A friend wants a long-term love relationship, in fact, she would like to get married. She was talking to me about her internet dating adventures the other day. She is well aware of what she is looking for in a partner, and that has matured over this recent dating history. Funny how experience does that!
As we were talking, I started to think about the differences in the ways people go about dating, either online or off. And, those differences carry through directly to the relationships they create.
As children, we were love- and approval-seeking mechanisms. We knew we needed those big tall people for survival, but we flourished in the kindness, understanding and love they showed us…if we were lucky. That was nurturing and made us grow like seeds in sunshine. For some, though, there was a competition going on, a competition to see if we could wrestle some approval out of the giants. Many of us continue to look for that today, and we may have mistaken it for love.
Now, my dating friend is not looking for approval because she is confident in who she is and how she expresses herself. She’s willing to meet men and remain open to the possibilities of connection and growth. That’s because she is looking for love. Now, she’s a little too picky in my opinion but that’s a story for another time. One date uncovers little unless you’re repulsed!
So, are you looking for love, or will approval do? Or, could you be mistaking approval for love? We all like a good “‘Atta girl, or boy” that let’s us know we’re noticed. That’s just reinforcement and affirmation. Good stuff! But, love is more than that. Team members offer approval of an idea or a piece of work. Home owners associations approve your plans. That’s not really what you’re looking for, is it?
Approval is separate from love. And, it is separate from appreciation. We know this because, when approval is withheld, we often go running after it like a carrot on a stick. We crave it. We want it. And, we want it from specific people in our lives. Approval means that I am validated by another human being, one I give power to. Often that translates into “that I am good enough.”
To be approved of, the dictionary says, is “feeling, showing or saying that one considers something to be good or acceptable.” Sadly, this has become the case that to be approved of means that someone else thinks we are good enough or acceptable! That’s just wrong.We need our own approval. That’s the most important thing to pay attention to and to work through.
To become a grown-up, not just an adult which is a large version of child, we have to do the work that results in our knowing who we are, what we’re here to do and how to proceed with it on our own terms. We need to live in alignment with our vision, values, beliefs and purpose. When we do that we trust ourselves and, naturally, find ourselves good and acceptable….no matter what others think, say or do. It’s a big step, but it means we are a grown-up.
If we’re waiting for the approval of others, a lifetime could pass and we would not make our valuable contribution to the life of the world. I’ve known folks in my counseling practice who almost let that happen. Many of them were waiting for the approval of a mother or father, a friend or a boss who was dedicated to never giving it. As we worked together, we shifted the focus to their approval of themselves. That is the key.
There are folks who withhold their approval. They do it mainly for two reasons: to maintain a sense of control, or, to keep you motivated. The latter is more than a bit misguided, especially when parents do it. They seem to think that if they ever tell you that you are doing well that you’ll stop trying. That simply flies in the face of all we know about people!
So, when you look at your life and your current relationships, are you looking for approval? If so, the best question to be able to answer for yourself is “Do I approve of myself?” That’s the one that will make all the difference in your life, and the one that will take the most work. Fortunately, it is also the one that will help you create relationships that are mutual, respectful, satisfying and reciprocal. Now, there’s a basis for a real love relationship.