Solving for the Relationship X

“I just want there to be a formula for love!” my roommate exclaimed as we talked about her new boyfriend over caramel lattes at our favorite coffee shop. “I just want to know that if I do A, B and C, I’ll be guaranteed D (D being marriage). I just want to know the rules so that I can play the game and win.”

She’s been married for four years to that boyfriend who was the subject of our mid-20s’ angst, so somewhere along the way she learned the playbook when it comes to love. But I think the sentiment is one shared by anyone who is frustrated that when it comes to dating, love, marriage and figuring out the whole relationship game, there are no universally-agreed-upon rules. 

To this end, I’ve spent lots of time, probably too much time, analyzing a relationship based on the latest advice or how-to book in an attempt to play by these rules. Sometimes I think that if I just do whatever the popular relationships book says or if I heed the advice from that blog post that went viral on Facebook, then I’ve followed the rules and done everything right so naturally the relationship will work out, right?  

Now let’s be honest: Relating to someone of the opposite gender is hard, and there’s plenty of room for mixed signals and miscommunication. So why wouldn’t we look to a professional or the latest relationship book to give us some insight into all of it? Of course there is often a shred of truth to these books, and they can be helpful when it comes to understanding each other better. But I’ve seen that it’s dangerous when we reduce someone or something to only fit within whatever theory or formula is currently trendy. It’s as if a relationship is a math problem, and all we have to do is solve for X.

As a self-professed rule-follower, I want dating to be like any other endeavor: If I can learn the rules and follow them, I’ll be successful. But for every book that tells you real men don’t text, you meet a happily-married man who did. For every personality test that tells you firstborns and the youngest are the most compatible, you meet two married firstborns whose compatibility is off the charts.

The irony that I’m writing this post for a website that offers relationship advice is not lost on me. But I would encourage you to make space for the people in your life to be who they are. They may or may not fit the mold when it comes to the latest book or personality test or general assumption you’ve heard your married friends reinforce. Relationships aren’t a formula, and they’re not one size fits all. I think we do each other a disservice when we approach it from that perspective. 

I’ve found that when I read the latest relationship advice book or blog post or listen to the latest sermon series, I have to hold loosely to all the do’s and don’ts. And when I’m tempted to follow a friend’s advice because that’s what worked for her and she was engaged three months later, I have to remember that every relationship is different, and it’s OK to not have it all figured out at every turn. A relationship can still be successful even if we never find the value of X.

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