But He Was Good On Paper

My mother married my father when she was only 18, and if we were to go by their family members and neighbors’ hopes and expectations, their marriage was not only destined to be happy, but was also meant to last a lifetime. To begin with, they were neighbors. Their parents had been friends long before my parents started dating each other. My mom had already been friends with her future brothers and sisters in law. So, when my parents announced their plan to wed, their news was met with nothing but joy and a celebratory spirit. What immediately followed was a massive wedding celebration that lasted for days. But then.

If you have been following my blogs, you know that it was only a matter of time before my father decided to abandon us for another woman. Their marriage lasted for only four years, and even those four years were infused with lying, infidelity, emotional abuse, and so much pain. Yes, my father appeared deceptively good. If someone were to judge him simply on the basis of his external qualifications, they would find him handsome, someone who came from a “good” family and privileged financially. In other words, he was good on paper. And this is what I am interested in talking about in today’s blog. Some months ago, I wrote about what a professor with an enviable resume, working at a prestigious university shared on a podcast, Yes, my life looks like a success, but it doesn’t feel like a success.” And the past couple of weeks, I have been wondering about how many people might also say similar things about their relationships — “yes, my marriage or my relationship does look like a success because I am in a partnership with someone who looks impeccable on paper, but it doesn’t feel like a success. And I am as unhappy as anyone could be.”
When I was a teenager, I remember making a list of all the things I wished to see in my future life partner. Next to prayer, I naively thought that knowing what I want or what I should want would place me on the correct path to finding the “right” person. The truth, however, turned out to be more complicated than that. To begin with, it’s only through friendships and relationships that we actually get to deepen our self-knowledge and come to know the qualities we seek in others. Self-awareness doesn’t really come from locking ourselves in a room and examining and dissecting ourselves. It requires intentional relationship building — yes, that also includes being with people with whom we disagree and being mindful of our inner world in
those relationships. It is through those relationships that we learn about our strengths and rough edges, what makes us feel loved and what brings out our feelings of insecurities. We learn what we find difficult to tolerate in others and ourselves, our communication and conflict patterns, and our go-to places when we are feeling shame or anger or jealousy or simply vulnerablity. In mycase for example, my teenage brain hadn’t yet figured out or known that I value curiosity and open-mindedness in others — those qualities hadn’t made it to my list until I began dating and came to learn my low tolerance for people who aren’t open to learning different perspectives. Further, I also learned that sometimes the person you are dating might check all the boxes andmeet all the standards, but the attraction is lacking. In other situations, the passion is in full force but for all the wrong reasons — it could be the case that the person you are seeing is masterful at playing games — alternating between being aloof and available, hot and unreliable, and you have been misattributing your anxiety and unsureness to feelings of attraction. This is perhaps the most enticingly dangerous relationship and one that is difficult to break free from.

For those of you who are in the dating world or considering dipping your toes into it, you can keep your checklist and non-negotiables as you like, but in addition, Logan Ury, a behavioral scientist who now works as a dating coach also suggests asking the following questions: “What side of me did this person bring out? Do I feel more energized or de-energized at the end of the date? How did they make me feel? Did we laugh together? Do their actions match their words? Is there something about them that I’m curious about?” If you have stories and questions you would like to share, you can find me at fseifu@umn.edu

Photo by: Skylar Kang

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