Or buy flowers. Or text every day.
I can absolutely understand the desire for daily texts, flowers, formal labels, and other displays of commitment and security. They’re fine in and of themselves, and I understand their merit.
But there’s a difference between markers and makers of a relationship.
Jumping straight to these is a short-sighted short-cut, and missing the point. People look for them as evidence because they’re easy, objective things (he either does or does not do them) to point to, but the issue is that it’s all so damn easy to fake.
The most toxic guy I ever dated was obsessed with being “the perfect boyfriend” and wanted me to often continuously reaffirm this in words, so he did everything a “boyfriend” “should” on paper: dates, flowers, labels, and texts. But guess what? Despite all this, it turned out he was a complete codependent, and did all of as a shortcut — and show.
The goal isn’t to get markers, and hope the relationship follows.
The goal is to build a good foundation, and let markers be auxiliary.
You can build an entire “relationship” buttressed with labels and lovey nicknames, but that doesn’t make the soul of it any stronger.
The greatest boyfriend I’ve ever had — who’s beat everyone else by a landslide — is the dude I’m dating now. He only recently started using the label “boyfriend” — and mostly for the sake of simplicity. (Last I checked, his facebook relationship status was still set to “single,” and I literally do not care.) He doesn’t do flowers, or formal dates. He doesn’t text me every day.
But what he does offer is: emotional health, and taking responsibility for his own emotions and stating his needs fairly/calmly/clearly… a deep understanding and appreciation for my needs… and a commitment to honoring me through them. (i.e., he doesn’t need to buy me flowers when he can see right through them to my real needs, and address what they actually are.)
And that’s what makes a good partner.
The reason people get so grabby with “markers” is that they either (a) aren’t adequately managing their own emotions and are trying to soothe anxiety through external displays, or (b) aren’t getting their real needs honored, so they’re trying to use work-arounds to get there.
We’re saying “flowers” when what we really mean is “commitment.”
We’re saying “date night” when what we really mean is “connection.”
Here’s what actually matters in a relationship:
- Being responsible for our own emotions. There is nothing if both people can’t offer this. (Do not pass go, do not collect $200.) Manage your own emotions, take responsibility for your own emotional wellbeing, understand what you want, and be clear and fair in the way you ask for it.
- Honoring the other person’s biggest values. Whether commitment or validation or adventure, they’re there. My partner and I both crave someone to talk insights with — your number one thing might be different. But good partners don’t just focus on their own; they also honor each others’.
If, for example, your biggest need is “commitment,” your biggest job is to first soothe your own anxiety on needing everything to be “certain” and “secure.”
If your biggest need is “validation,” your biggest job is to first develop effective emotional management.
If your biggest need is, like mine, to be “intellectually understood,” then you must first soothe your compulsion to have everything “received.”
And regardless of our biggest need, the next steps of effective emotional management is to: be fair in what we ask of others, clearly state our needs, and accept our partner’s efforts to honor them.
And the second biggest job, regardless of who we are or what we need, is always to do the exact same thing for our partner.
After that? Everything else becomes icing on a beautiful cake.