This post is for you if you’re interested in being in a fulfilling romantic relationship but aren’t in one yet.
Or maybe you’re feeling frustrated that you don’t even know what you’re looking for in a partner anymore (or even if someone like that person exists!).
Or perhaps you don’t even know *how* to begin attracting healthier, more functional romantic relationships into your life.
If this is the case for you, I want you to know that I get it. This is such a frustrating place to be in!
It can often feel like a catch-22 when you’re longing for a wonderful relationship and yet you think you have to have already *been* in one to attract the next one.
But I don’t think this is true at all.
Just because you’re not in the love relationship you want yet doesn’t mean you can’t get there.
And so in this post, I want to share with you a tool I use in my therapy practice that can help you lay the groundwork for a healthy romantic partnership even if you believe you’ve never been in one before and don’t have a clue as to how to get started.
So keep reading to learn more about this tool and how it can help you create the healthy relationship you’re longing for.
The Tool: Cultivating Your Relational Palate.
Let me ask you something: do you think that if you ate every meal each day at McDonald’s you’d be able to deeply enjoy and intimately recognize the incredible quality of local, farm-to-table food of the famed Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse?
Your tastebuds would be conditioned to expect certain qualities like hydrogenated oils, an excess of sodium, simple sugars, etc..
You likely wouldn’t have the developed taste bud palate to discern and pick up on subtleties of flavors like they serve at Chez Panisse (and holy moly, is it amazing there!).
Look, I’m not trying to knock McDonald’s – if that’s your thing, go for it! – but you can’t argue with me that there’s not a significant jump in quality from there to fine dining.
In a way, our experience in a relationship can often be the same.
If we’re used to lower quality, it can often be harder to recognize higher quality when it comes along.
So what does this have to do with love and dating?
Frustratingly, many of us may find ourselves longing to be in a healthy, functional relationship with the romantic partner of our dreams, but believe that we wouldn’t know what this is because of our prior (or altogether lack of!) dating history.
We maybe believe we just don’t know how to attract healthier relationships, or even what a healthier relationship looks like so we’re stuck with McDonald’s quality when we’re longing for a Chez Panisse of a love.
(And yes, I know this is a bit of conflated comparison, but you get my point.)
And yet in the same way that cultivating your taste bud palate is possible, I also think that cultivating your relational palate is possible.
What do I mean by this?
Whether you’re a foodie, a sommelier, or a cupper in a third wave coffee company, consciously cultivating your taste bud palate involves studying, recognizing, discerning, paying attention to, heightening your awareness of, and increasing your understanding and appreciation of the flavors you’re working with.
When we cultivate our relational palate, we can do the same thing.
We can study the qualities that make up good relationships, we can recognize, discern and be mindful if those qualities are present in our lives already in any way, we can appreciate and better understand these qualities, heightening our awareness of them when we’re dating and seeking out that longed-for prospective partner.
Just because we don’t have the relationship we want yet, doesn’t mean we can’t study and repeatedly expose ourselves to it so that it becomes easier to attract and recognize when it comes along.
Here are four steps to help you cultivate your relational palate:
1) Ask yourself what it is you’re longing for in a partner.
Get really clear on what qualities of character you might be wanting in the person you date.
Ask yourself how you’d like to feel in their presence. Really imagine into the sort of person this someone may be.
Is this person deeply kind? Loyal? Full of integrity? Hardworking? Empathetic? Funny? Is this person a mensch?
2) Now get curious and aware of who embodies those qualities in your life already.
Using the qualities and characteristics you imagined into above, can you think of anyone in your life who currently embodies these qualities?
A good girlfriend? A family member? A mentor? A professional support like a therapist or yoga teacher?
Notice where and how the qualities you’re longing for from a mate are already in the relationships around you.
Look, though you may be quick to write this off saying, “I know I get love and support from my cousin but that’s different! That’s not a romantic relationship!”, please understand that while the source may differ, what I’m pointing out here is that you do know what feeling loved and supported feels like.
You may not know what it feels like in a romantic relationship (yet) but again, we’re cultivating your relational palate by spending time discerning and appreciating where this quality does already show up in your life so you can better understand how you feel when you receive this.
In doing so, we can “prime” you (in a sense) for what it may feel like to receive this from a romantic partner.
3) Or, if you’re lacking in real-life, first-hand examples of the qualities you’re longing for, notice examples of these kinds of qualities and relationships from afar.
There are times when maybe no one in our life currently embodies the qualities of character we’re most looking for in a prospective partner.
So if that’s the case for you, that’s totally okay.
I would just then invite you to reflect on the qualities of character you see embodied on screen or in books, or even in real life relationships that you don’t know quite so well.
Look around you for examples of people or fictional characters and notice how you feel when you imagine being in relationship with someone like that.
Again, you may protest in saying, “It doesn’t count if it’s fiction or if I’m a big fan of the Obamas! How’s this going to help me create that kind of relationship?”
And again, I would say that this is a leap of imagination and an exercise in repeated awareness and exposure so that you can develop more muscle memory, more relational palate-savviness about the essence of the qualities you’re after in a partner.
So go ahead and brainstorm what fictional or real-life relationships from afar inspire you.
4) Now, consciously “feast” on these qualities.
If you have people in your life who give you some of the qualities you’re ultimately longing for from a romantic partner – like play and solid support – spend more time with them!
Notice how you feel after you leave spending time with them. Spend time imagining how it would feel if you received that in a romantic partnership, too.
Another task of “feasting” on these qualities will involve practicing embodying these qualities for yourself, too.
For instance, do you want to feel deeply understood and accepted by your partner? How then can you be more understanding and accepting of yourself?
The more we spend time with those who treat us in the way we want to be treated by a romantic partner and the more we embody these qualities of character ourselves, the more we will consciously cultivate our relational palate, the more accustomed to these qualities — these proverbial “flavors” etc. — you will be.
It will make it easier to discern when you’re spending time with someone who embodies these higher quality characteristics.
You will develop and refine your palate for good, decent treatment, for love and appreciation, for being respected and cherished.
Putting it all together: Cultivating Your Relational Palate.
So bottom line: Just because you’re not in the healthy, functional, committed relationship you’d like to be in (yet), doesn’t mean it’s not possible regardless of your dating history.
It also doesn’t mean you can’t lay some good groundwork for this healthier kind of relationship NOW by cultivating your proverbial relational palate so that you can better seek out and recognize a higher quality relationship when it arrives.
Now, a caveat to all of this: While I think this tool can be a helpful support, it’s no substitute for therapy to assist you in identifying, rewriting, and healing deep relational wounds and patterns you may have. If this is the case for you, by all means, play around with the tool of the relational palate but also understand that if you have a history of trauma, neglect, abuse, mental health challenges, etc., there may be deeper relational work that needs to happen in order to support you in being in a healthier kind of relationship, both with yourself and with others.
If you suspect this is the case for you, I’d love to work with you. Feel free to email me at email@example.com to set a complimentary consult call up to see if I can support you.
And finally, I want to leave you with a message of hope: I firmly believe that, no matter where we start from, no matter what damaging or painful relationship models we had as children, it is possible to heal, to transform our beliefs about ourselves and others and to cultivate healthier, more satisfying relationships in our life. I believe this on a bone-deep level both personally and professionally (honestly, it’s why I became a therapist!) and I imagine it’s possible for you, too.
So now I’d love to hear from you below: Did you like the idea of “cultivating your relational palate”? Can you see how it might apply to you? What’s one piece of advice you might give to others who are longing to be in a healthy, loving relationship but aren’t in one yet? Leave a message in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond.
Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.
And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.