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Do You Have a ‘Not Allowed To Fail’ Mentality To Dating & Relationships?

Posted Jan 25 2012 6:05pm

NOT ALLOWED TO FAIL BUTTON HAS BEEN ACTIVATED - FEAR OF FAILURE IN RELATIONSHIPS

When I was a product design student, I learned through theory and experience that it’s better to recognise mistakes, which are actually opportunities for change, or even ‘failure’, which although it’s a lack of success, it at the same time also represents another opportunity for change. Recognising when something isn’t working and applying that knowledge was better than deciding “I am a product designer and anything I make is right and must work.”

If you’ve ever watched something like Dragon’s Den, a British show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to millionaire investors, you’ll know that some people are so invested in the potential of their idea, in spite of external indications that they need to tweak or abandon, that they’ll sometimes sink hundreds of thousands of pounds into bonkers ideas. Well sometimes, our attitudes to relationships or our lives in general can be like this – we don’t know when to fold and we also don’t process ‘feedback ‘.

Too many people operate on a ‘not allowed to fail’ mentality which heightens a fear of failure . It’s like no mistake or lack of success can be admitted , and when they eventually are, it’s taken so deeply , it’s as if they’re seen as permanent marks on your ‘relationship record’ or your ‘life record’.

If you have a ‘not allowed to fail’ mentality, when you’re dating or in a relationship and recognise that all is not well or it doesn’t work out, your attitude is like:

“I’ve… given you my time, energy, spent some money, spent some ‘attraction coins’, kissed you like my life depended on it/forced myself to feel more attracted than I actually was, had sex with you at X days/weeks/months (and just in case you didn’t know, I wouldn’t have had sex with you if I didn’t think that we were serious or had the potential to be), used up my ‘trust fund’ ( I find it hard to trust and now I don’t know how I’ll trust again), believed in your potential , cared about you, put on my best drawers, given you my game face, acted like I liked things that I didn’t, shaved my legs, been on three dates with you that took up a combined total of 11 hours and 27 minutes of my life , declined a date with someone who I wasn’t interested in anyway but who I might have forced myself to be if you weren’t around, didn’t take the number of that person that smiled at me on the train the other day (they could be the fricking one and you’ve robbed me of that chance), and extended some hope and fantasy credits amongst other things – you’d better give me my bleeeeep bleeeeeep [insert expletive of choice] relationship!”

If I focused on my various dodgy relationships that I clocked up, I’d see them as ‘permanent’ and this would actually become reality because I’d be dragging around all of my baggage and showing up to my relationships believing I brought less to the table, because I had a relationship or few that didn’t work out even after I tried to bust a gut, or I was the other woman. It would be like having to go out there and date like millions of others, but having penalty points and showing up with an ankle monitor sending a beep to me every time I dare to hope or try “Don’t get too carried away Natalie – you’re a failure.”

But my mistakes and ‘failures’ aren’t permanent – they’re events in my life that I had a part in, but unlike back then where I was experiencing them or in the aftermath and seeing my eff up’s as a sign that I was indeed not good enough , a failure, and worthless, now I see them as events that taught me what I needed to know when I was ready to watch, listen, recognise, and apply.

A critical aspect of dealing with mistakes and failures, is that the period of time from recognition of an issue to decisive action shrinks and that the period of time between relationships spent dwelling on a failure, also shrinks. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks ethos – not too short (for example weeks for a serious relationship) and not too long (years, especially if the time elapsed is greater than the relationship itself).

You are far more likely to be greatly impacted by even a brief acquaintance not working out if it takes you a very long period of time before you’ll work up enough confidence and energy to try again, or if you ricochet around from relationship to relationship avoiding your pain.

Yes you could sit out your relationships and wait to have the ‘perfect conditions’ – the truth is, getting out of your comfort zone, facing your fears, and putting yourself out there again means that discomfort comes with the territory. If we could all find a relationship without risk or without even leaving the house, what an easy time we’d have but as many of you have already discovered even with online dating, there’s no such thing as ‘risk free’.

When you start to look at failure and mistakes differently, like me you’ll realise that they are and were just relationships. These guys were not my father reincarnated for me to validate myself, nor were they gods . Yes we have history, yes there were feelings, yes we could have all stood to do quite a few things differently, but it wasn’t just me in these relationships – if I failed, they failed, hence if they and everyone else can get on with their lives, so can I. So can you.

Unless two people have only ever been involved with each other, each of us have been with people, who’ve been with people, who’ve been with people. Believing that you’re a failure for making mistakes and having some failed relationships is a very distorted view.

We all have experiences where the sum of events surrounding them are ‘lacking success’ but you’re a living, breathing, human being with life in you yet, so every day presents you with opportunities to grow out of mistakes and to experience success. Writing yourself off as a ‘failure’ is a waste – what are you supposed to do with the rest of your life? Not try?

Not trying again and refusing to adapt and grow, looks more like failure than a relationship not working out.  

You’re independent of the events – you are not your relationships and you’re not the other person. If your identity is intrinsically tied to these, you’re at the mercy of external factors beyond your control. This is why after a breakup, it’s the relationship that should be broken, not you.

Your mistakes and any failures (bearing in mind that with the benefit of hindsight, you’ll likely see them as blessings in (painful) disguise , pave the way to your successes. You’re allowed to fail – you can only learn from it. Don’t treat each relationship like it has to be right because of your presence – it doesn’t. Allow yourself to fail at things (and move on from them), so you can allow yourself to succeed.

Your thoughts?

Check out my book and ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl in my bookshop .

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