up call, and adjust his behavior appropriately.

We all want to feel valued, and appreciated (that applies to women and men).  But “chasing” accomplishes nothing.  Someone has to be there because they want to be there – not because they like the thrill of being chased.

It’s like an addict chasing the next high.  If someone is only there when they are being chased, how long will it be until they check out and are gone again?

No, if someone needs that thrill and that rush, then I would say let them go.

 

 

All sorts of things can cause doubt, and at times they can be crushing.  But if you are in a relationship the worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself.

It may seem like a deeply personal thing but it doesn’t just affect one person, so both people have to be involved.  The doubts may originate with one person, but both people need to be part of the solution.

Doubt can destroy relationships but it doesn’t have to.  In fact love can be strongest when it can accept those doubts and continue to thrive in spite of them.

DoubtingLove

Why “Nice Guys” (and Girls) Finish Last

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Nice guys finish last.  Girls like “bad boys”.  This is something all guys hear or think at one point in time or another.

We hear this often enough that guys are often led to believe we have to be cocky, act like jerks and treat women badly.  This idea is used in romance movies, which depict scenes of guys worrying about how long they should wait before calling someone, or how to show they are interested in someone without coming across as too interested.  Maybe they should play hard to get, or appear interested in someone else in order to try and make the person jealous.  We are taught that if we learn to “play the game” we will be able to get the girl we want.

And if we don’t get the girl we want?

Well, then we either don’t know how to play the game or it’s not really our fault.  It’s because we are “a nice guy”, and that’s not what she really wants.  After all, nice is boring, and she wants a bad boy.  So nice guys finish last.

 

Is this really true?  I guess there is some element of truth to it or the perception wouldn’t exist.  But do women really want to be treated like crap, or have guys treat relationships like some sort of game?

Disclaimer here – I’m not a woman so I really don’t know.  But for some reason I doubt it.

Maybe there are some women who do, but even if that WERE the case, as a guy would you really want to be with a woman who wants to be treated badly?  If a woman respects herself, why would she put up with that kind of treatment?  Does she believe she deserves it?  If so, why would any guy really want a woman who thinks that poorly of herself?

No, I don’t think it’s treating someone badly that matters.   Maybe I’m naive, but I think women do want to be treated with respect and kindness.

However they probably also want someone who is confident in themselves.  Someone who knows what their values and boundaries are, and is willing to establish and enforce them.

 

What Would You Do For Love?

Have you ever heard the saying “I would do anything for you”?

Sounds great right?  Sounds romantic?  Maybe it makes someone feel special, or important; and let’s face it – we all like to feel special and important.

But if you would do anything for the other person, what is that REALLY saying?

It’s saying that YOU don’t matter.  It’s saying that what the other person wants and needs is more important than your own wants and needs.

And that is really unhealthy.

This does actually happen in relationships.  People try to be what they think the other person wants instead of just being who they are.  And maybe they don’t actually know who they are, so they are trying to find that through someone else.

But to be in a healthy relationship you need to love and respect yourself first, because you matter too.

 

What do you want?

We are all driven by wants and needs, so what do you want?  What do you need as part of your relationship in order to be happy?  What is your primary love language?  What level of closeness are you looking for in your relationship?

How do you want to be treated, and more specifically what are some things that bother you, and are things that you simply can’t accept in a relationship?

These are things that are part of what makes you YOU, and they are independent of who you are with.  They would apply with any partner.

These are your boundaries, and they are important to your own sense of identity.

 

We don’t often think about what our boundaries are, and I suspect most people can’t articulate theirs.  At some level though we all have them and know them.  When we are hurt, or disappointed it is often because someone has violated or not respected our boundaries.

I think people who have a strong sense of identity have a better idea of what their boundaries are, and are more willing to enforce them (than people who don’t have a strong sense of identity).

And that’s the part where the stereotypical “nice guys” get it wrong.  They either don’t have strong boundaries, or they don’t value themselves enough to enforce them.  They want to be loved, and they want to be accepted (which I suppose we all do to some degree).  But “nice guys” are so eager to please someone else that will constantly put the other person’s needs ahead of their own.

 

But wait a minute…

Aren’t we supposed to give?  Aren’t we supposed to put our partner first?

Yeah, not so much.

I mean, we ARE, but not at our own expense (at least not consistently).  Instead of putting our partner first, I like to think of it as we should be putting them on the same level as ourselves.

Their needs and wants had damned well better matter to us.  At the same time though, their needs and wants don’t trump our boundaries.  For a healthy relationship, we need to find a way to make both of these things work together.

It makes sense in theory (to me anyhow), but in practice finding that balance can be very difficult.

 

What About Nice Girls?

If the negative connotations of being a nice guy come from someone trying to be what they think the other person wants (due to a lack of self-confidence, assertiveness and poor enforcement of boundaries), is this just a problem for guys?

Aren’t there women out there with the same issues?  If so, why do we hear about “nice guys finishing last” but we don’t often hear something similar about nice girls?

It seems clear that there are women out there with the same issues.  But “well, she’s nice” is usually guy-code for “she has a nice personality” aka “yeah she’s nice but I’m not attracted to her at all”.  So the issue there seems to be more one of attraction.  Maybe it is the same thing though, because a lack of confidence, boundaries and assertiveness really isn’t very attractive.

Perhaps another reason you don’t hear as much about “nice girls” is due to differences in the way guys and girls are raised.

Quick note – generally I don’t buy into gender differences (they exist, but I see them as more resulting from socialization than from any core differences).  Plus, I don’t believe anything can be painted with broad brush strokes – so I’ll think of this more as gender “trends” than actual differences.

That said, I think women are commonly raised with more of an expectation of being nurturers than men.  It doesn’t mean they necessarily lack self-confidence, but I do think women are likely to be less assertive and have more fluid boundaries.  They are more likely to make personal sacrifices “for the betterment of the relationship, or the family” than men – often to their own detriment.

Due to this, I suspect those traits are just as common with women as they are with men, but for some reason they are less likely to be seen as “a problem” with women.

 

Just Be Yourself

Personally, I think genuinely being a nice guy is largely a good thing.  It means you actually care about those around you.  But being someone who lacks self-confidence and either doesn’t know what their own personal boundaries are or doesn’t enforce them is unhealthy; as it means you don’t have a strong sense of self.

For any potential nice guys (and girls) out there, a few unsolicited words of advice:

No one wants a doormat.  Sure people want to be loved and supported, but I think people also want to be challenged.  And they want someone who is willing to call them out (nicely of course) when they are wrong.

Be yourself, whoever that is (and if you aren’t sure who you are, then that’s a bigger problem).  There’s really no point in trying to change yourself to be what you think someone else wants.  If someone doesn’t like you for who you are, how in the world does it help you to try and be what they want?  Because that means what they want isn’t actually you.

For a relationship to be successful you will ultimately need to grow and accept influence from the other person.  But if you are trying to be what you think the other person wants, the relationship is really being built on false pretenses.  Eventually you will grow resentful for having spent your time playing a role (though it will largely be your own fault).  And your partner may not be very appreciative when they find out your aren’t who you were portraying yourself as.

And lastly, remember that loving someone doesn’t mean doing anything for them.  Wanting to do things for someone else is great, but you matter too.  Know what your boundaries are, and be willing to enforce them.  Saying “no” sometimes doesn’t mean you love the other person any less.  It just means you love yourself more.