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Think Your Last Relationship was a ‘Waste of Time’?

by Sarah Elizabeth Richards - September 8, 2014

There are fewer heartwarming phrases found in online dating profiles than this gem: “Don’t waste my time!” It’s about as effective for warding off romantic disappointment as writing “Don’t lose interest in me” or “Don’t hurt my feelings” or “Don’t pretend to like football and then play on your phone when we watch games.” Wouldn’t it be nice to have that much control of all the things that could go wrong from the beginning?

This concept of “wasting someone’s time” is one we only apply to romantic unions. We wouldn’t accuse our monthly brunch pal of squandering our precious Sunday mornings because our relationship never went past crab cake benedicts. Or we wouldn’t rue investing energy in countless conversations with relatives during family gatherings if we lost touch with them later in life. No, somehow we’re able to give ourselves permission to enjoy those relationships for whatever they are, no matter the outcome.

But, of course, most of us want our romances to “go somewhere” – whether it’s marriage and kids or a long-term partnership with someone who picks up your favorite wine on the way home or gives good foot rubs. It’s natural to hope that the person you’re spending your weekends with shares the same goals you do.

There’s a gigantic difference, though, in writing “I’d like to find someone who shares my goals” compared with “You better not waste my time!” The latter assumes another person has the power to waste it. You’re basically saying, “I’m not going to take responsibility for the trajectory of our relationship, and if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to accuse you of sucking up my time.” That’s not exactly attractive.

1) All relationships serve a purpose

If you buy into thinking that only relationships which scoot you down the road to “happily ever after ever” are worthwhile, that means every romance you’ve had since junior high has been a waste of time. But somehow we’re able to accept that our early crushes were part of the bigger human experience of what it’s like to connect with another person’s heart. I’m a big believer that every interaction – whether it’s a “one and done” chat over pumpkin-chinos, a six-month rebound relationship or even a failed engagement – gets us closer to catching a keeper.

We refine important skills and get more in touch with what works – and doesn’t – for us. Every relationship offers a lesson: Perhaps you could have been more appreciative of all the things they did for you or set better boundaries or paid more attention to obvious red flags. Maybe the lesson is simply accepting that sometimes relationships run their course, or that the timing or chemistry wasn’t right, and it’s no one’s fault. Whatever the case, losing someone you once cared about stings to the core. Chasing someone who wasn’t that into you is frustrating. Sometimes love doesn’t work out. Sometimes it hurts. But it’s never a waste.

2) Find some meaning in your past relationships

Even if you think you learned absolutely nothing from your past heartbreak, you can at least find something to be grateful for. Perhaps your previous sweetie made you feel desired in a way you’d never felt before. Or she showed you how to make a killer brisket, or he inspired you to try hot yoga. Maybe the only thing you got out of a date was a movie recommendation.

The idea that the energy and emotion you put into something or someone is a “waste” in any area of your life – even cancelled flights or shelved work projects – is just depressing. So swallow your bitter pill. Make a running list of what you gained from your last relationship in your head. Or better yet, write it down. It will help you keep a positive perspective and keep your heart open for your next love.

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