One of my recent guilty pleasures is watching Mindy Kaling’s show “Never Have I Ever” about Devi, an American teenage girl with Indian roots. Devi is torn between two guys – Paxton, the hot but rather lazy guy, and Ben, the over-achiever who seems too perfect in many ways. The show sent me on a trip down my own memory lane of all the flings and “relationships” of me and my girlfriends as teenagers. Would we date these types of guys now? Certainly not. Was it necessary to go through these experiences? Definitely.
My very first boyfriend was kind of a rebel – or at least that was what he considered himself. One day, one of my mother’s friends who is a tutor told her that she had a new and very particular student. “Can you imagine, this guy failed six classes in the winter semester!” “That is crazy, what is the name of this guy? My daughter’s boyfriend is at the same school, maybe he knows him,” my mother replied. When she heard the name, my mother’s face froze. That guy was my boyfriend. Failing classes was his way of “rebelling” against his parents. He was actually really smart, he basically failed the classes on purpose. I was 15 and frankly did not care much about this.
My teenage choices in men were based on two simple factors: 1) was he good looking and 2) did he have a scooter, or ideally car. I lived in the countryside and a car meant freedom. Also, it was really, really cool when you were picked up from school by your boyfriend on his scooter or in his car. That first boyfriend had both: the looks and the scooter. He looked like the teenage version of Paul Rudd who was then on TV with “Clueless” and I did not really care about his grades.
As you may guess, these two superficial factors were not a recipe for relationship success. The older I got, the more I got bored. And, more importantly, I realized that to find a boyfriend who is a real partner, it takes more than just looks and a car. When I was 21, one of my friends who is a bit older than me told me: “In high school, you want to be with captain of the football team. But later, you are going to marry a nerd.” What he was trying to tell me was that I should look for somebody whose values and interests match mine. At 21, I still was kind of naïve with my choice in men and up until my late twenties I had my fair share of narcissist, cheaters and men who had an issue with a woman who was as “strong” as they consider themselves. One guy even told me that he had an issue with me earning more than him. But I think I had to go through that. I had to make those experiences to know what I was really looking for.
In the end, I learned that I had to look for a real partner. In her book “Lean In” Sheryl Sandberg emphasises the importance of a supportive partner over and over again. When I read her book, I was single. “Well, duh, I thought. I want someone who is supportive of what I do, somebody who loves me for who I am. But it is not that easy to find such a guy.” From narcissistic fund managers to semi-professional models – up until my mid-twenties, the majority of dates and relationships I had were less than successful. I am not sure what determined my bad choices. I could blame it on what boys expected girls to be in the late 90s and early 2000s: perfect mostly on the outside and a dream for any man. Successful, driven, with her own ideas? Better not. Maybe a bit eccentric, if she was pretty enough. I guess it was a mix of this and a lack of maturity.
At least, I was a step further than my teenage self. I knew WHAT I had to look for. The next step was to change my “target prey”. Soon, my dating habits changed. Instead of trying to please a guy who I put on a pedestal and adapt to what he expected me to be, I started assessing the guys according to MY values. I paid close attention during the first dates – How did he talk about past relationships? Had he ever cheated? Had he been in relationships with women like me or did he see women as a mere accessory? What were his interests? Does his lifestyle really match mine? If a guy did not meet my criteria, I did not go on another date. No compromises. From my teenage self who tried to meet the expectations of the “hot” guys and accepted all types of behaviour just to please them, I gradually changed to someone who saw relationships as two-sided.
Dating, like so many things in life, is a learning process. It also is a process of getting to know yourself, what is important to you and with whom you want to spend that life. I hope that you are lucky to have found or to find someone who loves you for who you are, whose values match yours and supports you in whatever you want to do.