Dating across cultures, genders, and various social dynamics will teach you some things about navigating relationships. I’ve learned a thing or two in my experience about certain elements of a relationship—elements that are often taken for granted—which basically make the difference between a healthy relationship [that you remember fondly (or stay in, happily ever after)], and a draining commitment that you endure until the more-bitter-than-sweet release of a breakup. A recent study indicated that breakup rates climb and peak as Valentine’s Day approaches—hopefully, what you read here will prevent your relationship from becoming another Love Day statistic.
One of the compatibility questions on OKCupid goes something like “How important is physical attractiveness to you?” I’m always amused at the people who check off “Not important at all”—who are they trying to fool? Perhaps their response is rooted in an attempt to appear rich in character, or it stems from an idealistic, ‘everyone is beautiful’ politic....
The way I see it, however, is if you enter into an exclusive, sexual, romantic commitment with someone you are not attracted to, you’re asking for trouble. You shouldn’t be with someone who doesn’t set your loins ablaze with passion! It’s unfair to both of you. True, attractiveness is subjective, but if you’re with someone you’re not attracted to, chances are your gaze will eventually wander, you will end up cheating, and both of you will end up heartbroken and broken up.
Don’t date someone you’re not attracted to in the hope that their beautiful soul will eventually grace them with the charms of Venus or Adonis in your eyes...it's just not going to happen.
Honesty should underscore any kind of relationship. It is crucial that honesty and openness be central to a romantic relationship; relationships will crumble on a foundation of dishonesty. (As obvious as that may sound, this truth is frequently under-appreciated.) It’s surprisingly easy to let things go unsaid and, consequently, to dig holes for resentment to fester. It’s just as easy to tell little, "white" lies that grow into big, haunting lies—or to keep secrets that eventually surface and undermine trust.
Healthy relationships are ones in which partners are comfortable enough with each other to work through the candid, honest, and difficult conversations that break ground for a relationship to grow. Honesty takes work and willingness; and it won’t always be easy in the moment, but it will always be worth it in the long-run.
We’re evolutionarily programmed for self-preservation, which commonly manifests as selfishness. But two selfish hearts do not make a relationship: compromise, sacrifice, consideration, kindness—whatever you want to call it—relationships work when there is recognition of the fact that your actions affect the one you are with; and that their feelings matter just as much as yours do. While it is important to be honest and true to yourself, it is equally important to be mindful. Be it something as serious as the decision to cheat, or the thoughtlessness of vindictive statements during an argument, or acting out and saying things just because you get upset: it will fly some of the time—sure, you’ll most likely patch things up, have makeup sex, and ride off/ride each other into the sunset—but there are some hurts you can’t undo, some things you can't unsay. That’s why it’s important to nurture, to offer mindfulness, and to expect it in return. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Mary Schmich, puts it best: 'Don't be reckless with other people's hearts, and don't put up with people that are reckless with yours.'
Honesty births trust, and trust sustains honesty. When you trust someone, you know that feelings, thoughts and words will not be taken for granted, that your sincerity is safe—in some ways you could think of it as the epitome of respect. When you don’t trust someone, you are constantly looking over your shoulder (or over theirs), subconsciously waiting for that moment that you can tell yourself, ‘Aha!’
Trust begets trust.
There is a saying that goes, “A person who trusts no one cannot be trusted” (take a second to ponder that). A relationship without trust is not a healthy one, and will only end in ruin. Trust is a leap of faith that you either take or don’t—there is no suspended-in-midair-half-leap. If you cannot trust someone, you should not invest in a relationship with them.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When you care about someone, you don’t do things for them for the thanks, you do things for them because you value their happiness. But everyone likes to be appreciated and acknowledged. “Thank you”, “I value you”, “You’re important to me” are things that often go unsaid, partly because many believe that actions speak louder than words.
But actions are never a substitute for words: the two are complementary tools in expressing value and appreciation. Think about that time you worked that job where all your efforts went unacknowledged (if you’re still working that job, sorry)—what would you have done if you got another job offer where you were made to feel special and valued, be it through laudations or a bigger paycheck...?
Yeah, it’s not that different in romance.
The most important commonality, however, across all of these fundamentals—and the one most often missing in loving another person—is to love from the inside-out. It might sound trite, or cliché...but in every cliché is a kernel of truth: until you learn to treat yourself with appreciation, mindfulness, honesty and trust, and believe that you are attractive and worthy of being treated accordingly in your relationship(s), you probably won’t be able to fully and effectively offer that kind of love and respect to another person.
Love from the inside out.
Nana T. Baffour-Awuah is a Ghanaian-born-and-raised, world-is-my-oyster type eternal Cancerian flower child. He is a Brand Strategist with a degree in Psychology, a predilection for poetry, and a love for chocolates, good drink, twilit adventures and New York City lights. You can find him here.