So much of our life journey is shaped by the people we share it with. Our friends, family, colleagues, lovers - and even enemies - all make up the colorful caravan of fellow travelers that share our particular road of life. Of all these fellow travelers, we tend to place an enormous importance (for better or for worse) on our choosing of romantic partners.
More than any other person, it is often our romantic partners that we share our lives most intimately with. They have a front row seat to our strengths and weaknesses, our deepest fears and desires, our most glaring imperfections and our most glorious gifts. In our grandest moments of achievement and in our most heartbreaking moments of tragedy, the person we most often want by our side is our beloved - whether husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend.
Of course, not all love stories have happy endings. In fact, too often our most heartbreaking moments occur at the hands of romantic partners - when they cheat, when they lie, when they leave. All of this makes the act of choosing a romantic life partner so fraught with difficulty.
Luckily, there are road maps.
When planning the course of our life journey and how a romantic partner fits within that vision, there are two essential questions to ask: Where am I going? Who is coming with me?
The answers to these two questions will shape our lives like nothing else.
But first, we have to get something crystal clear: they are meant to be answered in that order.
Many of us, however, do the exact opposite. Before we’ve truly taken the time to know ourselves - our dreams, our passions, our values - many of us date and even marry partners who don’t know themselves either. Before we even know our destination, we’re handing the car keys to someone else and saying “Here, you drive for awhile.” No wonder many of us feel lost.
There are plenty of reasons why we choose a partner before we really know where we’re going. Family pressure to marry and have children. The cultural myth that we’re not “complete” until we’ve found “the one.” Our deep need for sexual intimacy and emotional companionship.
When we choose partners based on these pressures, from a place of obligation and compulsion instead of our own inner clarity, can we really be surprised when we find our love lives lacking? When we embark on a journey with no clear destination, no road map, no sense of purpose - can we really blame anyone but ourselves when our journey winds up stranded on the side of the road?
Imagine this scenario… One night, you meet a very attractive stranger who is leaving town tomorrow on a road trip. They are intelligent, charming, sensitive, sexy - everything you’ve ever looked for partner. They ask you to join them on this road trip. Part of your brain is saying “Yes! Yes! Follow this dreamy stranger on a wild adventure!” But perhaps another part of your brain is skeptical, so you start asking questions. It quickly becomes obvious that your seemingly ideal road trip partner has no destination in mind, no plan for getting there, no form of transportation, no gas money, no food, no map, no compass, no GPS, nothing.
Would you still follow them on this road trip?
Would you merge your life path with someone else’s when neither you nor they have any idea where that path is going?
If we say yes to such invitations, we have forgotten the proper order of those two fundamental questions: Where am I going? Who is going with me?
We have prioritized finding a partner for our journey, but we have neglected the journey itself.
I learned this lesson the hard way. I met a woman when I was 22, fresh out of college. My head was filled with big ideas and big dreams for my future, but I had very little clarity about how to actually make them a reality. I didn’t have a clear vision yet for a career or my higher purpose, but I sure did love this girl (or so I thought). We dated for a year and then moved in together. After five years of dating, I asked her to marry me. On our wedding day, I was 27 and she was 26. We had no idea what the hell we were doing. More importantly, we didn’t fully understand who we were as individuals.
I was still struggling with finding my sense of purpose. I had started a job as a high school English teacher, but I was having one hell of a rough first year and was in a constant state of stress and anxiety. She was struggling with her sense of independence as a new wife, doubting whether monogamy and married life were really for her. We were two confused people trying our best to love one another, but too often we felt like we were moving in two completely different directions.
The marriage didn’t last long, only two-and-a-half years. When we finally decided to separate, I was only 29 year old. Although the divorce was one of the most emotionally difficult times of my life, it was also a profound gift. Divorce gave me back the opportunity to learn who I truly am and what I truly want. Divorce gave me back an understanding of my soul’s purpose and the path I’m meant to walk in this life. Divorce gave me back myself.
Now at age 34, I am more clear than ever about my passion, my path, and my purpose.
Simply put: I know where I am going. And because I have answered that question first, I am ready to share this journey with a romantic partner who is heading in the same direction.
It comes down to this: You owe it not only to yourself, but to any current or future lover, to discover your own unique self before you commit to a long-term relationship.
There are so many ways to begin the journey towards your true self: Spend time in solitude. Take a trip alone. Write down your honest thoughts and feelings in a private journal. Remember what brought you joy as a child. Begin the work of healing your wounds and traumas. Reflect on how your unique passion can serve the world.
You, and you alone, must decide the path you will take through this world.
Then, and only then, choose a partner whose purpose and direction is in alignment with your own. Insist that they too have done the work to know themselves and will continue to do that work in the future. When your two paths are aligned and based on each person’s inner work of self-discovery, you will be a source of strength, courage, and inspiration for each other. You will be able to weather the storms of life and face the difficulties of the journey together, because you’re actually going in the same direction.
Until each partner has done this essential inner work, your relationship will experience conflict at every fork in the road: you’ll want to turn right, you partner will want to turn left, and your love will turn into a struggle for control of the wheel.
But you don’t have to take that trip.
One simple question will put you on your proper path… one simple question that you must answer from the bottom of your soul:
Where am I going? When you’ve answered that, you’ll be ready to ask someone else to join you for the ride.