Are you a pre-negotiator? Or do the people you love know your deepest desires?

It’s a strategy we learned before we knew better. We were probably caught up in the younger dating scene, which seemed so desperate to us then. Or maybe we picked it up when we were children to please adults around us.

It’s something we’ve honed in the relationships that matter the most for us. And it’s something we could be more tempted to just assume to be necessary as we get older and become more desperate to do anything to be one member of a couple.

It’s pre-negotiating. It’s trying to figure out in our minds what we can actually ask for from the person of our interest without hurting the relationship or its “potential.”

Instead of telling our partner what we really want, we think about what it is that comes closer to what our partner wants in life.

If I want to vacation at the seaside and I know my partner prefers to get away in the mountains, what do I say I’d like to do? Do I begin with a compromise in my mind ahead of time and suggest the desert – possibly a place neither one of us would like to visit?

If I’m a staunch Democrat, and political principles matter to me, how do I say that to someone who isn’t? Do I never let them know how important my political values are? Or do I keep putting the discussion off?

The result of pre-negotiating is that the person I want a close, intimate relationship with never knows what I really want in life, what I really think.

Instead of letting the one we believe loves us unconditionally (or we hope will) know what I want, what I dream, what matters to me, where my deepest bliss and passion are, I hide all this from them out of fear that the relationship will suffer or the “seeing each other” will go no further.

Instead of each partner letting the other know where they are with the intention of negotiating when they learn that what they both want is different, we deny each other two very important things necessary for any relationship that seeks to be close: the communicating of something about us and our desires – sometimes something crucial to understanding each other; and the valuable process of give-and-take that is the negotiation between two people who have committed, or might commit, themselves to each other.

There are established relationships where, in order to keep them going, pre-negotiating has become the pattern. And there are people of every age in the dating scene who are too afraid that their only hope is pre-negotiation.

Sometimes society has pre-negotiated for us what we’re supposed to want. The standard roles assigned to each sex might just be accepted as what we really want. Hubby will do the cooking outside and the major yardwork, wife will clean the inside and wash the dishes.

One characteristic of same-sex relationships that actually promotes closeness is that there are no such societal gender-role assumptions. Chores must be negotiated, and partners learn thereby what each one loves and hates.

But it would be better for all relationships if that expression and work of human closeness took place. It would certainly mean more time spent, but that would be time spent talking and listening to each other. If the relationship is to be important, wouldn’t that be worth it?

And is a relationship where we cannot do this worth pursuing? Is it better to settle for someone who cannot know the real you than to cultivate the friends who aren’t afraid to ask us: “What is it you really want?

One definition of a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it to you when you forget. Do we want a life partner who doesn’t know that song in our heart because if they did, they’d leave us?

Does the one you love or the one you date really know what you really want in life? Do you know what they really want?

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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