With all the different relationship models out there today, figuring out what you want in your love life is no longer simple, if it ever was. On top of finding the right person, we're tasked with the challenge of determining whether we're better suited to monogamy or polyamory, whether we want a life partner, and whether or not we want marriage or children. We're free to do whatever we want, but with so many conflicting messages, it's hard to know what it even is that we want.
"Most of the single people who I work with tell me that dating is one of the most challenging things they've ever done," therapist Jennifer Seip, MA tells Bustle. "I think back to when I was dating and remember being frustrated, overwhelmed, disappointed, excited... all of the emotions. But when I ask my clients about their experiences, I often hear them tell me the same kind of story over and over again. 'Every time I meet someone, we are in a relationship two weeks later.' Or 'I'm giving this person a chance even though I'm not really sure if I like them. I don't want to give up too easily.' Then 'I hate playing these games with people. I feel like I have to wait to respond to their texts! It's making me anxious!'"
The way out of this cycle is to figure out what you really want and stop settling for less. Here are some ways to do that.
Ask Yourself What's Made You Happy In The Past
One clue into what you want in the future is what's made you happiest in the past. "Find out what are the things that make you happy and make sure that is something you can share with your partner," says Bizzoco, "whether it’s doing things you both enjoy or how they simply make you feel." That said, you also might want to experiment with new relationships and activities before dismissing them.
Ask Yourself What Hasn't Worked Out
We can learn just as much from our failures as we can from our successes. "Ask yourself if there was anything you didn’t like about certain relationships or qualities in previous partners," says Bizzoco. "This will help narrow down what you like and not like."
Take Time Alone
If you're in a relationship, periodically take time by yourself to assess it. "Many people assume you need a separation or break in order to "reassess and figure yourself out, but this isn't necessary unless there is something seriously concerning you about your relationship," psychotherapist Julia Colangelo, LCSW tells Bustle. "My advice is to slow down, step back, and first reflect on your current relationship, reflect on what kind of relationship you always imagined having, and notice the differences."
Make A List
Colangelo recommends making a list of qualities you've wanted in a relationship and a partner at different points in your life. Then, notice how these preferences have evolved over time. Do the things that used to be important to you still matter? Have you lost sight of something you've always wanted? Try to identify common threads between what you've wanted at different points in your life. These commonalities likely reflect your core desires.
Meet Lots Of People
You don't always know what you want until it's in front of you. That's why dating around can be a self-discovery process. "You have to date different kinds of people to figure out what you like and what you don't like," says Seip. "Try meeting people through online dating. You'll be introduced to a natural pool of people who want to get to know you."
Tune In To Your Anxiety
Often, we end up in the same relationships again and again because we ignore red flags. To break this pattern, we have to listen to those feelings of unease that sometimes pop up, says Seip. These tell us what we don't want — which provides valuable information about what we want.
Before you jump into another relationship, take the time to figure out what you want. It's only then, after all, that you can pursue it.