We have all rules that we consciously and unconsciously follow. Some are dating rules we’ve observed and internalised from the culture. Plenty are our own version of trying to do life, dating and relationships in a paint-by-numbers fashion. If I do (or don’t do) X, they will do (or not do) Y and it will lead to my desired and successful outcome. If they do X then I need to apply X (my rule) if I’m to make things go how I want.

When our relationships don’t work out or we feel hungry, or even malnourished, despite us being in love or believing that this person ticks our boxes, we wonder, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why am I never enough?’ or even, ‘It’s not fair. I’ve done everything right!’ The more we repeat the rules and berate ourselves, the more dating anxiety it fosters.

There isn’t something ‘wrong’ with us, though. It’s not about our worthiness or enoughness. The issue is the approach. It’s with the idea that we should be able to run around following rules and doing things that influence and control other people’s feelings and behaviour. That’s not about there being something ‘wrong’ with us; it’s socialisation and conditioning. It’s internalising the idea that if we follow the rules and are compliant, we ‘win’. No, we don’t. We lose ourselves. That’s why it feels so unfair! It’s like, Jaysus, I abandoned myself for this?!

The idea that we can influence, control and change people’s behaviour stops us from being authentic. We’re doing what we think will generate our desired outcome regardless of whether it turns us into someone we’re not. All of this rule following is people pleasing, including engaging in perfectionism, overgiving, overthinking and over-responsibility. We’re suppressing and repressing our needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions in the hope of being rewarded (attention, affection, approval, love and validation). Or we, at the very least, expect to avoid conflict, criticism, stress, disappointment and loss. Farewell, intimacy, connection, love, care, trust and respect.

No one ‘owes’ us a relationship just because we think we acted ‘right’ and followed the rules. We owe it to ourselves to be more of who we really are. When we know and own ourselves, we can connect, create, forge and sustain mutually fulfilling relationships. We get to thrive.

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