Over almost two decades of writing about dating and relationships, I’ve observed time and again in people’s questions and anxiety that what many of us would love is step-by-step instructions for how to go from single to long-term relationship. Ideally, we’d also love to get into a relationship as quickly as possible and with minimal discomfort or difficulty. 

Truth be told, we’d love a relationship in a box. You know, like so many of the pre-prepared meal services and packages that exploded in popularity during the pandemic. Someone else does the legwork of gathering all the ingredients of a loving relationship (or the partner we imagine ourselves to be most compatible with). All we have to do is open the box, heat up the ingredients with some sex and general people pleasing, and, voila, we’re good to go. Note: dating apps, sites and matchmaking services are not the equivalent of pre-prepared meals!

If it’s not a relationship in a box we want, then we’re often hunting for the magic formula for relationships. We wonder, What’s the blueprint? Give me the steps. Tell me how you did it. What shouldn’t I do if I want to get commitment or I want to avoid shady or emotionally unavailable folks?

As any person who’s ever scratched their head in confusion, hurt and resentment over disappointment and rejection can attest to, this isn’t how life or relationships work. People break the so-called ‘rules’ all the flippin’ time, possibly because they were never following them in the first place. Rather than keep breaking your own heart, break the fake rules and shoulds holding you back from being more of who you really are.

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