Finding a Long-Term Relationship

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Reader’s Question

I have been unsuccessful in getting a relationship, especially a long-term one, started. I had one girlfriend four years ago who was with me for almost a year, then she broke up with me. Ever since, I have been unable to find anyone who would be willing to stay for more than a month.

It’s really getting to me because more and more of my friends are finding someone and they are now getting married. It really hit home recently when not only my cousin got married, but my friend just got engaged right during her birthday. As much as I am happy for her, I can’t help but feel jealous, unhappy and even angry at times because I am nowhere near that stage in my life and am having difficulty even getting to phase one.

I haven’t really seen or talked to anyone professionally about this yet, but I thought maybe I will get a professional opinion. Maybe it would help give me a clue as to what I am doing wrong, or what is wrong with me that I haven’t been able to find anyone in four years (and counting).

Psychologist’s Reply

When we are surrounded by others who appear to be in happy relationships, it can make our own desire to be in a romantic relationship seem even bigger. It may be difficult for you to continually support your friends and family and put on a happy face while you are really feeling jealous and lonely. Finding a compatible romantic partner is difficult for so many people — even though it may not appear that way when every friend seems to be getting engaged and married. Many individuals in their twenties and thirties experience the pressures you have described, and often feel as if they are the only ones in their circle of friends who have yet to find The One. Sometimes this pressure influences our choices in potential partners, and we may ultimately choose someone who is available and meets some, but not enough, of our relationship needs. Often there isn’t something “wrong” with us (or with a potential partner), but it is rather the inability to match needs at a specific point in each other’s lives.

Since you have already experienced successful relationships (despite their having ended sooner than you may have wanted), you are probably closer to finding a long-term relationship than you may realize. Give yourself credit for taking the interpersonal risks inherent in starting and sustaining relationships — that is a very difficult first step! Because you already have these experiences, perhaps you have some ideas about your relationship needs and the attributes that you desire in a partner. For example, what worked well in the relationships? What didn’t work so well for you? What attracted you to these partners? I wonder if there are certain personality styles to which you are drawn, but that typically follow the same relationship pattern that has become frustrating for you. It may be helpful to ask your friends to help you see the patterns in the partners you have chosen (or how the relationships have progressed). If that feels uncomfortable, it can be very supportive and productive to talk with a licensed mental health professional (therapist, counselor, psychologist) who knows how to listen and how to help without an investment in the outcome. Sometimes well-meaning friends may guide us in a certain direction when we ask for help -– which may not be as helpful for you given the committed relationship pressures you are already experiencing among your peer group.

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If you feel as if you have already examined these relationships, your own relationship needs (independent of your friends’ needs) and still suspect there is something you may be doing “wrong,” then a therapeutic process group may be something to consider. Process groups are facilitated by licensed mental health professionals and provide a broader window for us to observe ourselves through others’ eyes. Groups can also be very validating when others reveal feelings and experiences that are familiar to us.

I would also encourage you to check in with yourself when you spend time with your partnered friends. Is the pressure to find a partner bigger when you spend time with them rather than with single friends? It may feel better for you to put your energy into the activities and friendships you enjoy and that feel rewarding to you. Sometimes when we loosen our grip on a goal (such as finding the “right” person) and instead seek the experiences that feel good to us, we are more available to others who may be potential partners.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that every individual coming into a relationship (romantic or platonic) has lived long enough to be accompanied by some “baggage.” Once we identify and are comfortable with our own, sometimes someone with a matching bag is easier to find.

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