A couple overlooking a city at sunset

Why we need to date with an open heart and mind

If I hadn’t managed to open my rather closed heart and mind, I wouldn’t be getting married in June. When I first began to date my fiancé, I found all manner of things about him to judge and criticise. I’d done the same with boyfriends in the past. If I’d have continued like that, I’d still be alone.

To give you an example, I made a decision, early on, that my partner wasn’t very romantic – and I judged him for it. I need to be with someone more romantic, I’d say to myself, as I pondered breaking it off. I noticed friends’ partners or husbands being romantic towards them and I thought I deserved someone like that.

You know, dramatic gestures. Flowers. Chocolates. Bottles of fizz.

Fortunately, I decided that my partner’s other qualities – his kindness, gentleness, loyalty and rock-steady nature – were worth more than the presents and dramatic gestures I daydreamed about and I gave up looking for someone else who matched my image of Mr Perfect.

I chose to accept my fiancé as he was and to love him as he was, and he offered the same courtesy to me. He didn’t express any desire or need to shape me into something else. He didn’t call out my shortcomings or compare me to some picture perfect woman.

And as I accepted him and loved him as he was, guess what happened? Yes, he began to make romantic gestures.

I came home the other night to a parcel on the dining room table, decorated with a purple ribbon and a silver bow. The parcel bore the name of a women’s clothing store and I knew immediately what it was. I was over the moon.

My partner had bought me a dress I had been wavering about buying for myself for a few weeks. It was a dress I’d worn in a photo shoot for Good Housekeeping magazine – to accompany an article I’d written on finally getting married at 48 after many wrong turns. Not only that, but he’d bought the dress in two sizes because he knew I’d want to try on both. And he’d managed to keep his purchase secret for almost a week.

Every time I looked at the dress online in his presence and toyed with buying it, he said that he didn’t like it that much, or that the material didn’t look very nice, or that I might not get the right size – anything to put me off spoiling the surprise. And it worked. He’d nearly cracked once or twice, he said, but he’d held it together.

As I unwrapped the two dresses and tried them on, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was marrying the right man – someone who knows me, who gets me, who knows that I’m going to want to try on both dress sizes, who knows I struggle to spend money on myself and who knows I’d be blown away by such a lovely surprise. And I felt so grateful that I’d had the emotional maturity to love him for who he is, rather than look around for someone I deemed to be more romantic.

My partner has surprised me in other ways. One of my biggest complaints, and judgements of him, when we first met was that he wasn’t driven enough. I’ve always been ambitious and I wanted him to be more like me. But again, I chose to accept him and love him as he is. And now, a few years on, he’s starting an evening course to learn a new skill, under his own steam, without me cajoling him into doing it.

When we need others to be a certain way and judge their shortcomings, it’s often because we’re not accepting of ourselves. We see aspects of ourselves that we dislike reflected back in our dates and partners and we want to run away. This tendency to need our partners to be taller, prettier, more handsome, more driven or more successful also often indicates that we have low self-esteem. We want to be seen arm-in-arm with a beautiful man or woman or a wealthy or successful partner because it’ll reflect glory back on us and lessen our feelings of inadequacy.

So how do we let go of this need for our partners to be a certain way? And how do we stop judging people we meet? Firstly, we can love and accept ourselves, in our entirety, as much as we possibly can, remembering that God loves us exactly as we are. Secondly, we can build our self-esteem and confidence, by treating ourselves as lovable and worthy people, so that we don’t need others to make us look or feel good. And thirdly, we can ask ourselves whether this tendency to find fault with others is symptomatic of a fear of commitment and intimacy, as was the case for me, and then we can work through that fear.

Dating involves discernment. We can choose who we want to be with. My biggest mistake, however, was to rule people out because they were too this or too that or not good enough. I did this because I didn’t accept and love myself, because I lacked self-esteem, and because I was afraid of getting hurt in relationships.

As I worked on these aspects of myself, I was able to open my heart and mind and fall in love.

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