If you’re in a relationship, do you know who you’re dating?
I don’t mean your sweetie’s name, but who that person actually is — and how accurately you’re seeing him or her. Do you understand how that person operates as the unique snowflake he or she is? I don’t ask because I want you to be highly attuned to your lover’s particular qualities (even though that’s a bonus), but rather, because we should all be checking in to make sure we’re dating the actual human we ran into on the street / were introduced to at a party / met online, and not a person we’ve constructed in our minds.
To figure this out, here are a few questions for you about your relationship. Have you ever:
…Thought that your partner was so perfect, you weren’t good enough for the relationship?
…Had fantasies that your partner realized how special you are and changed how he or she treats you as a result?
…Lied about your partner to others to make him or her sound cooler/smarter/better at dating?…Dismissed or ignored the things about your partner that weird you out, rationalizing that “everybody’s got faults!” (which they do) — but still found yourself ignoring more than you paid attention to?
…Thought, I should just be happy that he/she is willing to date me, when you had complaints about the relationship?
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…Felt an innate and primal sense of distrust in a relationship, not because of anything the other person had done, but because you’d been cheated on/betrayed in the past?
…Thought your relationship was perfect when you weren’t together, but then had to force yourself to ignore certain things about your partner when you were hanging out?
…Thought your relationship was perfect while you were together, only to start questioning certain things about it when you had some time to yourself?
…Told your friends, in reference to your partner, “Oh, _____ is really great once you get to know him/her!”
…Thought, My ex used to act like that. Oh shit. Am I dating my ex again?
If you said yes to any of these questions, you might be dating a mirage. Mirage Dating (copyright pending) can strike the best of us and the worst of us, and it can make us see our current relationships through either rose-colored or shit-colored glasses. Mirage Dating happens when we head into relationships while actively constructing the person we are getting to know, rather than actually getting to know him or her. We ignore the qualities that don’t fit into what we want to see (be they positive or negative) and only focus on what we want or are expecting to see. This can doom a relationship as well as expectations of dating in general.
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Now, pay attention, because what I’m not saying is that you should move on if an actual relationship isn’t perfect. That’s the thing: Relationships aren’t perfect. Healthy relationships aren’t constant strife, but they aren’t constant rainbows and giggling over brunch, either. Real relationships are full of the good, the bad, and the mundane. If the relationship in your head just isn’t matching up with the relationship you’re actually in, you’ve got to do some soul searching to determine if it’s your expectations that are off, or if the relationship is off. If it’s your expectations, you have to shake them off and start looking at the relationship with fresh eyes. If it’s your relationship, it’s time to either accept it as it is, or move on.
If you’ve been guilty of Mirage Dating, and I certainly have, you may be wondering: Why do we do this? Why do we ignore the person in front of us and instead construct a person and a relationship to suit our needs? Why can’t we exist in the actual relationship? Why do we conjure up romantic ideals out of real-live human beings and then snuggle on the couch watching Netflix with them? I’ve done it for several reasons, listed below, but I’m sure there are more.
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1. Cultural expectations.
This is a big one for me. I was raised to believe that I should be in a romantic relationship at all times, and that my romantic relationship should be the centerpiece of my life. I’m not even saying that is a terrible way to think about love, but for me, what it led to was a belief that I need to be always dating someone, regardless of how much I liked him or how he treated me. Quantity over quality. I dated a guy who treated me terribly — because he was nice to me on the first date. I dated a guy who was openly cheating on me — out of fear of being alone. I dated a guy who I didn’t get along with at all — just because he wanted to date me.
2. Being stuck in old patterns.
A guy cheated on me once, and the impact his cheating left on me extended to my next few relationships. Anytime a boyfriend tilted his phone slightly away from me while checking his texts, my brain would start going, Why is he being so secretive? What is he hiding? I knew it, he’s just like Brad. How lame is that? But, it happens all the time. We need to go into relationships with open eyes, giving the other person time to earn our trust, but we also can’t assume the worst of the other person just because we’ve been hurt before. The person you’re dating is the person you’re dating — not your ex, not “just like all men/women,” and not a representation of an entire gender.
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3. Rom-com brain.
I have watched probably every romantic comedy in history, and I have followed every “will they or won’t they?” in every sitcom with breathless anticipation. I love romantic tension. However, I found that it was making me comb through the interactions I had with irritating men, searching for signs that they were actually my soul mates. Rom-coms have led to me putting up with guys who say they care about me but treat me exactly the opposite, because that’s how men in rom-coms behave for the first two acts of any movie. Rom-coms have kept me in relationships where the man doesn’t treat me with respect but will then pull out some big, corny, romantic gesture every few months as an attempt to “do the right thing.” Rom-coms are fantastic, but they’re supposed to be fantasies, not blueprints for how relationships should be.
Love is a beautiful thing, and fantasy lives are beautiful things, but they should only really overlap when you’re role-playing in the bedroom. If you’re in a relationship, check in with yourself and talk to your friends about whether you’re really existing in that relationship — or existing in a relationship you’ve created. Real relationships are flawed and beautiful and works in progress, and every single one is special like a snowflake. Don’t sell yourself short by not experiencing the reality of love.
By Emily V Gordon
Emily V. Gordon worked as a couples and family therapist and is a comedy producer on The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. You can check out her Tumblr blog here. In September, she’ll be publishing a book, Super You: Release Your Inner Superhero.
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