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cultural dating expectations

Hello everybody, welcome to episode 172 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on cultural dating expectations.

I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com

And the question we received for today’s episode is coming to us from a woman who mentioned in her email that she was inspired by episode 160, in which we broke down the role that self-work plays when it revolves around taking a break from a relationship. Our asker today isn’t so sure about her relationship or relationships in general, yet isn’t sure what to do with these feelings and even wonders if she’s selfish for having them. Let’s see if we can look deeper and help her out. Here’s what she has to say…

QUESTION: “Dear Greg, I am 24 and in a three year relationship. My boyfriend is the committed kind of guy, but he does not force anything on me (like for me to be committed or marry him next year). We are just three years apart, and in my country being married around this age is necessary.

But most of the time I really like my own company. I have asked for some time to work on myself and he seems to support-not-support that by always finding a way to contact me.

We are now just getting back together like usual but still the thought of being someone’s (or his) wife does not feel right to me yet. I am afraid of all things that I might miss, regret or just becoming an everyday “responsible” wife and mother. I don’t mind the idea of being single maybe even for all my life.

My questions are:

  1. Am I selfish to think of my own needs first, even if they’re blurry right now?
  2. And what if at the end of all this, I find nothing?”

Listen to Greg narrate this post on cultural dating expectations in Episode 172 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

Cultural Dating Expectations and Norms

Ok. I like this question, thank you for sending this one in. It sure is interesting how the culture we grow up around shapes us to such great extents. Usually, we get shaped to fit into it, though.

Other times, like in your case, it seems the cultural norms are driving you away from it and inspiring you to do just the opposite. It’s great to not just go with the flow if it doesn’t match who you are, but there’s also some risk involved when the urge to go against the grain is so strong that we start placing biases where they don’t belong.

Let’s talk about that.

Like I said, it’s wonderful that you’re separating your own desires from the norms of your culture. You’re doing that by being honest about not being ready to marry, even though being married by your age is normal in your country.

But based on some of the things you said about being an everyday responsible mother and being single maybe for all your life, I worry that you’re going far in the other direction and being averse to these ideas rather than simply being open to them.

So look inward a step further and ask yourself if you’re turned off by marriage not because you really believe marriage isn’t a good thing, but because it’s sort of being forced on you by traditional norms.

Your Feelings about Marriage

It’s easy for you to not be excited about marriage because it’s being shoved down your throat.

But it’s important to remember that just because your particular country really emphasizes and pressures people to get married around your age, doesn’t mean that marriage in and of itself is a bad thing.

Formulate your own opinion, but don’t let the pressures from society prevent you from at least being open with your opinions, if that makes sense.

Listen to Dr. Kirschner's thoughts on happy marriages in Episode 823 of the podcast Optimal Relationships Daily.

Being comfortable with the idea of being single forever is good, but it’s different from rejecting the idea of marriage, and I suspect that that’s what’s underneath your words. I’d say it’s the current frustration you’re feeling that has you wanting to actively avoid marriage rather than being comfortable either way, which is ideally where you want to get to.

You may change your mind once you get more in touch with yourself and explore your desires to live life on your own terms.

Time Away to Explore Being Alone

That said, it seems clear that you may need to try some time away from your boyfriend to actually explore being alone, which it sounds like you’ve not quite done yet if he’s always reaching out to you during your breaks.

For what it’s worth, I doubt he’s reaching out during those times as a means of controlling you, but rather because he misses you and isn’t as comfortable with the idea of time apart as you are.

But even if he’s well-intentioned and a generally good boyfriend that tries to give you your space when you ask for it, you seem to have an urge for independence that will likely grow stronger if you don’t entertain it, which would further alienate you from your boyfriend or any other dating prospects you might meet in the future.

The feelings you’re having are natural, so no, you’re not selfish for having them. Frankly, I’ve talked to a lot of people that are in similar situations to yours – feeling like misfits in their own culture and wanting to break through and live more liberally. Several of them have also been women that don’t want to get married just because the women before them did.

You’re not alone at all. Many people are questioning these same things, and will continue to for as long as we have the internet to showcase for us what free-spirited living looks like. It isn’t going away.

People just like you, with the same concerns, are getting stronger, growing, and tackling this together.

Explain Your Feelings to Your Boyfriend

So I recommend that you explain these feelings to your boyfriend in great detail. It sounds as though you’ve explained them a little if you propose breaks, but not as much as you could if you’ve found yourself uninspired about being back together. So be even more honest. Let him know that these feelings are not about him, but about you and something you need to try for yourself.

Being open like this is the opposite of selfish: it’s absolutely what’s most respectful to both yourself and your boyfriend. You’re doing both of you a disservice by being with him right now with no enthusiasm.

Listen to Lisa's thoughts on communication in relationships in Episode 523 of the podcast Optimal Relationships Daily.

Hopefully, he’ll be patient and you two can take some time apart with no contact and no animosity. If he’s receptive, it’ll only strengthen whatever relationship it ends up being best for you two to have. If he’s not, then take it as a sign that you’re on the right path, that you’re not meant to be with this guy; at least not right now.

And finally, as for your concerns about finding nothing go, that’s what I’d be worried about the least. At the very least, you’ll find lessons (as long as you’re open to them). You’ll find your own self which you can bring to whichever route you end up taking.

Cultural Dating Expectations: Conclusion

Maybe you will end up being a mother and a wife, but you will have learned that you can do that yet still have a fun life full of interests, hobbies, and a strong social circle. Marriage and single life are both full of variables and gray areas. The more you seek to understand yourself, the better you’ll be able to live for yourself whether or not you end up with someone.

So don’t worry about finding nothing. That’s a big speculation when you’re just now starting to challenge a lot of your thoughts and beliefs. Who knows where you’ll come out after continuing to do this? Who knows what side of yourself you’ll meet? The only regret you can count on is silencing these urges you have for an entire lifetime. You may venture out and get hurt, but the hurt will teach you about yourself and about life. Like many hurts, it’ll come with a lot of blessings in the long run.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of the episode, my friends. This is another one in which I hope our asker is able to take that leap, a leap that I feel will be very valuable to her. You know, we often see leaps that other people should clearly take, and can be tempted to shake our heads or shame them for not doing so.

Just a reminder that when we’re weighed down so much by our own concerns but also the concerns of others – or conflicting traditions like our asker today – taking that leap can be very challenging. Is it ideal to just commit and take action? Sure it is. But more often than not, people need to warm up to these ideas, and if that means a little time is lost that they wish they could have back, so be it.

While significant changes that need to happen shouldn’t be shied away from, don’t shame yourself or others for taking a little extra time for yourself before doing them. My hope is that today’s episode accelerated the process of becoming more comfortable for our asker.

So thanks so much for being here with me today and listening to the end everyone. Hope you had as much fun as I did. I’ll see you in the next one. Until then.

Listen to Greg narrate this post on cultural dating expectations in Episode 172 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.

mm

Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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