Person, time and place
I sat in Joe the Therapist’s office and began asking questions. They were not directed towards him, but questions I wanted the answers to that I couldn’t answer for myself. It all distilled down to this single query:
“What am I missing?”
As we talked through many versions of what that question could mean, he made an observation.
“All those situations had nothing to do with you.”
It was an easy statement for him to make, but an impossible one to accept.
The focus of the discussion was on starting, building and maintaining intimate relationships. As we talked through various attempts, it became even more evident to me that “had nothing to do with you” was a false understanding.
It did not help that I had just turned 40 and was not feeling proud that I was still trying to discover these secrets.
There is clearly a fair amount of emotion and self acceptance I have to dig through regarding this subject. However, I happened to be in a place where I was rethinking this question. This lead me to sit down and start writing. In that moment I realized that successful relationships almost always have three required components.
These three components seem obvious, but worth sharing as I work to clarify my own thoughts. They are: person, time and place.
It feels lazy to assert that a long term relationship requires two people who mutually believe the other is right for them. I can think of some relationships where the partners know they are with a person that is not right, but maintain the relationship for many different reasons. My observation is that those relationships are rarely healthy.
The challenge is answering the question, “Is he/she the right one?”
This seems even more difficult in a world where online dating is more common then not. This is not because online dating is horrible or even undesirable. It is because as you scroll through pages of profiles and swipe left and right, it gives the illusion that there is an endless pool of options.
This unlimited number of potential partners has meant, at least in my experience, that at the first hint of someone ‘not being the one’ results in a rapid return to scrolling and swiping.
There is also the challenge relationships face when a person was the right person, but as people evolve and change, they no longer seem to satisfy the criteria. This requires the couple to answer a different question: “Is it worth building a new relationship with this evolved individual, or should we start new with someone else?”
The statistics show that 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce (apa.org), therefore it’s safe to say that when faced with this question a majority of the couples decide to move on to someone different.
The romantic in me believes in the idea that there’s an opportunity to find someone that is the right person for all the remaining years. I know it happens, but I have no data to know how large or small that percentage is.
When I evaluate the three variables, I strongly believe that understanding if the person is the ‘right one’ is by far the most difficult of them all. I also believe that once you determine that someone is not the right person, it is the easiest of all the reasons to stop moving forward.
When trying to understand if a specific person is who you should be with, there are no guarantees, but there is hope.
The phrase “timing is everything” could not be more true than in developing lasting relationships.
When you combine the time and person variables things get complicated. Let’s assume that a couple has discovered that they have found someone they are compatible with, if the timing is off for one of the two, it can be very difficult.
The timing can be off for many reasons, such as:
– One of them is not ready to enter a relationship.
– One or both of them are in an existing relationship.
– One is ready for a relationship, but wants to enter the relationship on a different timescale than the other.
My belief is that this reality is the most difficult of all the observations. The romantic side of my brain believes that ‘love can conquer all’, that if you have found the right person, you will also find a way to make it work.
When I review my experiences, I can identify times that it was simply not the right time.
What if you have found the right person and the timing is right but the place is wrong? I put place as the third variable because I see this one as the easiest of the three to overcome. I hear stories of people relocating to be with someone.
That being said, it is also a factor that is not negotiable for some. It could be due to aging parents, children in school or they live next to amazing running trails and those are of greater importance (I’m only half kidding).
I am clearly not an expert in relationship building. In fact, the evidence would point to the fact that I am not very good at it. However through those failures and as a result of those failures, I spend a fair amount of time in self reflection asking myself “What am I missing?”
Maybe Joe the Therapist is correct in saying that I am not missing anything and that it is just a matter of not aligning these three variables.
I know for a fact that there have been attempts to date those who were the wrong person. It has been the most common missing attribute. I believe that there have been a few people over the last 20 years that were possibly the right one, but at the wrong time. (Does the Garth Brooks song Unanswered Prayers start playing in your head here too?). I also believe that place might be an issue (I do find myself expanding my desirable distance on the dating apps each time I give them a try?), but it is challenging to know when place needs to be overcome.
In closing, the only thing I know for certain is that the next time Joe the Therapist and I meet, I will get my money’s worth as we dig deeper into these seemingly obvious yet challenging observations.