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Friday, March 1, 2024

You can’t ‘golden rule’ your way into a healthy relationship

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There’s something to be said for living your life by the Golden Rule: Treating others in the way we want to be treated seems like a worthwhile endeavour.

But I did it wrong. Or took it too far. I’m not sure which.

Because I applied the Golden Rule to my romantic relationships.

I treated my partners the way I wanted to be treated. I didn’t just show respect in the way I wanted to be respected.

I didn’t just love in the way that I wanted to be loved. I did things for them that I wanted someone to do for me.

I tried to Golden Rule my way into the relationship I wanted. I was modeling the treatment I wanted to receive while never actually saying that’s what I was doing.

This likely doesn’t sound like the worst thing, but here’s the flaw: If we’re treating our partners in the way we want them to treat us, we’re setting up an expectation — and setting ourselves up for disappointment. To be fair, I never did this on purpose. I made this my relationship style by default. I’ve known what it’s like to be loved with conditions. I wanted to give love that was strong, undeniable, and unconditional. I was projecting the love I needed onto the partners I’d chosen.

It sounds ideal in a way, but I was making up for any lack in the relationship with extra effort.

I made romantic gestures for the partner who eschewed romance. I was extra-loving and supportive to the partner who had been slowly withdrawing both love and support. I was the fun-loving, exciting partner for the minimal effort man.

I brought what I needed to relationships, but I wasn’t getting my needs met. Most of the time, I was asking for the bare minimum and then making up the difference myself.

These days, the Golden Rule is out. Energy matching is in. While I still treat people in the way that I want to be treated, I don’t take this to mean that I should project what I want onto a relationship that’s unwilling to meet my needs. I’m not expending extra effort on low-effort individuals. Instead, I’m matching energy.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” ~Nikola Tesla

I never thought of myself as a person who would chase a man, but that’s exactly what I was doing every time I turned up the charm, affection, and humor to keep one’s attention.

I spent so much time trying to make them like me that I rarely reflected on what I truly liked about them. Energy matching prevents this imbalance from occurring. I don’t roll up to dating ready and willing to entertain. I’m available to connect, but I don’t put in effort where it’s not reciprocated.

I was nearly today years old when I realized that I had tried to Golden Rule all my ex-partners into loving me the way I wanted to be loved. I’d never really thought about it before. It made me feel good to make them happy, and those little thoughtful gestures came naturally to me.

I began to realize that I wanted someone to care enough about me to make that kind of effort. I wanted to have a partner who showed love so consistently that I didn’t have to wonder if their feelings had changed. I had exhausted myself loving other people, and I had neglected myself in the process.

Every time I gave energy that wasn’t matched, I was depleting myself.

I was so concerned about meeting their needs that it didn’t occur to me to evaluate if they were even trying to meet mine.

I had grown up with a deficit that made these relationships feel familiar. I tried to be the perfect partner to make myself worthy to be loved and chosen. I didn’t realize my inherent worthiness. I was too busy trying to show them theirs.

I’m fortunate enough to know several healthy couples. That wasn’t always the case. Lately, I’m surrounded by them. I feel like the Universe is shoving proof in my face that this kind of dynamic exists.

These couples love each other and are committed to continuing to do so. They don’t always get along, but they do always come together to work things out. They aren’t perfect. Who is? But their bonds are healthy, happy, and fulfilling.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~Brené Brown

I know healthy relationships are out there, but we don’t get them by showing up for other people in the way we wish they would show up for us but don’t.

We get that by matching energy until we find someone who can meet us where we are. It’s not the easiest way to date.

It requires patience and a willingness to endure the loneliness as long as it takes to find a healthy connection. It’s a commitment to loving ourselves better than we ever have before.

Energy matching still feels strange to me. Healthy things do when we’re used to unhealthy dynamics. But it also feels right. I’m not trying to be the best conversationalist with people who give me one-word responses.

I’m not responsive to requests that I be more entertaining. I engage in conversations where there is an effort being made to connect. I disengage when the effort is not there.

“I don’t care how intelligent or attractive someone is, if he zaps your energy, he isn’t for you. True chemistry is more than intellectual compatibility. Beyond surfaces, you must be intuitively at ease.” ~Judith Orloff

Dating apps are the equivalent of online shopping. There will always be people who keep looking for a better deal, the next best thing, or the potential upgrade. They don’t want to commit when it seems like there is a veritable buffet of partners to choose from online.

They are the low-effort partners who have always gotten by with the barest of the bare minimum. Many of us have entertained their mediocrity. We have allowed the low-effort engagement and the monosyllabic responses by dignifying them with a response and renewed effort to achieve their interest.

What happens is that we end up in relationships that could never meet our needs. It was obvious from the start. The effort and engagement weren’t there. Maturity and commitment were lacking. But we proceeded anyway.

I woke up today and realized that the Golden Rule isn’t meant to be applied this way in relationships.

It’s out. I’m done with it. I need my energy matched. Messages should result in responses. Conversations should feel like conversing and not like answering questions about the workday or the weather endlessly while never getting to know each other at a deeper level.

I can be my most authentic self without having to contribute more effort to engage than I’m receiving in return.

If I’m honest, it’s a relief. I spent all those years of effort feeling exhausted. I was filling their cups. Who was filling mine? I acted as though their needs were a priority and mine were optional.

The hard truth is that it wasn’t even their fault. They did what they did. I didn’t have to entertain it. I can get as mad as I want that I partnered with some low-effort partners, but then I’m just mad at myself because I chose them.

I allowed those relationships to continue when it was obvious they couldn’t give me what I needed. I was the common denominator in every single failed relationship.

Now, I can relax.

I don’t feel any pressure to rush into the next relationship. I’m curious. I’m not taking other people’s behavior personally. I’m not ascribing poor intentions to every person I encounter. Instead, I just evaluate effort.

Someone who matches my energy can be compatible or incompatible with me. It’s a matter of getting to know them better to decide if a relationship should progress.

Someone who isn’t matching my energy is automatically incompatible with me even if we seem like an ideal match on paper.

It sounds simple because it is. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are reasons that people like me defaulted into being the ones to carry relationships.

Before I had trauma therapy, it was my go-to response when connecting with others. Now that I’ve addressed my trauma, I can see my inherent worthiness. I don’t just see it; I feel it.

I know that I am worthy of a healthy relationship, and I know I won’t find one as long as I’m applying the messed-up version of the Golden Rule instead of matching energy.

I still plan to treat people with kindness and respect. I’m going to be a lot more decisive going forward, but that doesn’t mean I’ll disregard other people’s feelings.

At the heart of it, I will always operate by trying not to harm other people, but I am equally committed to making sure that I’m not putting myself in harm’s way by engaging in connections where they can’t or won’t match my energy.

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