I recently posted an essay called “A Bad Partner Fit Can Make You Feel Like You’re Worthless.” In it, I contrast two relationships I’ve been in, not by discussing the qualities of the two different partners, but by sharing the different ways they described me:
It’s easy to come up with differences between those two relationships. And it would be hard not to see them, they were that striking.
I try really hard not to compare people to one another — or at least to not assign values to those differences.
But the one fair comparison I can think of is comparing myself to myself. How I felt in one relationship versus how I felt in another.
Because the biggest difference of all was not between those two partners, but in me. In how I saw myself when I was in those relationships, in how I felt.
When I dated Ex-Partner, I felt like a bad partner. Like I was annoying and being tolerated. A bad partner fit made me feel worthless.
But with Next Partner, I felt like someone who might be good to date. Someone who had positive qualities and was fun to be around. I felt worthwhile.
It was insane on a certain level. Because I was the same person all of that time.
But I can’t deny how striking the difference was, being in a bad fit versus a good one.
Does Having More than One Relationship at a Time Make It Easier to See Differences More Clearly?
That article turned out to be massively popular. (I was frankly rather surprised by how much it was shared and how much it seemed to resonate with people.)
I heard from a lot of readers about it. And one asked me the following: “Do you feel that having concurrent relationships helps this aspect to be seen more clearly? As opposed to relying on retrospect and memory?”
I think this is an excellent question, so I’d like to answer it in today’s post.
I Always See the Differences
The answer might be surprising. I believe most would assume that comparing two relationships that are happening at the same time would make the differences stand out more and to be more clear.
Interestingly, however, I’ve found that I’ve actually seen the differences between relationships rather well. They really don’t have to be occurring at the same time for me to be able to effectively compare.
However, my confidence about those comparisons does go up when the relationships are occurring at the same time.
However, It’s Easier to Doubt Myself When Memory Is Involved
I find it’s far too easy to doubt myself when memory is involved. To tell myself, “Oh, I could be mis-remembering that time in my life.” Or to tell myself that I may have changed so profoundly from back then that the comparisons about how I felt aren’t fair.
I can remember all too well expressing my concerns to the Ex-Partner I talk about in my previous essay about bad partner fit.
“I don’t think you like me very much,” I’d tell them.
When they’d ask why, I’d tell him that they seemed more critical of me, more emotionally distant than previous partners. That they often would say negative things about me that I’d literally never heard anyone else say about me (romantic partner or not).
And the way that they’d respond to these sorts of observations was to tell me that my memory must be faulty. That I was mis-remembering things. And if I’d insist that I wasn’t, they’d tell me that other people must have been lying to me. That they were the only one who cared about me and respected me enough to admit what was wrong and bothersome about me. That they alone loved me enough to tell me the truth.
When Relationships Are Simultaneous, It’s Harder to Dismiss Your Concerns About Them
I gave them the benefit of the doubt when we were monogamous. I decided to accept their interpretation of events, even though I could clearly remember past relationships that seemed more passionate and accepting while they lasted. Perhaps I had missed some important deception from past partners, since I wasn’t on red alert looking for it.
But after our relationship opened up at this partner’s urging, and we both started seeing other people, their explanation for my concerns cracked under the weight of the evidence that simultaneous relationships presented.
They were suddenly outnumbered by people who seemed to think I was a lovely person. Who actually seemed to like me. And although I scrutinized my new partners for signs of dishonesty, I found no evidence that they were being untruthful when they claimed to enjoy my company. And plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Perhaps Other People Would Have Never Dismissed Their Concerns
Now, perhaps other people would have never dismissed their concerns in the first place. When they felt something was off, they would have stuck to their guns no matter what their partner was raising as far as doubts.
But I’m not that kind of person.
And for the kind of person I am, it’s an easy mistake to make.
This is because I’ve known a lot of people over the years who never seem to question themselves. Who will fall backwards into an abyss clinging to a belief that is clearly dead wrong and isn’t serving them.
I think that affected me a lot to be completely honest. Knowing people who were that kind of stubborn and watching them hurt themselves and others in their stubbornness.
I’ve tried really hard not to be like that. So even when people are telling me something I don’t want to hear, particularly people I’ve let become close to me, I try to be open to the idea that what they’re saying may be true, even if I feel defensive hearing it.
The trouble is that it’s easy to go too far with it and end up going the wrong way. And to become easier to mislead because you’re trying so hard to keep an open mind, even when what the other person is saying seems wrong (and in fact is actually wrong, once the evidence is fully explored).
Anyway, for someone like me, there’s utility in having less reason to dismiss my own doubts.