My Two Non-Negotiables

I've been thinking a lot about dating and wondering how long I'll need before putting myself out there again. Naturally, I've been thinking about what I want (and don't want) in my next relationship. My friend asked me, "What do you want in your next partner?" My response was:
  1. Emotional Maturity

  2. Communication

Or, at least a willingness to learn them both. There are a lot of other things I would like--an athlete, funny, spiritual, social-justice oriented, sexy as hell--but those two are non-negotiable.

I really feel that SCL's lacking in these two areas contributed and compounded many of our problems. This isn't to say that I'm the poster child for emotional maturity, or that I've perfected my communication skills. But I do think I understand the importance of both and strive for them, and I want a partner who does, too.

My assessment is that SCL and I could have made our relationship work. We had all of the parts necessary for a successful, long-term commitment. The problem is that we could never get the communication part down. And while we both made mistakes, he failed, for whatever reason, to be a true parter in this area. Without mutuality in that area, we really had nothing.

This isn't to say that SCL never communicated his feelings or desires because he did, but he often waited to do so until things had gotten too intense. And because articulating himself was so challenging, it somtimes didn't come out as kindly or compassionately as it could have because he was just struggling to get the words out. I've said this before, but there would be times when I'd ask him a question and sit there for excruciating long periods of silence, getting frustrated all the while. I hated how he wouldn't even stumble through an articulation of his feelings. Maybe if he had tried to write down his feelings or something else, we would've been more successful. I never could figure out how to communicate with him. I suppose we just weren't that compatible in our communication styles. I liked to talk, he didn't. Kind of problematic.

Now, I'll admit my timing wasn't always good with bringing up difficult issues. I pushed him at times when he wasn't prepared or ready to discuss something. I would bring up the same issues multiple times (I'm a processor which requires mulling over things again and again). Maybe I should have found other people to turn to so as not to overwhelm him. When he did express doubts about our relationship, like when he told me he didn't know if he was in love with me anymore(!!!!), I got upset. Yeah, he was telling me really painful things, and yes, I did cry and feel like shit. What did he expect? But just because I got upset didn't mean that I couldn't handle difficult conversations. That should never have been an excuse for him to keep his feelings from me. Don't use that "I'm afraid of how you'll react" line. I can handle it. I've been through worse. Yes, I might cry, but believe me, I can handle it.

There were a few times when he said he didn't want to discuss whatever issue I'd brought up at the time, and I agreed to delay the conversation. But then we'd never get back around to talking about it. I'd say something like, "We don't have to discuss this now, but I would really like to set up a time when we can talk about this." And we'd never do it.

He would use "This is hard for me" as an excuse not to try very hard or avoid conversations altogether, and I really resented that. Just because I put myself out there emotionally and made myself vulnerable did not mean this was an easy thing for me to do. It was something I knew was necessary to my emotional well-being and our success as a couple that I be open and honest. I learned this after years of therapy. It wasn't something that came naturally, but something I had to develop and struggle to learn over time. Maybe SCL just never had a situation that forced him to grow in that way.

I resent him for not respecting me and our relationship enough to do the hard thing and talk about what was bothering him. And I resent him underestimating my emotional strength and resilience. He knew all the trials I'd been through--death, parents' divorce, sexual trauma, illness--and he didn't think I could handle this? He thought this would destroy me, that this would be my breaking point? Seriously, WTF?

I don't want this post, or this blog more generally, to be about trashing SCL, who truly is a remarkable person. In fact, I've had to revise this particular post several times to avoid doing just that (I hope it worked). But I do think that when I honestly look back, that is one of the major issues that prevented us from true intimacy and partnership.

This is all to say that in my next relationship, I want a man who is committed to developing the skills needed to make a relationship work--and that he'll lovingly help me identify the places I need to work on, too. One thing I've realized is that I can't make a relationship work on my own. I seriously think I used to believe that if I tried hard enough, I could make it work. A hard lesson to learn. A mistake I hope not to repeat.


  1. Those are both so important. I think it's great that you are open to someone who is willing to learn and work on improving those qualities too.

  2. Those are both INCREDIBLY important. And honestly, you'll find that person when you're ready to. I know that probably doesn't help much now, but believe me, fate happens in mysterious ways.

  3. Thanks, C and K. K, I really hope you're right. I just don't believe it now. I thought SCL and I were the perfect match, and look what happened? If I could meet one man that I thought would be as committed to the relationship as I am, I think I'd feel more confident. Any idea where these men live in the world? Any hope some of them live in DC?

  4. Hi, I just found your blog about a week ago. I broke up with someone in January, and as I start to put myself out there again, your blog has helped. My issue was that even though he was an amazing person, and we were right in so many ways, in the end he also did not have the emotional maturity to truly commit to me. He definitely had good reasons for being afraid to make himself vulnerable to someone, so I stuck with him for over 2 years, hoping that one day he could figure out that I was in it for the long haul. Not surprisingly to everyone else, he never did. Anyway, long story short, I still love him and miss him a great deal, and it's hard because in part I do resent him for not making as much effort for us as I did. But now I'm trying to move on and meet other guys. I don't know if I'm ready for anything big again yet, but it helps to know that there are others out there. Good luck to you. It's tough but it sounds like you are taking this hardship and learning from it, and that is very admirable.
    -AT, Seattle, WA

  5. AT, I'm so glad that the blog has helped you! I'm looking forward to moving on and to start looking for a man who truly appreciates me. Keep me posted on how you're doing. I'm sure you could teach me a lot!

  6. I feel like I wear an opposite shoe. My husband was amazing at being vulnerable and talking to me about things that he was having a hard time with before we got married. Two months after we were married, he deployed for a year and since that time, he's shut himself down to being vulnerable with his emotions. I know that that deployment was rough for him, as was the next one was, but he shut himself down so much that even now, years later he has yet to learn how to reopen himself and engage in emotional aspects of life. He always feels as if he's playing a part. It's hard to remember how things were compared to now. Some people, maybe SCL, will never be able to give you what maybe you need most from them. Maybe there 'best' is not yours, but you have to find a compromising line for the both of you. Lucky for me, my husband and I found that - but some days, it's still tough.
    One thing you must always remember, never settle. If those two things are the most important things to you above everything, don't settle.
    Ha, sorry I rambled.

  7. Ashley, no need to apologize. Thank you for sharing your story and your struggles with us. I hope you and your husband continue to find a way to move together through this. Thinking of you.