OK, so before I even get into all of this, I want to put a disclaimer up first. I am absolutely not speaking to married couples. Here's why it's critical that I put that on record. Not too long ago, I was talking to a single person about an article we both read about a celebrity who appears to be on the outs with their spouse. The single person said, "I mean, if you're no longer happy, you need to move on." My immediate response was, "Boy, y'all sure do be out here acting like husbands are boyfriends."
What I meant by that is one of the reasons why a lot of people have such a hard time staying married is because they don't get the magnitude of their commitment. One of the reasons why that's the case is because they act like wives when they are girlfriends which means they don't see much of a difference in their relationship once they actually do get a husband (some of y'all will catch that later).
When you sign up for "til death do us part", those are some pretty serious words. They need to be treated as such. Besides, when Scripture speaks of "two becoming one" (Genesis 2:18-25), this means that, when it comes to marriage, one of the things that you are signing up for is learning how to master the art of growing together with another individual. Yes, until death parts you is the goal. Not only until you don't feel like it anymore.
But when you're dating someone—because no vows have been made which means that you remain your top priority at all times—it's very different. What Dolly Parton said in that quote up top actually rings oh so very true. You shouldn't remain in something simply because you feel obligated to do so; especially when you take out the time to reflect on what "obligate" actually means—"to bind or oblige morally or legally". When you're dating a guy, what morally or legally binding is involved? For real, for real. If you're having sex with them, those oxytocin surges can make you feel like you've just got to stay, but a part of the beauty of being in relationships when you're not married is you don't have to do…really anything you don't want to do.
I'm not saying that this fact gives you license to be mean, insensitive or irresponsible. I'm simply saying that, until your tax status changes from "single" to "married", single is exactly what you are (a lot of people tend to miss that point too). And, if the relationship that you're in is no longer serving you, it's OK—recommended even—to move on. One clear sign that it is time to do exactly that is when you've outgrown your relationship—or the guy that you're with. Trust me, I've been there.
How to Know You’ve Truly Outgrown “Him”
One thing that I am a firm believer of is this—oftentimes relationships are a mirror; they show us things about ourselves that we wouldn't look at any other way. When I think back on all of the relationships that I had that were truly significant and consequential, one thing they all had in common is I was with guys who were brilliant, funny—and also pretty unsure of themselves. Because I was the type of person who was so eager to love, they were latch onto me because, well, they were so needy to be loved. In fact, one of my exes told me that, before we started dating, one day he looked over at me and said, "If someone would just love that girl, she would be amazing."
At the time that he told me that, I thought what he said was so insightful and romantic. In hindsight, I think what he really meant was, "That girl is so desirous for love that I can get her to fill in all of the blanks when it comes to what I need as I try and become a better man." Hmph. 90 percent of the time, I paid for dates. Although he was good for writing a poem or song, I can count on one hand how many birthday presents or Christmas gifts that I received. When it came to sleepovers, he was almost always at my house. In short, he wasn't "loving me" so much as I was taking care of him. Looking back, what's really sad is he wasn't exceptional in this way.
This was pretty much my pattern. Not just taking care of a man while accepting his bare minimum, but doing it so long that it started to make me super resentful. And bitter. And eventually, mad as hell.
That too was a pattern because that's what I saw in the second marriage that my mother was in. Hmph again. It really is something, the things that you repeat from your parents, no matter how much you tell yourself that you won't. Until you do some serious self-work to change what has been modeled to us, oftentimes, we simply do what we know. No matter how much we may dislike, disrespect or even loathe it.
Back to the relationship. So, why would I stay so long (well over five years) in something that had me so…tired? No…weary? Good question. While in hindsight, I am fully aware that I wasn't in love with him (even though I wanted to be, basically because I didn't want to be alone; see "Like, Love & In Love: How To Really Know The Differences"), I did love him. Before being boyfriend and girlfriend, we were genuinely friends and there was a lot about him that I did like. Plus, he had already made it clear that befriending exes wasn't really his thing. So, I think that, more than anything, I was afraid to leave. Look at all of the time that I invested. Look at all of the little quirks and challenges that we managed to work through. Although he wasn't my perfect guy, not even close, we got along pretty well, the sex was cool and he did love me (at least, as best as he knew how at the time). What if I don't even get that much from the next dude?
Sis, let me tell you something, right here and right now. If you are currently seeing someone and that's the kind of dialogue that you're having with yourself, not only is that a clear indication that, if you stay, you are straight-up settling, if you pay even a little bit of attention to your words, it's also a sign that you're outgrowing him.
To outgrow anyone or anything is to leave what would impede your own personal behind you. "Develop" is a dope word because it speaks to progress. "Progress" is a dope word because it speaks to "a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage".
Why It’s OK to Outgrow Someone You Love
A part of the reason why all of us need to be extremely prayerful, discerning and, to a large extent, even logical-over-emotional about who we select as a spouse is because, what we're essentially saying is, "This is the man who is qualified to get me closer to my goals. This is the man who is best capable at helping me to move to higher stages in my life, throughout my life, more than anyone else." (If you can't say that about a guy, don't marry him.)
Yet in the meantime, while we're dating—which is basically all about figuring out who that guy actually is—no matter how long you've been with someone, it is perfectly OK to be like, "Yes, I love you. And yes, I also need to end this relationship because if I remain, you are going to be a stumbling block when it comes to my goals. Not only that, but being so enraptured in you is going to distract me from getting to higher stages in my life."
When I think about the relationship I just shared with you (and even a few others), I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that if I had stayed, there's a pretty good chance that you wouldn't even be reading this narrative right now. I say that because, one of the best affirmations that I've ever received is from a close male friend. Whenever he shares with me something that he's trying to accomplish, I do my best to help him out. It's not because he asks; it's simply because that's who I am. In response, something that he calls me is a "king maker". He doesn't mean that I am literally making him a king (that's the Lord and his job); he means it more in the context of Proverbs 12:4(NKJV)—"An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones." Indeed, all of us should be in the kind of relationships—platonic or romantic—that make us feel like royalty, that help us to become better versions of ourselves….that help us to grow.
Anyway, because my boyfriend had so many needs—emotionally, financially, professionally, etc., etc.—if I had stayed with him, I know me. Or rather, who I was at the time. I would've devoted so much of myself into helping him grow that it would've stunted my own progress. There ain't nothin' good, healthy or heroic about that.
Dating someone who hinders your growth? It is the absolute worst. Ultimately, for the both of you.
So yeah, as much as it hurt (mostly because I allowed the relationship to drag on far longer than it ever should have), one day I called him and I ended it. Because he had become such a part of my life and lifestyle, for several weeks, it was like I had knocked the wind out of my own doggone self. But once the healing process began, I was able to put the time, effort, energy and oftentimes even resources that I once put into him, back into myself. Growth started occurring in places where I didn't even recognize I was dormant. Outgrowing him allowed me the space to grow within myself. No regrets, y'all. I don't have a signal one.
Someone reading this can relate to almost every word that I said. Well, as someone once said, "If you're looking for a sign, this would be it." Never feel that loving someone means you should feel obligated to remain, even after you've outgrown them. Love them—and more importantly, yourself—to see the progress that can be made if you're both out of each other's way.
Never feel so obligated that you aren't able to become a bigger and better version of yourself. If you do think that, friend, that's not love. Not. Even. Close.
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