In Bird by Bird, the bestselling writing guide by memoirist Anne Lamott, she breaks down an issue she repeatedly encounters with students in her writing groups. “The problem that comes up over and over again is that these people want to be published. They kind of want to write, but they really want to be published.”

Wanting the outcome more than the journey or commitment of being the person doing the thing is something I observe in dating and relationships.

People kinda sorta maybe want to be a loving partner, but they really want what comes with being in a relationship. The assumed status, safety and security of having a romantic partner; the problems they think they won’t have anymore. It’s what they think being in a relationship will make them feel. Some even believe that a relationship will make them feel a certain way all. the. time.

Here’s the thing: everything we do has a ‘why’—our intention—and it governs the outcomes we experience.

Knowing our intentions helps us make better choices that align with who we are. Not knowing our ‘why’ or confusing and conflating our agenda with something else means we chase the wrong things. We compare, beat ourselves up, and try to take shortcuts that bypass our genuine needs, values and boundaries. We might feel disillusioned when it takes longer than we imagined it would. When we face what feels like tough choices or too much risk of failure and hurt, we might bail. Or we’ll throw more people-pleasing efforts at the relationship in an attempt to drive the outcome.

And let’s be clear: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be in a relationship.

Still, if we don’t have a genuine desire to be a loving partner, to forge genuine intimacy, to practice discernment, to have healthy boundaries that promote close, loving relationships that allow us to be more of who we are, we will hitch our wagon to whatever and whoever we think will offer what we think we want.

We’ll stay with someone we somewhat dislike and have little genuine compatibility rather than be alone.

There will be impatience, moving too fast, maybe turning down anything that looks like the ‘work’ of showing up.

Conversely, we might opt for difficult relationships with emotionally unavailable and shady folk. The jumping through hoops and anxiety of ‘love against the odds’ will feel more ‘earned’ and credible.

Just as a writer might clamour for the version of success and credibility through being published, we, in wanting a relationship more than to be a loving partner, will aspire, chase and angst for our picture of relationships.

We might desire marriage or ‘not single’ status more than we want to be discerning about who we’re partnering with. And that matters a lot. We can only experience healthy, loving, fulfilling, sustainable relationships with compatible partners. This means sharing similar core values and meeting our emotional needs.

When we’re not mindful of how we’re going about things or aware of our hidden and skewed motivations, we breach our boundaries. We don’t like the person we become en route to the destination we’re trying to arrive at. So we have to recognise where we want(ed) the outcome, the status, more than the journey or the commitment of being that person.

We make very different decisions when we’re focused on controlling an outcome and prioritising status than when we’re driven by being ourselves.

If we wouldn’t do something if we weren’t going to get the desired and expected outcome in the form and timing we’ve decided, we need to halt. It’s time to check in with our motivations and agenda. We need to connect with our real ‘why’ as well as how we’re feeling. And then, we have to use that self-honesty to guide us towards making more intentional choices. Only then can we truly take care of and be ourselves while having more freedom to enjoy our choices.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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