I mentioned a few of my own favorite breakup lessons the other day, but I saved the best one for now. I had to learn the lesson several times, but five years ago, it finally stuck for good, and it’s this: “Don’t waste you time on someone who can’t or won’t give you what you’re looking for.” It’s a simple lesson — one might even say it’s a no-brainer — but it’s one that, based on many of the letters I’ve received over the years, I know doesn’t always come easily, and that was certainly true for me.
Five years ago I was single and doing a little dating here and there. What I really wanted was a serious relationship, but the guy I’d been casually seeing at the time made it clear that was not something he was interested in. At least, not with me. Still, he was a nice guy, and we got along well as friends, and I thought if I gave it enough time, he might come around. I hung in there for, I don’t know, maybe three months or so. We saw each other once a week at the most and pretty much only when it was convenient for him, a routine that was becoming all too common in my relationships (casual or otherwise). I was sick of not being appreciated or wanted or treated the way I thought I deserved to be. But I was the one who was allowing it to happen. Finally, enough was enough.
“I want a guy who’s going to wake up in the morning and go out and get us bagels for breakfast!” I said one evening in a fit of clarity. “I want a boyfriend! Not just dude I hang out with. I want a guy to spend Sunday afternoons with, not just late Friday nights after band practice.” I said all this, of course, on a Friday night after band practice.
It was clear in that moment that what I wanted and what I was getting were two vastly different things — and had been for a really long time — and suddenly, I wasn’t okay with that disparity anymore. Settling for less than what I was looking for made me feel … well, foolish and kind of cheap, like something you might pick up absentmindedly from a sale bin in Walmart. That’s not how I saw myself. So, why was I letting others see and treat me that way? I decided right then that I’d never again date someone who wasn’t interested in pursuing something serious with me, as long as serious was what I wanted. I’d had enough with casual dating. I’d had enough with trying to force guys into wanting what I wanted. From now on, I’d only date the kind of guy who could potentially see a future with me — the kind of guy who’d get us bagels in the morning and spend Sunday afternoon with me and not run away from, gasp, the idea of commitment.
The problem was, I had no idea how long it would take to find a guy like that. I was already 29 and hadn’t found him yet. Would I have to wait until I was 39? 49? Would I maybe be alone forever? That thought was scary, and it made me sad, but I felt in my heart and in my bones I had to stick to my guns. I knew exactly what I wanted — I was able to articulate in a way I hadn’t before — and I was not going to settle for less. Even if I had to wait a long time to find it.
Luckily, I only had to wait a few weeks. In mid-April, Drew and I were introduced by a mutual friend and we set up a blind date for early May when I’d be visiting New York. I’ve told the story of our meeting many times, but the part that bears repeating is this: it worked between us not just because we were right for each other, but because we were clear on what we were looking for and intent on finding it. When you can articulate what it is you want and you decide you won’t settle for anything else, it may not make the search for it any easier — although I do think there’s something to be said for letting the universe know you’re ready — but it does make recognizing it when you’re found it a lot clearer.
So, that’s my best lesson I’m passing on: be clear about what you want and quit wasting your time on those who can’t or won’t give it to you. I understand the temptation to fill your time with someone so you don’t feel so lonely, but that someone is just a distraction. Get rid of the distractions and keep your heart, mind, and life open for the real prize. If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with it that much sooner. It worked for me.