A healthy dose of relationship dysfunction in my mid-twenties would seem sufficient motivation to improve my boyfriend selection skills going forward. However, it was around the age of 28 I made a decision to be in a relationship which would prove to be the most profoundly ugly one of all. That decision would ultimately involve about six years (including a marriage) of enduring his frequent verbal rage, unspeakable insults and the stifling control he needed and, I allowed him, to have over me. It would end when he had an affair with a mutual friend.
A lot of vodka, Parliament Lights and a litany of not-so-fabulous decisions later I found myself faced with a question I had not had to ask myself for a better part of a decade. The question being, “What the hell do I do?!?” I am not referring so much to questions such as what do I do to process what happened; how it happened; why it happened or anything healthy like that – I am more talking about – it is Saturday at 2 o’clock in the afternoon –
what the hell do I do?!?
As crazy as it sounds this was a question I had not asked myself in a long ass time. When you choose to stay in a relationship with a very volatile and controlling person as I did, you quickly learn it is far easier to give up the reigns of your life than to deal with the rage and relentless manipulation that would follow if you didn’t; and then when suddenly granted clemency from your self-imposed incarceration the question of, “what to do?!?!” and its corresponding answer can, and did, cause my feelings to fluctuate between total elation and complete despair.
The elation came from having the freedom to honestly answer and joyfully act upon the smallest of questions I had not been able to in an idiotically long time –where would I like eat to lunch? What would I like to do tonight? Do I want to hike today? What would make me happy? With every little question and every subsequent answer I could feel my head start to peak itself out a bit farther from the storm cloud it had hidden behind for years – to find a world that was happy to welcome it back, happy to answer its questions.
Until of course, the despair would hit
and the idea of what to do for the next 90 minutes, knowing I would have to answer that question again 90 minutes later, was so insurmountable that the only thing I could do was triple my cigarette consumption, walk around in circles and feel – every moment more than the prior – lost.
It became months upon months of two steps forward, eight steps back, four steps forward, one step back, seven steps forward. It was the momentum of the forward moments and the lonely pain of the backwards moments that ultimately brought me to a question that would alter the course of my relationships, arguably my life, going forward. That question was, “What do I want out of the next person I am in a relationship with?”
I want five stars.
I wanted to be with a five star guy. Not the guy who is five stars when his friends are around. Not the guy who is five stars on my birthday or when I am good and pissed off at him. Not a 4.3 star guy ‘most’ of the time or a 3.8 star guy all of the time. I wanted a five star guy.
And I would highly suggest everyone else who is looking for love do the same.
And this is why.
Let me guess, you would love to find a person who is, ‘nice, funny, smart, loyal, attractive, likes to travel, etc.’ The problem with that plan?
Way too much gray area.
How do you define nice? How often is nice? 90 percent of the time? If so, does that mean you would settle for it 80 percent of the time? Would that be ok? Which is more important loyalty or kindness? Intelligence or a sense of humor? If he or she is in the 90 percentile for nice but the 40 percentile for likely to be loyal does that work? What if his version of traveling equates to a yearly trip to St. Louis? Would St. Louis annually be palatable if he was easy on the eyes?
This approach has multiple points of failure.
One of the biggest being that what you want is so damn vague that what you end up finding a person that kind of or mostly fits one or a few of those requirements and then you just sort of try and forget that the others are totally unfulfilled. Perhaps you let things like loyalty, kindness or maybe intelligence take a back seat to the fact that ‘he is really, really funny’ or ‘she is really, really hot.’ Until X months or years down the road when what you ignored is no longer ignorable and you are pissed as hell at yourself and the entire situation.
So instead of lists of must-haves, would-be-nice-to-haves and better-not-haves and the countless hours and years you spend debating each line item, how about giving yourself .5 seconds to answer one simple question – “Is this person five stars?”
If you get to .6 seconds and still don’t have an answer I can tell you two things:
- He/she is not five stars; and
- He/she is not worth it
And by ‘it’ I mean you.
I have had plenty of completely enjoyable two, three and four star meals. I have been entertained by loads of movies that were less than five stars and I have slept just fine in hotels with similar imperfect ratings. But that was a few meals, a handful of sleeps and a couple of 90 minute chunks of my life watching Bruce Willis get into an oddly high number of car crashes.
We are not, however, talking about movies with 18 wheelers nose diving off bridges.
We are talking about your life.
Three star meals and three star movies have their merits. Three star people do not. I repeat, do not. Trust me. I tried it. I tried to focus on what was good about a person’s two or three stars while trying to ignore the absence of the other stars and I can tell you this – it is not a matter of if you will get screwed for settling for mediocrity – it is a matter of when you will get screwed for settling for it.
It was months and months after my five star promise that I found myself on a boat in the middle of the Celebes Sea (real name, true story). I could say it took three countries, five airports and about five days to get to the point where I was on this boat heading towards Mabul Island, but I think the reality is it took about 37 years. Thirty seven years of falling and getting up and with the pain of those falls combined with the strength of seeing myself get up learning to ask myself what was important and then, of course, learning to act on those answers. It also involved more times than I ever want to think about again of working through the inevitable despair that threatened to, and seemed to have a fairly real shot at times, of annihilating me.
But on that boat ride I was not thinking of what had built me into the person that got on this water taxi, on this vacation or about the prior periods of time when I feared total annihilation – I was just feeling complete uninhibited happiness to be literally and figuratively — exactly where I was.
Thirty seven years of life plus 60 minutes of water taxi euphoria later I got off that boat and within minutes met David, the man I would one day marry.
I have the pleasure of knowing several five star women and five star men. David is a five star soul.
I set my expectations very high and the universe rewarded me by over delivering.
I stand in awe of David, daily. His visceral response to life is openness, kindness and curiosity. His kindness does not falter. Ever.
And what did I have to do to get all that?
Tell myself I wanted the best of the best, that I wanted and deserved that five star meal, three meals a day, for the rest of my life. And then all I had to do was get on a little boat – and head out into the Celebes Sea.