I’m finding my content and my coaching recently being pulled toward discussing relationships.
In particular, I’m discussing how essential effective communication is between partners, romantic interests, and the like—no surprise, as I’m at a point in my own life where I’m open to the idea of dating again. Where the mind goes, life flows, or something like that, right?
Except that there’s a part of me that is horrified by this continuing to come up, especially professionally. I am feeling like a bit of an impostor, actually.
You see, in my own dating and relationship experience, communication was not exactly a strong suit—okay, I may have sucked at it. I never really learned much as a kid, and I mostly tried to wing it through adulthood. Generally, it worked as well as you might expect.
Through my own healing and growth over the last few years, I have made leaps and bounds in this in other avenues of my life. The dating pool…well, I have been putting that off. Call it a fear of being exposed.
This topic came up with one of my own coaches a couple of days back—my fear of being exposed as a fraud, personally and professionally—which morphed into a challenge to openly discuss it in a live video. In the process, I imagined talking to a young me trying to figure it all out. What advice would he have needed to hear?
A few things came through, and I’ll share them in case they help someone else, too. It is not close to complete, but it’s a first few steps:
1. Use your words.
This is the most important piece in any level of any relationship. You have to be able to talk to each other about anything and everything. You have to be able to make the uncomfortable asks. You have to speak up if something is happening that you are uncomfortable with. You have to hold your boundaries and deal-breakers, and you have to be able to respond functionally when listening to theirs. Don’t swallow your feelings and stick with anything that isn’t okay—especially the relationship.
Okay, where do I start? Great question. Just start with the truth. Say what you think you feel. Even if it’s hard to put your feelings into words, start with the first thing that can flow into words and go from there.
The worst that might happen is to communicate it in a horrifically bad way. Then you’ll easily learn the lesson. Most likely, that is not going to happen. You’ll both fight through it awkwardly, and then life will go on, regardless of what comes. Nothing is as big or scary as it feels in the moment. Nothing.
This will be a struggle, so let it be. Be messy. Get it wrong. It gets easier and easier as you keep fighting through it. Don’t let fear or emotions get you swept up and lead you to a choice you’ll regret. If it feels like emotions are overtaking you, step away and come back to it later. Always come back to it.
Talk about everything. If it feels like it is obvious, do it anyway. Never make assumptions. Ever.
If you have a need, ask for it specifically. If you are unable to fulfill their need or it violates your boundaries to do so, then say “no.” Don’t agree, then don’t follow through. Be upfront in the moment.
Never use your words to hurt them or attack them. If you don’t like something, explain why it bothers you. Focus on your feelings about the action. Know that they are going to be free to respond however they wish, even if they refuse to honor your feelings and any requests.
It’s up to you what happens next, depending on how important that request or the boundary around it is to you. If it is particularly important to you, hold and honor it no matter what, even if the result sucks. Trust me, it will suck so much more later if you don’t.
Never fall into the “Well, they should just know” trap. If your partner insists on this, it’s a huge red flag. Look, if they have given you a request 12 different times, and you aren’t addressing it, then they have a point. But otherwise, that isn’t okay. They need to tell you what it is.
2. If it is not a “Hell yes,” let it go.
If they are not “all in” on your request (date, sex, and so on), then that’s it. End of discussion. Do not push it, beg, complain, whine, demand, insult, or for God’s sake, force your will onto anyone. This is nonnegotiable because the only way is acceptance. Move on.
That, of course, is the obvious one. If you can’t see that, please investigate deeply.
But also know this and know this well: this is also just as important that you apply this for yourself. If a request is made on you and you are not fully in, for any reason, you also get to say “no.” No one else gets to convince, coerce, or force you to say “yes” to something that you are not feeling.
3. Control it but do not suffocate it.
Do not feel shame about your sexual desires and urges. That feeling is going to feel immensely powerful, and it’s going to feel like it’s driving the bus sometimes. But I want you to know this: it’s not a thing to feel shame or embarrassment about. It’s natural. Of course, you can’t act on these urges in most situations, and you can’t force the issue, ever.
But as you learn to control it mentally and emotionally, do it with kindness toward yourself and with full respect and love for that sexual power. It is a power to be kept under control, yet also an honor.
As you do that, know that you will find your someone who’s also feeling a “Hell yes!” like we talked about above. It’s never “if”—it’s “when.” Trust that, even if it feels otherwise. When you’re there, give that power full permission to both give and receive. Enjoy it fully without holding anything back.
4. Let go of expectations and judgments.
This is hard. So often, as a society, we use whether or not someone said “yes” as a bellwether of our worth. This is crap. Our worth exists whether everybody, nobody, or anybody in between sees it. You will never be able to control that; it has everything to do with their own perceptions.
They have their own likes, dislikes, turn-ons, and triggers that existed before you walked in the door. It may not be possible for you to register on their radar through those filters. You can’t change or fix that, and this does not make you any less of a man. If anyone tells you different, kick them out of your life. I’m dead serious.
With that said, you get to feel all you need to feel around it. Feel sad, feel hurt, feel frustrated. Then send the feels on their merry way.
5. Always be a safe place.
Be the rock to come home to. Be present and listen intently. See and hear them. Don’t fix it for them but honor their independence. Share if you see something they don’t, but only give advice if they ask what you would do. (This is not an excuse to get out of changing diapers, doing dishes, cleaning the gutters, and so on. Better make that clear.)
Being their “hero” does not mean you have to go flying out and scorch the earth to rescue them or avenge them. There are things you will take on and accomplish as a team, but it’s not your responsibility to fix everything for them. If they demand otherwise, it’s a big red flag. The “hero” work comes in showing them how loved they are while they are fixing their own mess.
Some of these may feel obvious, and that’s awesome. Those were easy enough for me to figure out, too, but there are many who haven’t. You don’t have to look far to find those stories, unfortunately. It’s not worth the risk to leave assumptions.
Overall, this feels like a solid beginning framework for “young me” to feel secure exploring in. It’s just a start that helps to stay on the path. It won’t take away the experiences or the heartbreaks; those are needed.
But at least, there’s a little more there to help him feel confident that he’ll figure out what he needs.