Sunday, 16 August 2015

Life Goals And Relationships

This is a photo of my sweet, beautiful parents, who are still very much in love after many years together. Yes, I had a wonderful example of what a beautiful love relationship can be like. My parents support each other, no matter what hardships may come their way. They communicate openly about everything and so continue to learn and grow, in love and in life. They complement each other and bring out the best in each other (most of the time). And they make it seem so easy.

However, sustaining a long-term relationship hasn't been so easy for me (so far). I'd like to believe that this is because I approach life a little differently and some of my life decisions don't combine well with being in a long-term, committed relationship; largely because they involve a lot of travel, instabilities and uncertainties (and not everyone is up for that). Also, because modern standards of living haven't really worked for me, I had to reinvent my life quite a bit; tailoring it more to my personal needs (which is an ongoing process) and thereby choosing a path that is definitely not suitable for everyone. This reshaping of my life happened (and is still happening) through trial and error, with the help and inspiration of many others who live uncommon or even extraordinary lives. I feel I have come a long way now and have a much clearer vision of the future than before, as I am no longer tempted to fall back to the conventional way of life, not even as a backup plan. But I have come to realize that it takes a very special person to walk this path with me, and I will not settle for anything less. If that means I have to walk alone, then I will enjoy walking alone. And if not, then I will be open to that too. I trust that life will bring me what I need at the right time, as it has always done.

Of course like most people, I would love to find someone who complements me, brings out the best in me and fully loves and accepts me for who I am in every way and every moment (and vice versa). Someone to (preferably) spend the rest of my life with. I guess most people would even go as far as to measure the success of a relationship by whether it ends or lasts, which can be another obstacle to breaking up. But if I were to measure the success of my relationships by their longevity, then I have not yet been overly successful (the longest lasted for about two years). So this is not how I measure relationship success. I measure success by whether I learned from being in the relationship and by whether I am able to fully respect the other person's decisions and way of life while still staying true to my own path. Measuring success of relationships in this way allows me to say that I have indeed been very successful every time.

So what are some important things I learned about relationships? How do you balance personal goals and being in a committed relationship without sacrificing your enjoyment of life? What if you are considering making substantial life changes, that are very important to maintaining your sanity, but may not fit with your partner's views and lifestyle? How do you know when a relationship has come to an end?

Life goals and relationships

Values and priorities
It can be very difficult to be in a relationship while you are still learning, growing and evolving, because your likes, dislikes, goals, values and priorities might shift and change all the time. Yet I have found that values (ideas about what matters to you) and priorities (how those ideas guide your actions) are at the core of any relationship. Having similar values can create a general atmosphere of mutual support and understanding, and it can be a strong foundation for the planning of a future together.
Being a person who is highly interested in personal growth, has proven to be difficult for people around me who are not very flexible or not that open-minded, because I go through all kinds of experimental phases where I try out new things. My priorities have also changed quite a bit, but in recent years they have stabilized and I now have a pretty clear idea of what life is all about for me: Peace of mind is my highest priority (something I call inner freedom) and outer freedom (being surrounded by nature, having as little to do with society as possible, living a mostly self-sufficient lifestyle) is a close second. This brings clarity in my goals and the journey ahead.

Matching qualities
After figuring out your values and priorities (and accepting they might change over time), the next thing to ask yourself is what qualities in other people are a good match for you. What kind of person brings out the best in you? This could be qualities that you have as well, or qualities that complement yours in some way. But it is easier to start with finding similarities, because they make the differences much easier to overcome.

Although it can be hard for anyone to find a suitable life partner, being a little bit different than the average person may give rise to some additional problems, which requires you and your partner to have (or develop) certain rare qualities, that are very valuable to have:
You will need someone in your life who is not afraid to go against the grain; someone who has a clear sense of self (an independent thinker) and no preconceived notions or negative (and wrong) assumptions about your lifestyle, or fears about what others may think about it. If these qualities are lacking, they can never be fully supportive of your lifestyle and your endeavors, which will slow you down and mute your passion, and thereby kill your joy of living. It also helps if the other person is open-minded, can think outside the box and is willing to try out new things.

If, in addition to having different ideas, you are also quite strong-willed and have a convincing, enthusiastic personality, then there is the risk of unwittingly convincing others to go along with your lifestyle without them having fully thought it over.  So the other person (and you yourself) needs to be sufficiently in touch with themselves to be able to know where to draw the line. If they are not aware, then they may go along with what you are doing, not out of an open-minded sense of curiosity, but out of unconsciousness (just following along), a lack of personal initiative or an inner emptiness, a fear of abandonment, a desire to please or simply a way to avoid conflict or discussion. And this leads to all sorts of problems. So you need to look for someone who knows exactly what they want out of life and who is in touch with their feelings, because there may be things that he or she doesn’t agree with and therefore doesn’t necessarily want to go along with. And that is okay, as long as they are aware of this.

Even more important than finding someone who knows what they want, is being someone who knows what they want. You need to be very clear about where you are going in life and what is important to you, because otherwise other people will fill in the blanks. Society will dictate your way of life, or your friends and family members (often with very good intentions) will tell you how you should live and what you should do. But it is not their life to live; it is yours.

If you are clear about what you want and don't want in life, then you can also communicate this clearly to others. And this is very important! How else can someone decide whether they want to accompany you on your journey? And how else can you be (reasonably) clear about what life with you will be like? To learn to communicate your feelings and needs in a clear and compassionate way, I recommend Non-Violent Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg.

Of course I am not looking for an exact copy of myself, but some common ground is necessary so that both people feel understood, sufficiently supported, respected and fulfilled in the relationship. I don’t need someone who thinks exactly like me or does things in the exact same way as I do. However, what I do need is someone who knows what he wants to get out of life (like me) and who shares some of the same core values, at least when it comes to relationships and life in general. For example, honesty, openness and commitment are important to me. Commitment can mean a lot of things, but for me it includes being monogamous, honest, open and being supportive of each other and of each other’s goals in life. I want to be with someone who knows what is important to him, and in life and relationships. Someone who is willing to stand up for what he believes in, especially if it is a little unconventional. It would be great if we share some interests or passions as well, at the very least a passion for nature, self-development and traveling / exploring. Someone who is very attached to ‘material stuff’, wants to have kids, enjoys big cities, does not show any initiative, has no interest in self-development, has a dependency on alcohol/drugs or intends to stay in the same place for the rest of his life, would not be a good match for me.

Obviously, this is not a list of demands. It is a list of compatibility that was devised through trial and error; through life experience. So, through spending time with others and being in relationships, you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. You learn more about yourself and what’s important to you. I always let my heart make the decision whether to stay in a relationship or not, and even though breakups are never easy, I have never regretted any. I know a lot of people who stay in relationships for the sake of convenience, children, or other nonsensical reasons. Yes, it may be tough to break up if you have a house and kids together. But think about what you are teaching your kids through your life decisions: do you really want them to choose the safe road and just cling to things that neither work anymore nor serve any purpose, or do you want to teach your kids to choose joy over convenience, even if that means overcoming some difficulties and obstacles along the way? I think it is important to look after yourself and your own needs first before taking care of others. It is not possible the other way around, because you will end up feeling empty, even literally being empty. You will have nothing left to give, because you haven't bothered to fill up your own tank. Therefore, if you choose the safe and convenient road, you may get to the end of your life full of regrets. You may manage to get quite far, struggling through life and thinking that this is a natural part of life. But you will get to a breaking point eventually. And then you may realize that you could have done all the things your heart desired in your lifetime if you had just let go of that false sense of security and had stopped prioritizing convenience (or money) over joy and got out of your comfort zone. Maybe you are even having regrets right now. But if you are reading this, it is not too late yet. You can still decide to change your life. It is never too late for change.

Pleasure versus joy
Some people think that 'following your heart's desire' means that you should just follow all things positive in your life and ignore or even avoid any problems or other perceived negatives. But by now it should be clear that this is definitely not the case. It is not about choosing between positives or negatives. I am not talking about ‘giving up’ or ‘running away’. It is all about following your passions; doing what you really want to do. It is not about finding pleasure, but finding joy (there is a big difference).
Some people may also think it is selfish to follow your heart and stick to it. They have learned that you have to sacrifice yourself for others, and compromise to get along, and that it is selfish to think about yourself first. But it is the opposite of selfish. If you follow your heart and fulfill your own deepest and truest needs and desires first (the ones that bring you joy), then you will find that you have so much more to give to others. You will have so much more energy, much more joy and much more love to give. But you may need to cut certain people out of your life if they want you to sacrifice your life and your joy for them.
For example, I am doing a moneyless challenge for personal growth and to grow my awareness, so if I would be in a relationship and my partner would expect me to buy him expensive gifts or go on holiday together, then that would be an insult; it would be disrespectful. My challenge is important to me. It teaches me many important life skills, including the value (or rather lack of value) of money. I’d rather be showered with love and undivided attention than with gifts and I also prefer to give love instead of stuff. I will choose quality time over expensive time any day. So that would be a clear difference in values that is hard to overcome.
This doesn't mean that holidays would be out of the question or that I can't give anyone gifts. In fact, I think I have never been as generous in my life because I am more aware of where and how to find free stuff and because my mindset has shifted more to 'giving back', I am also more aware of what others may want or need. But the expectation that I would abandon something that is important to me for the sake of someone else, is an insult. And it would be equally insulting if I would just expect my partner to adopt the same lifestyle.
So if your relationship prevents you from pursuing your joy, then you are stuck in a dire situation. Same with a job: if a job prevents you from living your passion, then it is time to seriously reconsider. But you may need to figure out what you really want first; what really makes you come alive.

Live your passion
This doesn’t need to be anything spectacular. For me, it is simply spending time in awe of nature, exploring the most beautiful parts of the world and living life as freely as possible. At times I also feel mournful when admiring nature in its purest and most magnificent forms. I look at all the beauty and an overwhelming sense of sadness comes over me, because I know that humans are slowly destroying all this beauty, even without their awareness. But then I remember that this beauty should be enjoyed, revered, and celebrated. This is my only job in life. And because of my love of nature, I should do anything in my power to serve and protect it. That is my mission. And it is mine alone, because I also believe in freedom; so others are free to choose a different path. I am not here to preach. I am here to live my truth. And if that inspires others, then that is all the better. Inspiration, which is a result of living with passion, is contagious; it resonates with others because it is our true nature. This is why I have decided to speak out through my blog. I hope everyone remembers why they are alive and chooses to live authentically. There is nothing more empowering. 

Saying goodbye and starting over
So if I notice that my partner has other goals, other priorities, and other values, to the point where this repeatedly hurts me, confuses me or even astounds me, because it totally contradicts what I stand for , what I believe in and what is important to me, then it may be time to walk away from the relationship. If I don't feel supported or I can no longer sufficiently support my partner due to a lack of understanding (and a lack of common ground), then it may be time to reconsider the relationship. Remember that if one person is not happy in the relationship, chances are that the other person is not happy either. So don't worry about hurting them with your goodbye. They will have reason to thank you for your courage later - whether they ever realize it or not.

At this point in time I am not interested in starting a relationship before getting to know someone well enough to be able to know that I at least share some basic life goals or visions for the future with that person, and that we share some important qualities. And in the process of getting to know someone, I don’t just want the other person to tell me about themselves; I want to see their words reflected in their actions too. Anyone can say that they love nature and love animals, but if they buy a lot of new stuff all the time, use a lot of unnecessary toxic products that pollute the environment, or eat a lot of meat without wondering where it came from, then how can I believe them? It is much easier to deduct people’s values and priorities from their actions than from their words. I wish I would have realized that sooner in life and that I had focused more on people’s actions than their words. People can have very strange views about themselves that have no basis in reality. People may also use their own definitions for certain concepts, which can create a lot of misunderstandings. For example, someone might consider themselves active and sporty because they go to the gym every day to lift weights for half an hour. My idea of active and sporty would be very different: I would imagine someone who enjoys the outdoors, rides their bike frequently, and loves hiking. So examples and being specific are paramount in communication. I often ask people: How do you mean? Can you give me an example of that? I also tend to do that when people criticize me or give me feedback. I am here to learn, so I need the details. This can be difficult for the other person, especially if it is ‘just a feeling’. But expressing details is good practice and it will become easier every time. It also brings you more in touch with yourself.

Friendship is the best starting point
So, friendship is the best way to start a relationship. I don’t believe in love at first sight anymore (although there may be a strong connection and that may be because you sense a lot of similarities; but it is good to investigate first). I don’t like dating anymore for that reason, because it creates complications and expectations and I am not interested in making commitments until I know that the basics are covered. And this takes time. I am also definitely not interested in meaningless relationships anymore. I don’t need to be in a relationship just because it seems to be the norm and because people may secretly wonder ‘what is wrong with you’ (because there must be something wrong with you if you are still single after a certain age, right?).
Well, this is what is wrong with me (and I am sure a lot of singles can relate to this): I don’t want to ‘settle’ for being in a relationship that doesn’t spark my enthusiasm. A relationship can be a great thing, if it makes me into a better person and takes my life to a higher level. If we can enjoy our mutual aliveness together and not constrict each other in any way. If we can love each other with a trust and freedom that knows no bounds. If we can even keep loving each other if it turns out that we both end up wanting different things in life and are moving in different directions. True love is free. True love is wanting the best for yourself and also wanting the best for the other person. It is wanting what the other person wants for them, because you also want what you want for yourself. This is not selfish. It is selfish to choose differently. It is selfish to hold onto a relationship even though you don't really love and support each other fully anymore. Because when you are suffering, everyone around you suffers too. They will sense it. They will be affected. So follow your dreams, follow your passions. Communicate as clearly, authentically, openly and honestly as possible. And remember that love is free. And if you feel trapped in your current relationship, then the most loving thing you can do for yourself and the other person is to set yourself free.

Questions to assess your relationship
Here are some questions to assess your current relationship or a friendship that may have potential for more. See if you can give an honest and heartfelt 'yes' to the following questions:
- Do you have similar life goals? Or can your life goals be combined in some way?
- Do you at least support (and agree with) each other’s life goals, values and priorities?
- Do the person’s actions match their words?
- Do the person’s definitions of things that are important to you match with yours?
- Does the person bring out the best in you? How do you feel around them? What effect does their presence, their behavior, their mindset and their energy have on you?
- Can you communicate about everything openly and with ease?
- How ‘free’ is your love: Do you want what the other person wants for them, even if it is not necessarily producing the outcome you want? Do you support each other fully (within the relationship and publicly) in achieving personal life goals? Do you fully encourage them to pursue their dreams and make them into a reality?
- Are you proud of the other person? Are you grateful that you are together?
- Is your life enriched by the relationship? Does your life feel expanded?

If you answer yes to any of the following, your relationship may require some work or you may even decide that it is time to go your separate ways:
- Are you sacrificing your own integrity for the sake of being with the other person?
- Do you feel trapped in the relationship?
- Are you secretly sabotaging their dreams or holding them back in some way?
- Are you worried about what others may think about your partner or their actions, dreams, desires and life goals?
- Are there touchy subjects that seem to be a no-go in communication? Touchy areas may point to dissimilarities or to areas that need some work of acceptance and/or change, usually in the person who is resisting the communication.
- Do you resist communication on a number of important subjects? Why is that? (Are you willing to work on that or open up?)
- Do you expect (or even force) the other person to make certain life choices in order to be with you? If so, does the person support those choices? If not; reconsider if the other person really needs to make these changes to make the relationship work. If it is absolutely necessary but the other person doesn’t want to do it, then you may not be the best match for each other.
- Are you so attached to the idea of being with the other person that you ignore your innermost desires and follow them blindly?
- Or are you so attached to the idea of being with the other person that you want to change them to fit your description of 'the perfect partner', no matter what they want for themselves?
- Does your world feel constricted (instead of expanded) as a result of being in the relationship?

True Love is free
My most important ‘rule’ in any relationship is this: If doing or not doing something is important to me, then I stick to that. But if someone doesn’t agree with me, I will not stand in their way either. Everyone is free to choose. Personal freedom is very important to me, including being clear, open and honest about what I want and need in life. This encourages others to do the same, and it will give everyone involved a fair chance of getting their needs met. Being upfront about it will help attract the right kind of person into my life.
Relationships are most loving when experienced in the present moment, without expectations or pressures to stay together forever (although this may happen). So if you get to a point where you are willing to lovingly let your partner go at any time if your own or their values change and you turn out to make each other miserable, then you are ready to truly let love flourish. In a state of non-attachment, we can embrace change and prioritize joy over convenience, and we will never be trapped. Life lived in this way may be difficult at times, but it will always allow you to expand and grow.
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