Codependent, emotionally unavailable, toxic.
These and other labels are often used as descriptors for relationships we engage in where one person is more attached than the other. One person is fixated on fixing the other, and one person feels a deep sense of remorse when the relationship ends, while the other person remains unmoved.
In fact, these types of relationships seem like they are a dime a dozen—easy to come by but difficult to let go of.
Why is this the case?
I believe it’s because many of us equate intensity with love. In our stupor, we choose people who are projects and not partners. So, what is the difference between the two?
Ultimately, the process…
What is a partner?
No matter how spectacular they were or how horrible they seem, our parents are not our partners.
They were our initial caregivers. And here is where all of us mess up. We think that a partner is someone who will take care of us. Nope. A partner is someone who can fully support themselves, be emotionally articulate, and in addition to running their life, can include you in it.
A partner is someone you can depend upon to communicate clearly. They work with you in a way that improves both of your lives. In fact, partnership is an active state where both parties in the relationship contribute to it. Each person has a vested interest in the other person’s well-being. This often means non interference in one another’s lives as a deep trust has been fostered between the two. Each person is an invitation to the other into expanded awareness.
While it’s true that a partner can demonstrate caring by performing remedial tasks such as laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, and generating a steady income, that is not where his or her worth lies. When basic needs are attended to it does promote stability, but the real treasure of having a partner is in the growth it inspires.
When we get married or join our lives with someone, we often trade how we were raised for who we want to be in this lifetime. We are able to be reborn inside the relationship time and time again because we can trust that growth promotes the well-being of the couple.
This brings us to the second big mistake we all make when trying to “find” our partner:
We think, “I can’t be needy.”
The denial of our needs is the very thing that turns companionship into a competition. Denial of needs fosters anxiety that shows up as urgency.
When you find a partner, it will feel peaceful. The urgency of “figuring it out” or “locking it down” will be replaced with a time of discovery. However, in the mad dash for resources and to come out ahead, we often approach relationships like a race. The less needy we pretend to be is supposed to promote efficiency. But it does the opposite. It actually complicates things.
When urgency is applied to partnership it becomes a project.
In fact, most people default to their childhood upbringing as a measure of their potential mate. “Project relationships” begin with empty promises. A lot of them begin in the online dating market and we package ourselves as something we are not.
We price ourselves like items at a grocery store. Aisle one: whores. Aisle two: playboys. Aisle three: intellectuals. Aisle four: romantics. Aisle five: pragmatists. Aisle six: spiritually evolved. It’s a marketplace predicated on lies.
The primary lie is, “If I get a partner, it will make my life better.” And by “better” we mean more certain.
Studies have shown that only 15 percent of the population is truly invested in personal growth. So, that means, for the other 85 percent relationships are where they go to die and fight about it on the way to their grave.
Women are often faulted with wanting to change their men. However, it could be said that men wanting women to be simple is also a gross amendment. People who get into project relationships come with a list of fixed needs and a fanciful idea of what a relationship is supposed to supply. It has plenty of sex to satisfy at least one person in the party. It has enough joy and happiness to last a lifetime. It takes little effort and should “just feel easy.” And above all else, each person will just know they found the one.
These and other fallacies lead to a battle for power.
The toilet seat being left up isn’t about the toilet seat—it is about “disrespect.” Dinner not being cooked is not about dinner—it is about not being seen. Lack of sex isn’t about lack of sex—it’s that pleasure has become a burden. Coming home from work on time isn’t about coming from home on work on time—it is about trusting in the fidelity of the relationship. Getting tested for STIs isn’t just about the health of the body—it is about loyalty.
In a relationship that is a project, people simply don’t talk about the underlying issues. Women become bitches and men become distant. Or men become possessive assholes and women become manipulative seducers. Each person just picks away at surface issues. “Why are you wearing that?” “You are getting fat.” “How much money do you make?”
Since what is being felt isn’t being spoken about, both people in the relationship are totally dissatisfied. Some people deal with this by jumping from one short term fling to the next. Others grit it out over 20 years until “the kids are grown” and then get divorced. Both parties become jaded with no escape from their insatiable lust. It’s hell on earth.
How do you pick a partner and not a project?
In a word—aliveness.
Anyone or anything that sucks your energy is a f*cking waste of time. I can’t be any more clear than this. If you are spending more than five minutes wondering “Why didn’t he text?” If you are on the phone with your girlfriends saying things like, “If he would just do this one thing, then things would be great.” If your mind is in overdrive about “how to fix this” then you are not with a partner.
The marker of partnership is clear and open communication from day one.
You say what you mean and mean what you say. You are responsive to one another. You check in and fill each other in on your day. You give each other space to be individuals. You grow together through your diversity. And you actively let go of the past.
A project relationship is like dating the walking dead. We all have fetishes and dating emotional zombies might be one of yours. But, if you want to knock that sh*t off and actually inhabit your life, you must be invested in your personal growth.
You must be willing to give all you are to your relationships: your calling, your career, your passions, your sex life, your love life, and your spiritual practice. This requires expanding beyond the edges of “how life should be.”
So, if you feel more alive, expansive, supported, and awake in a relationship, chances are it is a partnership. But, if you feel drained, confused, angry, or frustrated—chances are you picked a project.
The choice is yours.