At the end of my last relationship, I felt stuck.
My body was already grieving. I had been crying for days, weeks. I couldn’t understand why I had such a sinking feeling in my stomach when mentally, I still felt unclear about it all.
I really loved him. We were finally having the conversations I wished we had been having the entire time: conversations full of vulnerability, openness, tears on both ends.
I had been saying the same things for over a year. I had been naming qualities I wanted in a relationship, feeling the lack of them. He hadn’t wanted to provide them then, and the truth was, he couldn’t. Who I wanted him to be just wasn’t who he was.
I had spent a very long time telling myself that these qualities might not be things I really needed in a partner. I thought I was asking for too much. I thought I had a good man who loved me, and that should be enough for me, and I didn’t know why I could never be satisfied.
But I was a bit suspicious of myself, because that was what I had said to myself in my previous breakups, too.
When I finally owned that I not only desired these qualities, but they were essential for me, so essential that I would leave the relationship if I didn’t have them… he stepped up. He told me he wanted to provide all of these things, he understood everything I was saying, and he wanted to work on it. He wanted things to change, for real this time.
“Do you really want to be those things… or are you just afraid of losing me?” I asked him.
He paused, quietly. “I… don’t know,” he said.
And I felt stuck.
I couldn’t hear my body clearly, because my mind was running rampant. All relationships require work, right? No one has everything they want in a partner. Maybe I should get some needs met elsewhere. Maybe these aren’t really needs. Maybe we should open the relationship. I love him a lot and I won’t find anyone else who loves me as much. He understands me, no one else will understand me in this way. We have history together. This is normal, it’s normal to not be certain, it’s normal to question your relationship. Maybe we should get a puppy, that will solve things. Maybe we should get coaching around it. Maybe I need to learn something here. Maybe we just have to work harder. Relationships require work.
After weeks of this, I broke up with him.
I broke up with him because I knew my body was already telling me the answer.
And I broke up with him because even though I was hurting so badly, what I realized was this:
The “work” this relationship would require wasn’t work I was interested in doing any longer.
I think we could have been together longer, for sure. I think we could have gotten coaching around it, and I could have decided that I would find my fulfillment of certain needs elsewhere. I think he would have made some changes, and I would have had to learn to not be so bothered by him not working on his self-growth in the same way I would. I would have learned more tolerance. My creativity would have suffered, my light would have dimmed. And I would have learned to shut the signals of my body down and push them as far away as possible.
But that wasn’t what I wanted life to teach me.
I didn’t want to learn that I couldn’t have everything I wanted in a partner.
I didn’t want to learn to tolerate my partner.
I didn’t want to learn to put up with “good enough.”
I didn’t want to learn how to pull yet another person up in their self-growth, to be an “initiatress,” as one of my teachers called it.
I didn’t want to learn how to shut off my intuition.
And my creativity was more important to me than anything else in the world.
In breakups, we often ask the wrong questions. So many of us get caught up in asking – is there still work for me to do here? Are there still lessons to learn?
The reason those questions are terrible is because the answer to them is always yes.
There are lessons we can learn from any relationship. There are things we can learn about ourselves in any relationship. In growth work especially, we can get so caught up in understanding what triggers us. We examine how we might be contributing to the problem, what we need to change, and the ultimate – what we can learn from this.
And sometimes – not always, but sometimes – the answer is: what if we just removed the trigger?
Who would we be without that?
After every breakup I’ve had, I’ve made a new list of non-negotiable needs I wanted from a partner. This idea came from my best friend, after we had a mutual friend who made a list of everything she wanted, promptly met a man who met it all, and they got married soon after.
My first list was pretty small. I don’t remember what it said, but I remember the feeling I had when making it – how little can I ask for? How much is actually necessary for me? I don’t need that much, right?
The list I made before my last relationship was also relatively small. It looked like this:
- respectful of my work
- listens to me and asks questions
- likes being outside
- cares about the world
- intelligent and reads a lot
I received all of those things. I got everything I asked for. I was thrilled about it, at the time. I showed him: I asked for exactly you! And that list included things I did not receive in the relationship before that (like… a match for my intelligence. Being respectful of my work. Things I would consider so basic, now).
Notice how tiny that list is. That list was created out of fear. It was created out of a belief that it was not possible for me to have everything I wanted, and it would be possible to settle for something that was good enough.
I’ll show you what my list looked like before I started dating Jordan (who I’m in a relationship with now):
- inspires me
- highly motivated and ambitious
- cares about the world and wants to make it better
- tall and super handsome
- has done his own growth work/has been to a lot of therapy
- has done work around his sexuality
- cares about his body/goes to the gym
- understands masculine/feminine dynamics and creates polarity in our relationship
- can hold space for my emotions
- has vulnerable friendships with other men
- intelligent and reads a lot
- compliments me often
- likes being outside and appreciates nature
- will do rituals and practices to benefit our relationship and will come up with some of them himself
- makes a lot of money/doesn’t need my help financially
- understands me and my work
- I respect and care about his work
I could keep going, but you get the idea. This list is long. It is more specific. It includes more superficial things and deeper things. It includes qualities that I finally allowed myself to own entirely – for example, that someone doing their own growth work is absolutely a non-negotiable for me.
I did not want to be in a relationship unless it met these criteria. I finally understood my own worth – I was bringing a lot to the relationship, and I expected that to be met in return.
Leaving my last relationship meant that I was choosing myself and what I wanted to be true about the world. I wanted it to be true that I could find somebody who fulfilled every relationship desire I had, and if it couldn’t be true then I didn’t want any relationship at all.
I wanted everything, or nothing, thank you.
And surprisingly (at least to me), I ended up very quickly falling in love with someone who completely met every quality on my new list, plus more.
You can – and should – make a list like this even if you’re already in a relationship. Making a list and discovering there are needs that aren’t being met doesn’t mean you have to break up – it just shows you where you deserve to have your needs met. And hopefully, you and your partner are on a similar growth path, and they’ll want to work on it with you. They might want to make their own list. You can meet each other’s needs together.
The truth is that there is no real “right” answer. You get to decide the answer. You aren’t in charge of everything that happens in your life, but you are in charge of how you respond to it.
You are in charge of what you decide to learn.
The real question to be asking is this: is this person bringing me closer to what I want in every area of my life? Or are they pushing me farther away?
If the answer is “I don’t know,” you already know the answer.