I’m a single gay man in San Francisco. Here’s what I’m learning about relationships.
When I was younger, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted in a relationship. I wanted a soulmate – someone who was the apple of my eye, and who saw me the same way. I wanted passionate romance, heroic pursuit, cherished devotion, and breathtaking intimacy. Yet, over the years, I’ve noticed that my idea of what is realistically attainable has changed.
Society does not make it easy for gay people to live open, honest and healthy lives. And gay people have far too few examples of healthy relationships. We’ve also been conditioned to define our masculinity according to rigid and fear-based standards. Those standards can create issues when two men come together in a romantic partnership. Establishing a long-term, committed, healthy relationship can seem twice as hard for gay couples. I’ve let my standards of what I want diminish as a result. Sadly, I’ve gone from idealistic optimism about finding a soulmate to determined realism.
I’ve also come to hate dating. It started to feel like a mishmash of repetitive small talk, expensive dinners, and eventual drifting away. I burned out on dating, simply gave up on the apps, and lost any interest in ‘the game.’ Lately though, I’ve given relationships a lot of thought. And I’ve come to a few realizations about myself, and about love and romance in general. What follows is the first of a few installments I’ll write about what I’m learning about relationships. Inspiration for today’s article comes from a lecture I attended about the psychology and biology of relationships.
The Inner Critic
You know that voice in your head that constantly raises self-doubt and casts judgement on yourself? Psychologists call that the Inner Critic. The inner critic is the voice in my head that tells me I’m socially awkward and will probably make a poor impression when I’m getting ready for a date. It tells me that a guy is too good for me and that I don’t stand a chance. It tells me I don’t deserve to be cared for the way I long to be. And it tells me that I’m a disappointment, or that I’ll just be disappointed. My inner critic is the voice of judgment, of comparison, of self-doubt. It’s the reason that dates have become so unenjoyable, and why I have such a negative outlook on dating.
My new goal is to silence the voice of my inner critic and become much more in tune with my emotions and my body. Rather than let the inner critic tell me how I should feel or what I should do, I’ll try to be present in the moment. Stay in tune with my actual feelings and my body. Emotions don’t lie. Self-awareness brings freedom and independence. Rather than be ruled by the critic, I can be fully alive in my mind, body and soul, free to feel, think and be fully present in the moment. Being present brings out the best in me. I’ll feel energy, spontaneity, and positivity flow when I disengage from the critic.
The model of relationships that I grew up with had more influence over me than I thought. A Relationship Blueprint is the relationship template we learn from our parents or guardians. This template runs the show in our subconscious mind. Patterns are powerful things, even subconscious ones. It makes sense that, as a child, the mode of connection with our primary caregiver becomes our preferred mode of connection in new relationships. No matter how dysfunctional. As a result, romantic partners can be chosen for their similarity to dysfunctional relationship models in our pasts. We then project our patterns on that partner to provoke familiar responses. This reinforces our dysfunctional relationship model.
When I started analyzing my early relationship models, I noticed some troubling themes that carried over into my adult relationships:
- I have a strong desire for approval and reassurance.
- I put others’ needs above my own because I was taught that you should always put the needs of others before yourself.
- I’m afraid of disappointing people.
- I’m not honest about my feelings if I think sharing will upset the other person.
- I am easily made to feel shame and guilt.
Realizing these patterns was difficult, but I’m so grateful that I now have more awareness of them, and I can actively work to silence my inner critic. A wise person, with whom I spoke recently, said “Consciousness is the best janitor.” Self-awareness of dysfunctional patterns is the best way to sweep them away.
My Biggest Takeaways
I believe that the degree to which we are in contact with ourselves is the degree to which we can be in contact with another. Therefore, my awareness and consciousness of my emotions and my body can be a powerful alternative to the voice of my inner critic. When I disengage from criticizing and judging myself, I’m free to be guided by truth.
Learning about the psychological concepts of the Inner Critic and Relationship Blueprints was a huge game changer for me. I’d never taken time to consider how dysfunctional patterns have shaped my present day relationships. Nor have I learned to silence the unhealthy voice of my inner critic. As a result, I’ve believed things about myself that aren’t true.
I’ve let myself lower my standards and believe that I’m not worthy of the kind of relationship I dreamed about when I was younger. But now, I have renewed hope that a creating a soulmate relationship with someone is possible. I also recognize the hard work it takes to create, sustain and grow a healthy relationship in the long run. Before learning these concepts, I was like the person who wanted a perfect body, but wasn’t willing to give up junk food or start exercising. Now, I don’t have to listen to the voice that says I’m not up for the challenge.