When I was a product design student, I learned through theory and experience that it’s better to recognise mistakes or even ‘failure’. Although it’s a lack of success, at the same time these also represent another opportunity for change. Recognising when something wasn’t working and applying that knowledge was better than deciding I am a product designer and anything I make is right and must work.

If you’ve ever watched something like Dragon’s Den, a British show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to millionaire investors, you’ll know that some people are so invested in the potential of their idea, in spite of external indications that they need to tweak or abandon, that they’ll sometimes sink hundreds of thousands of pounds into bonkers ideas. Well, sometimes our attitudes to relationships or our lives in general can be like this. We don’t know when to fold and we also don’t process ‘feedback‘.

Acting as if we’re not allowed to fail or err heightens fear of failure.

Too many people operate on a ‘not allowed to fail’ mentality which heightens a fear of failure. It’s like no mistake or lack of success can be admitted. When they eventually are, the mistake or failure is taken so deeply, so personally. It’s as if they’re seen as permanent marks on your ‘relationship record’ or your ‘life record’.

Having a ‘not allowed to fail’ mentality when you’re dating or in a relationship and recognise that all is not well or it doesn’t work out means you’ll get stuck on what you’ve ’done’.

“I’ve given you my time, energy, spent some money; I spent some ‘attraction coins’, kissed you like my life depended on it; I’ve forced myself to feel more attracted than I actually was; I had sex with you at X days/weeks/months. And just in case you didn’t know, I wouldn’t have slept with you if I didn’t think that we were serious or had the potential to be.

I used up my ‘trust fund’ (I find it hard to trust and now I don’t know how I’ll trust again); I believed in your potential, cared about you, put on my best drawers; Hell, I gave you my game face, acted like I liked things that I didn’t. I’ve shaved my legs, been on three dates with you that took up a combined total of 11 hours and 27 minutes of my life, declined a date with someone who I wasn’t interested in anyway but who I might have forced myself to be if you weren’t around; I didn’t take the number of that person that smiled at me on the train the other day. They could be the fricking one and you’ve robbed me of that chance!; I extended hope and fantasy credits amongst other things; you’d better give me my bleeeeep bleeeeeep [insert expletive of choice] relationship!”

Our mistakes and failures aren’t black marks against our worthiness.

If I focused on my various dodgy relationships, I’d see them as ‘permanent’. This would become reality because I’d carry this baggage to my relationships believing I brought less to the table. And this would all be because I had a relationship or few that didn’t work out even after I tried to bust a gut, or because I was the Other Woman. It would be like having to go out there and date like millions of others, but having penalty points. I’d show up to dates with an ankle monitor sending a beep to me every time I dare to hope or try. “Don’t get too carried away Natalie; you’re a failure.”

But my mistakes and ‘failures’ aren’t permanent; they’re events in my life that I had a part in. Back then when I was experiencing these or in the aftermath, I saw my eff-ups as a sign that I was indeed not good enough. I believed I was a failure and worthless. Now, I see them as events that taught me what I needed to know when I was ready to watch, listen, recognise, and apply.

A critical aspect of dealing with mistakes and failures is that the period of time from recognition of an issue to decisive action shrinks.

When it comes to relationships, it means the period between relationships spent dwelling on a failure also shrinks.

It’s a bit of a Goldilocks ethos. Not too short (for example weeks for a serious relationship) and not too long (years, especially if the time elapsed is greater than the relationship itself).

You are far more likely to be greatly impacted by even a brief acquaintance not working out if it takes you a very long time before you’ll work up enough confidence and energy to try again. Same for if you ricochet around from relationship to relationship avoiding your pain.

Yes, you could sit out your relationships and wait to have the ‘perfect conditions’. The truth is, though, getting out of your comfort zone, facing your fears, and putting yourself out there again, means that discomfort comes with the territory. If we could all find a relationship without risk or without even leaving the house, what an easy time we’d have. As many of you have already discovered, though, even with online dating, there’s no such thing as ‘risk free’.

When you start to look at failure and mistakes differently, you’ll realise that they are and were just relationships. These guys were not my father reincarnated for me to validate myself, nor were they gods. Yes, we have history; yes, there were feelings; and yes, we could have all stood to do quite a few things differently. It wasn’t just me in these relationships, though. If I failed, they failed, hence if they and everyone else can get on with their lives, so can I. So can you.

We don’t have to take our mistakes and failures so personally.

Unless two people have only ever been involved with each other, each of us have been with people, who’ve been with people, who’ve been with people. Believing that you’re a failure for making mistakes and having some failed relationships is a distorted perception.

We all have experiences where the sum of events surrounding them ‘lack success’. You’re a living, breathing, human being with life in you yet, so every day presents you with opportunities to grow out of mistakes and to experience success. Writing yourself off as a ‘failure’ is a waste. What are you supposed to do with the rest of your life? Not try?

Not trying again and refusing to adapt and grow, looks more like failure than a relationship not working out.  

You’re independent of the events. You are not your relationships and you’re not the other person. If your identity is intrinsically tied to these, you’re at the mercy of external factors beyond your control. This is why after a breakup, it’s the relationship that should be broken, not you.

Your mistakes and any failures (bearing in mind that with the benefit of hindsight, you’ll likely see them as blessings in (painful) disguise, pave the way to your successes. You’re allowed to fail; you can only learn from it. Don’t treat each relationship like it has to be right because of your presence. It doesn’t. Allow yourself to fail at things (and move on from them), so you can allow yourself to succeed.

Your thoughts?

Check out my book and ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl in my bookshop.

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