Heartbreak

Why You Met The Right Person At The Wrong Time

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woman and man facing each other with inquisitive facial expressions

This scenario has probably happened to most people at least once in their lives. How often do we hear of couples reuniting at their high school reunion 10 to 20 years later?

How many movies dozens of movies from your lifetime alone depict the protagonist mourning "the one that got away" because the timing just wasn’t right, only to be followed up with the same old predictable scene that pretty much writes itself — where they run towards each other as the music swells, and they kiss each other with blazing passion in the pouring rain (...and roll credits)?

Is it really bad timing, or is it just the wrong person? How can we tell?

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3 Reasons we meet the right person, wrong time — and what to do about it.

1. It ends up being a one-sided relationship.

When love is divinely fulfilling, it doesn’t have to be difficult or cause constant agony. It just feels right, and the adjustments don't feel like unbearable obstacles, but reciprocated compromises and challenges overcome as a team. You should both want to give to each other, give toward the relationship, and feel as though you get back just as much as you give.

Maybe your partner isn't willing to put in the emotional work to be fully present in the relationship and commit to making conscious, intentional efforts to meet you halfway.

Your partner may pick fights constantly and seem unable to see your perspective on almost any matter. Over time, this causes a rift too distant to cross, and the relationship can't move forward.

What to do about it: If you're putting in all the work, you're going to burn out — fast. It would be best to protect yourself from becoming exhausted and resentful over your partner's inability to try to work things out will inevitably doom the relationship.

Once you distance yourself, they may use that time to reflect and realize how absent they've been from the relationship and see a clearer picture of their behavior when they do happen to be present.

Perhaps then, they may understand the need to put in real time for some self-improvement and learn how to actually show up for you.

Of course, there's the chance they won't. You need to prepare yourself for that possibility and be able to steer your energy away from the relationship so that you can leave the wrong time, no matter how right the other person was, in the past — and find someone who will be willing to fight on the same team and form a true partnership.

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2. You realize you're both in different stages of your lives.

When we are younger, there are the usual obstacles, such as career focus or college classes with late-night studying and exams around every corner.

We're still maturing at that age and may go through several major changes before knowing who we are and what we want. Naturally, it's to be expected that meeting that special someone during that stage of your life is not always meant to be forever. (Although many college sweethearts have had successful long-term relationships and marriages.)

The experiences of our youth are there to help set us on a path to make wise choices for the future. We all try our best to make good choices, but this is also the age where we are meant to learn from our fumbles and even major mistakes to continue trying to course correct. Along the way, we may have a couple or several relationships that felt like The One at the time. Then, we often spend years second- (and third-)guessing our decisions.

Some of us wonder if we were too immature to see what we had at the time or to make better decisions about who we should have stayed with — and now our window of opportunity has closed.

What to do about it: Remember that we are constantly evolving as human beings. We don't typically go into a relationship with the expectation that it will end, but many of them do. Many of them may be "right person, wrong time" situations, which you should try to use as fuel for optimism that there are many more Right Ones still out there.

In the meantime, the best thing we can do is take a lesson away from each of our past relationships. Even if you still hold a grudge about one (or more) of them because you feel like it was a complete waste of time that taught you nothing, think again. You learned what you don't want in a relationship, which is just as important as what you do want.

3. Your priorities or checklist of wants is more important than who you need (hint: the right person!)

How many people let the right person get away due to other priorities, then choose the wrong person based on other, perhaps more short-sighted or misplaced priorities, such as pressure from social time constructs, like having a set timeline for the age when you must be married, buy a house, or have children?

Age and pressure from family can play an important factor in your choices, but it's not always helpful or even practical in the context of what's conventional.

Plenty of people take it upon themselves to impose a whole new level of pressure on themselves — and any potential romantic interests because they want to micromanage their love lives down to a very precise list of traits, qualities, and even material wealth or possessions and job descriptions they expect from someone if they're going to give them the time of day.

In the process, you meet plenty of great candidates who you get along with well, share similar passions and ambitions, and perhaps even grow alongside you while you're together. But you end up dismissing them because their resume didn't match the "qualifications" you think your ideal mate possesses. And The One got away. Several Ones, even.

What to do about it: Try not to be so consumed with the pressure to conform to a tradition that doesn't make sense for your life. If it becomes an issue with family, try to explain to them that you understand and respect their choices, but you need to have the freedom to make your own in order to have a fulfilling life. If they don't want that for you, that's a whole other conversation, but you must seriously evaluate your priorities on your own terms.

If something doesn't feel right to you, here's a word of advice, as Diana Vreeland famously once said: "It's not about the dress you wear, but it's about the life you lead in the dress."

When it comes to exhaustive, unrealistic, and overly nitpicky dating checklists, the best thing you can do is toss them and forget all about whatever was listed on them. By placing too much importance on your trivial and hollow requirements, you're blinding yourself to more essential qualities needed in a long-term romantic partner, such as compatibility, emotional availability, stability, shared visions for the future, and the ability to trust and be vulnerable with them.

If you do feel like you are repeating a pattern due to your unreasonable checklists, you may have unresolved commitment issues or a tendency to sabotage your romantic relationships. Try spending time around your friends who are in happy, healthy relationships. Being in this environment could help alleviate some anxiety by reminding you how wonderful a great relationship can be between two people who may not be perfect, but strive to be perfect for each other.

Let this serve as your personal reminder that each individual comes with their own set of extraordinary and spectacular qualities, as well as flaws and room for self-improvement. No one is immune to this — including you.

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Have you spent years pining over "the one that got away," only to see them again several years later — and, apart from physical attraction, there really wasn’t much else between the two of you? Take a pausePush pause so you can reflect and ask yourself why you spent so much time daydreaming over this fantasy.

Was it something you dreamed up and wanted to hold onto because no one else ever even came close? Or do you feel like it was the biggest mistake of your life and now you know that, in your heart of hearts?

The truth is, it's never too late to take action. Of course, knowing whether it's pure lust, infatuation, or real, true love is key to making the right decision if you want to make a go at making things work again. They could be feeling exactly the same way about you!

Take heart in knowing that, as much as it seems like timing is everything, or it's constantly working against you, you actually do get to play a role in finding your Right One, too. And there's more than one out there! The reality is that no matter how much time passes, you need to be at a place in your life and mental state where you're ready for the Right One.

Once you've made it that far, you'll already be in the right place. So it's only a matter of time before you meet the Right One.

Susan McCord is a dating relationship coast and advice columnist.

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