The Dangerous Game of Comparisons

12/16/2011 The Charmer 4 Comments

Dear Anti-Austens,
Today on my way to finals, I experienced Blue Stocking’s aforementioned run-in with The Childish Ex. Yes, it was awkward. Yes, it always is. No, it was not in the library—instead we crossed paths walking to school, which is even worse because there’s no easy way to escape. After the encounter, as I was desperately trying to cram last-minute for my final but instead managing to concentrate only on those clever things that I should have said to The Childish Ex but were only just coming to mind now, I began wondering about one of the issues that has come out of our breakup, and what advice the Anti-Austens might have about it.

My question is about the comparison of relationships. To give a bit of context, The Childish Ex and I had one of those magical relationships that tend more to frequent the silver screens of Hollywood than the awkward marriage-bound streets of uptown Provo (unless, of course, your name is Shy Guy or Featherstone McGee). We were friends for several months before our relationship developed, which the GAs say is always the best way to do things, and we were both suddenly and unexpectedly surprised by the quality and depth of the feelings we developed for each other. The relationship was marked by a high degree of respect and caring for each other—we saved our first kiss until it meant “I love you,” not just “Oh hurrah, the DTR is over,” and it meant so much more to both of us because of that. We encouraged each other to prioritize school and family, we communicated and were honest with each other—the relationship essentially epitomized what I believe is necessary to have in a successful marriage.

For reasons I still can’t quite come to terms with, the relationship somehow disintegrated. The Childish Ex explained that, while absolutely nothing was wrong with the relationship, he wasn’t ready to get married and thought he needed more dating experience to know what he wanted. After reducing my heart to a pathetic pile of shattered shards, he promptly jumped into a relationship with the first girl who flirted with him.

Despite the awkwardness of this all, we still managed to keep up the contact—at first. I was still (futilely) hoping that, by dating someone else, he’d soon realize how much he had lost by breaking off our relationship and come crawling back (where, after sufficient grovelling on his behalf, I would accept his apology and we would promptly go scheduling a date at the Mt. Timp temple). Upon talking to him, though, I realized that this was not to be, as he wasn’t comparing his present situation with his past one at all. He said, “I’m in a different relationship now. It would be way too unfair to her to compare her and this relationship to what I had with you.”

This stopped me in my tracks at the time. While I am (mostly) over The Childish Ex by now, I am still of the completely opposite opinion. Is it unfair to compare people to each other? Maybe. But then how are we supposed to learn from our past experiences? All (dating) experience is supposed to be for our profit and learning, right? As a result of my relationship with The Childish Ex, I learned that there are boys out there who are smart and funny and righteous and caring AND—le gasp—interested in me. How then could I downgrade and settle for anything less than the quality of relationship that I had with him? Now, by “downgrade,” I don’t mean by a comparison of looks. The Childish Ex wasn’t the best-looking guy around by any means, and the best-looking guys aren’t usually my type. I think judging guys based on appearance or personal quirks is silly, and could easily lead to a girl missing out on some amazing guys. I’m talking settling for less in terms of personal standards and behavior within relationships (communication, trust, etc). I don’t think that, after being in a relationship like mine, I could ever go back to a guy who didn’t treat me with the same courtesy and respect that The Childish Ex did. But this obviously means that I’m comparing all guys at the get-go before I even accept a second date! (I’m one of those who believes that all guys should get a first date if they have the courage to ask you out). Is this sort of comparison unfair, or is it what I’m supposed to be doing because—well, what other lesson was I supposed to learn from that relationship? Anti-Austens and avid lurking readers, what say ye?!

The Ingenue

Dearest Ingenue,

When The Coquette sent out your email and asked which of us wanted to tackle it, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. This email hit very close to home for me because it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately.
I know I've written about The Ex fairly recently, so I'm not going to go into a whole lot of details again. The only thing you really need to know in regards to this post is that we had a fabulous relationship (the first time around, anyways). We were both very happy. Eventually, things fell apart.
Then I started dating Mr. Director.
Mr. Dir is a very wonderful person, but he is also very different from The Ex. For example, the two of them express their love in very different ways, and it's been hard for me to appreciate the things that Mr. Dir does for me. For those of you who are familiar with the different love languages, Mr. Dir is an "acts of service" person and I am a gifts person...and neither of us is fantastic at speaking the other person's language. If he brings me chocolate milk when I'm at work, I just melt and I love it so much that I don't want to throw away the empty bottle. But if he does my dishes for me, I might not even notice. The opposite is true for him. I know he's trying, and I really should give him more credit than I do. What makes it difficult is that The Ex was really good at making me feel loved. Honestly, one of the best moments of my life was probably when he brought in a bouquet of flowers to my work for no reason at all!

So. This brings me to comparisons.
First off, it's nearly impossible not to compare relationships and so I don't believe the Childish Ex at all when he told you he doesn't compare them. However, this can be a very dangerous thing because comparison usually means that someone comes out on top. One of the things you and I and everyone needs to recognize is that people are different. (Shocker, I know.) It's not fair of me to compare the ways The Ex and Mr. Dir express their affection--this is not a competition. I can't expect Mr. Dir to do the same things The Ex did, because they are both such different people. Like The Childish Ex pointed out, comparing them would be unfair. It's easier said than done, but instead of comparing we need to focus on discovering and enjoying this new person and the relationship we are developing with them.

But don't run off just yet saying "The Charmer told me never to compare!" I'm not finished.

Ingenue, I agree with you.
One of the purposes of dating is to find out who we want to spend our lives (and eternity) with. To do this, we need to figure out what sorts of things we appreciate and desire in a mate. You discovered a lot of things you're looking for because of this past relationship, and it wouldn't be fair to you if you settled for anything less than the levels of trust and communication you had with the Childish Ex. While you shouldn't necessarily "compare" your new beaus to your old one, you do need to remember how you felt and what you liked. If you start dating someone seriously and he doesn't treat you as well as your ex, then why would you want to continue the relationship? You've set a standard for how you will be treated, and it's unfair to yourself to lower that standard. While you shouldn't expect unrealistic things (e.g. "I want my man to be a millionaire who owns 3 white ponies!"), you shouldn't be willing to settle. If you've experienced something once, you can experience it again. I'm sure we've all heard the quote from President Spencer W. Kimball where he said there are no such thing as "soul mates." Thus, the Childish Ex isn't the only person in the world with whom you can have those deep levels of trust and respect.
Still, give guys a chance. Don't write them off right away.

Best of luck, Ingenue, and thanks for your wonderful (and extremely well-written) letter! I think this is something we all need to remember from time to time.

The Charmer

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jenerator said...

I don't remember what company has this slogan, but "You know when it's real." At least, that's been my experience. I can usually tell by a second or third date if there's any compatibility there, and if I couldn't tell and ended up dating them, things generally did not turn out well. (ALTHOUGH, with that ex, things are not remotely awkward, besides the fact that when we're spending time together I sit and wonder what on earth I was thinking. Hence why I say, "You know when it's real.") But seriously, the Lord has given us the gift of the power of discernment for a reason. He loves us, and doesn't want us to go through any more heartache then is absolutely necessary. Sometimes we cause ourselves to go through it, but it's never what anyone wants. ANYWAY, the point I'm trying to get at is that if you're not feeling it, don't push it. Hold out for your hero! :)

Michelle said...

I agree with what's been said, but I would just like to tell you not to be too hasty in discounting guys. Sometimes I think we forget the amount of time, effort, and awkward situations we went through before reaching that cherished level of trust and communication. This is true even with our closest friends. So while you can know if someone won't ever respect you from only a few dates, I believe it's a lot harder to assess what level of trust you two may ever reach.

dang... I knew I should have started saving up for those ponies...

I've wanted to put my two cents in ever since I read this post.

Comparisons can be a tricky game and while, on some level, they may be unavoidable as The Charmer has mentioned, whole on whole comparisons shouldn't be used as a basis for decision. Remember, every person is different and every relationship develops differently. Give relationships time to see if they grow into what you're looking for. You may very well find a man much better than the Childish Ex; however, it may or may not take longer to cultivate that relationship. Something to keep in mind.

And remember, your ex is called Childish Ex for a reason. The Charmer's Ex made a vital mistake as well - he gave her up. The point is that exes can teach us what we are looking for as well as what we're not looking for. In my case, my exes have primarily taught me the things that I don't want in my future spouse. Knowing what you don't want can be just as valuable as knowing what you do want.

As always, my advice may be just what you needed, or it may be worth exactly what you paid for it.

~Featherstone McGee

P.S. Jen is right. You know when it's real.