Setting relationship goals can be a good thing. It can help you get to know yourself, identify what’s vital emotionally and physically, and find a partner who is really suited for you. But placing specific demands on your love life can also create a super toxic cycle of disappointment, unfulfilled expectations, and feeling like a failure.
There’s no steadfast rule on how much planning is helpful to getting where you want to be—hindsight always seems to be 20/20—but making peace with where you are right now is an important part of achieving happiness.
Here, four women around the country share where they envisioned they’d be romantically when they were younger compared to where they are now. How they feel about the expectation versus reality sheds some serious light on why change (and surprises) can definitely be a good thing.
When you know it’s right, there’s no reason to rush into marriage.
“When I was younger, I always envisioned that I would get married when I fell in love and [quickly after] have a full house of kids, both furry and human. That was always in my ‘plan.’ I’ve been with my partner for over fifteen years and have known he was ‘the one’ since the moment I saw him in our boarding school’s dining hall. After all these years, he proposed to me last summer. A lot of people ask me why it took so long. I guess my answer to that has always been, ‘When you know it’s right, what’s the rush?’”— Katie, 31, yoga instructor and reiki master, Colorado
There are so many things more important than materialistic stuff.
“I definitely envisioned myself falling in love with my high school sweetheart, getting married and having a large family—white picket fence and all. Now I look back and realize how naive I was: I thought I’d get married right out of college, in my early 20s, but after I had my son in high school, things changed. I’ve never been single for a long time, and it can get lonely. But I’m currently dating. Lots of dating. Hinge dates. Tinder dates. Blind dates. Holding open auditions!
“Every relationship has taught me more about what I want and need in a partner, and, most of all, what I deserve. The older you get, the less materialistic things such as the kind of car he drives or the clothes he wears matter. I look for things like the kind of relationship he has with his family and friends, how he takes care of himself physically, and his long-term goals. Does he listen when I talk?” — Katie, 28, nanny, Connecticut
The amount of partners you’ve had doesn’t matter, whether few or many.
“I’d always thought I would fall in love more than once—in my teens and then throughout adulthood—and that being in love would mean something different as I got older. As it turns out, I fell in love with the person I would end up with at 19 and continued to be in love with that person until we got married when I was 28.
“Being ‘in love’ has meant different things to me, and I’m sure will continue to evolve, but it has always been with the same person. I also thought I would have children in my 30s, but now I’m in my 30s and conscious of what that means in terms of options and my own visions for a family.
“I’ve always viewed relationships as partnerships that require commitment and effort. Both of us are independent and challenge each other, but know that we have the other’s unconditional support. I feel confident in myself and my partner, but also am more comfortable with the fact that there are many unknowns and adventures ahead for us.” — Julia, 31, lawyer, New York
Don’t get caught up in someone else’s ideal.
“When I was little, I would watch The Donna Reed Show and I Love Lucy. I was going to have a huge royal wedding like Princess Diana. I wanted to be the stay-at-home mom that wears a dress with pearls and vacuums.
“What was I thinking? How does anyone vacuum with kids, much less clean the house with a full face on, hair fixed, a dress with pearls on, and not get bleach on your dress? I realized this really wasn’t my dream, it was what I saw on TV.
“At 15, I met my high school sweetheart and got pregnant at 19 years old. I never married [my daughter’s] father but went through 3 engagement rings; we split up when I was 22.
“Things have changed now—my happiness is no longer dependent on anyone but myself. I’m on my second marriage. He’s a school teacher, and he taught me to love myself. My wedding was one of the best days of my life—and I thought I was never going to get married again!” — D’Ann, 38, spray tan salon owner, Texas