The Great Expectation: How To Not Settle For the Wrong Relationship

I was never the girl who had grand dreams about my wedding. There was that brief time in my early twenties where I was obsessed with bridal magazines, but judging by the accordion folders full of invitation samples, I think it was just more of an obsession with stationery. And markedly, the start of my weird fascination with fonts. I always had a very real understanding that a wedding was the start of a MARRIAGE. Not just a pretty event that everyone stresses over for a year and goes into debt over to let the world know, "She's normal. She's ok. She's married now."

Much to the shock of many, I did finally make the plunge - and as of today, I've been in the married club for exactly two years. Although I am newly married, I'm at that age where a lot of my friends are approaching that 10 year anniversary mark. You know, the one where people seem to make it or break it. And I'd like to say that most of them made it, but sadly, they didn't. The majority have already divorced or are on the path. I know, super uplifting paragraph here, but stick with me. Through all the late night calls and cry fests, the analytical side of me is always looking for a lesson. Marriages end for all sorts of reasons and that's usually because they began for all the wrong reasons. There is a common denominator that I've seen: it's a pattern of expectation.

And I understand it all too well. 

Marriage wasn't something I rushed in to, but that's not to say I never felt the pressure to do so. By the age of 25, most of the friends around me were hitched. Some even had kids. My garage was bursting with a full rainbow of strapless, satin bridesmaid dresses (and still is), yet I was less than intrigued by the whole ordeal. As my grandfather kept reminding me - I wasn't getting any younger - but who was he to be talking. He was barely breathing. Literally. Because he had lung cancer, which I can only feel {thisbad} about because he kept smoking even after he got it. There was an ongoing battle within myself. I had to really figure out whether the idea of being married with children before the age of thirty was my expectation or the expectation of others. Being a girl from a small town, I believe it was a little bit of both. And that is a crossroad where many people find themselves.

I am quite the juxtaposition. My mom is the confidence queen, the ultimate "they can think whatever they want of me and I won't lose any sleep over it" woman. My father, the bleeding heart-people pleaser, who loses sleep if he thinks someone's feelings are hurt. As always, I found myself somewhere in the middle. Struck with fear that if I didn't settle down soon my grandparents wouldn't be around for it. Or if I didn't just pick a husband soon that all the "good ones would be taken." Or if I didn't get married soon I would lose all of my friends because I wasn't in the "married people" club. And I had to be in the "married people" club to catch up to the "we have kids" club. Because if I didn't have kids in a hurry, then not only would I be excluded from the "we have kids" club, I would be an "old parent" who couldn't play catch with my kid. Right?

Sound familiar? And by the way, who is responsible for perpetuating all these ridiculous ideas?!

I had a couple of close calls when it came to marriage. and by that I mean almost marrying the wrong person on three different occasions. And I'm referring to three separate people there. But it was all part of the expectation problem. No one is exempt from it. "I have to marry her because she's pregnant and our parents want us to." "How could I dump a guy that everyone loves?" "How can I ever break off this engagement, it would scar him for life!" "But my family loves him and he's a great provider and you can't have it all." The list never ends of reasons why we ignore our guts and succumb to the pressure. 

It took me almost a decade to get over my fear of letting others down. My tendency toward living an unhappy life so I could avoid hurting others. My fear of needing to live up to expectation. #alltheexpectations //  Because what happens after years of making decisions for other people? You finally realize: 1. you're the only one who isn't happy  2. half of those people you were trying to please you don't even talk to anymore  3. no one in your life makes decisions based on what you want so why are you doing that?! Get this in your head sooner than later.

So how do you stop settling in your relationships?

  • First, you need to realize that your friends and family are not idiots. When you're in something, you can't see things for what they are - but other people can. When you're attached emotionally, you can't see the whole picture. I wrote a little bit about this in the post A Decade of Failed Relationships: What You Can Learn From My Mistakes. Others can see the flaws and how screwed up it all is. In fact, when you break up with that person that you're so worried about breaking up with because of "ohmygoshwhatwilleveryoneTHINK?" your loved ones will probably extend their happiness. Because chances are they saw it coming.
  • Secondly, you need to identify if the source of your settling is actually insecurity. People feel the need to please others - this applies both to the peanut gallery around you and also to the person you can't break up with - when they aren't secure with themselves. If you have confidence in your ability to make sound decisions for yourself, then the opinions of others are merely food for thought, not action steps. You also need to be ok with other's not being ok with your decisions. You have to live with it, they don't. 
  • Thirdly, you need to accept that your journey is not everyone else's. You don't have to be in a relationship just because everyone else is. Or rush into kids because they all are. Or get married because your parents are crying every night about it. Maybe none of those things are in your future - or maybe they are. But it needs to happen organically and not robotically, according to some bullcrap timeline.
  • Fourthly, you must be okay being alone. This is the biggest trap of all! It's something I completely feared in my early twenties, and by the end, I loved it. I was living alone, traveling alone, learning new hobbies and really discovering what I loved. This also goes back to confidence. You must get over the fear of not having a crutch. A plus one. A guy to bring to family stuff to avoid the "why don't you have a boyfriend" conversation. The fear of loneliness also results in the but "they're the best I can get" relationships. Because that's just what everyone wants to be thinking on their wedding day. Being with someone like that is a total waste of both of your time. The best advice I was ever given was by a middle aged lady who was going through a divorce. She said, "I can honestly tell you that it would have been better to have lived my life alone, than be in a marriage for twenty years where I felt lonely."
  • Fifth  (Fifthly?) you must remember that this breakup won't ruin someone for eternity. One of the hardest things I ever did was break off an engagement. It was a classic example of two good people who just weren't good for each other. I knew in my guts it wasn't right, but was so crippled by the fear of hurting him and dealing with the aftermath of everyone's opinions, I drug it on for way too long. When I finally did it, it was awful. And I did hurt him. And I was hurt. But guess what? A month later he called me up and said that I had done the right thing. He knew it needed to happen but couldn't do it either. Fast forward two years and we were both happily married. To other people. 

But what if I hadn't done that? Where would I be now? Miserable and feeling trapped in a loveless marriage? But then also feeling guilty because I made that vow and commitment and need to stick with it? And where would all those people be whose opinions were so important that I went against my gut and married the wrong person? Oh, I'll tell you- they're off living a happy life. Not concerned about you one BIT. Just like they wouldn't be if you had not gotten married. Just remember, a marriage is a thousand times more involved and awful and hurtful than just breaking up a relationship. So however hard it might seem to you now, just think where you'll end up if you don't.

Wondering who's the mysterious wordy genius behind these posts? Follow this little rabbit trail to read more About Me! The use of the term genius is open to interpretation.