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The Gift of the Person Who’s Not Right For Us

The connection hit me unexpectedly. On a recent ski trip, I fell hard for my instructor. Yes, I know it’s cliché. But how could I not develop a crazy crush on the man who made me giggle with outlandish stories, helped me with my skis, brought hot chocolate in his backpack, and cheered me on as I improved my technique throughout the day? Never mind that it was an epic powder day that made my heart soar and adrenaline pump. That evening, we traded a few flirty texts, and I let my imagination run wild with “what if” fantasies: Could I visit him in the spring? How expensive were flights to his city? Could I really date him?

Now let’s get to the facts: This man was much older than me and was in a different stage of life. He lived several states away. Of course, I had no idea of his relationship status or really much about him at all.

We did end up hooking up later – on Facebook. And that’s exactly where we should be. We like each other’s posts, and I’m able to keep him in the box of “a really great guy who I spent an incredible day with.”

But that’s not to say it didn’t sting a little. Yes, it was pure infatuation, and I hadn’t felt enamored with someone like that in a while. After a few days, I was able to sort it out better in my head. I was grateful I had made such a connection, and his kind spirit and joy of life made me realize how important those qualities were in a future partner.

In life, we meet people all the time we can easily put in the “not right for me” box. Perhaps they’re a friend’s spouse, a doctor, or a child’s teacher. Or they live in Australia. Or they’re much older or younger. (You want to keep an open mind about age ranges. I’m talking about a big difference.)

We meet them in dating, too. And it’s painful to realize someone isn’t right for you, if you’ve enjoyed a few dates together. Those reasons tend to be more subtle: You don’t see the world the same way. You want different things. You just don’t feel a spark.

Yet these “not quite rights” can be a gift. Here are some benefits:

1) You enjoy a connection

Social engagement is one of the joys of being human. Perhaps you shared a joke or a kiss. You revealed part of yourself and enjoyed getting to know a part of someone else. Yes, it’s deeper than a friendly chitchat with the grocery cashier. But your ability is connect to this person is evidence that you have the emotional muscle to enjoy friendship, flirting or whatever other wavelength you establish.

2) You learn what you want in a partner

This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget if you’re feeling slightly wounded. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, be thankful that you’ve discovered what makes you excited about someone. Were there specific qualities you admired? Did you suddenly realize that having a hiking or running partner is really important to you? Were you enthralled by her travel stories? Did you love his positive outlook? Perhaps you couldn’t get enough of her spontaneity. You’ve just received important information about what’s absolutely important to you in your search.

3) You learn what you want in yourself

They also can provide clues about what’s missing in your own life. I have a soft spot for men who are inventive in the kitchen and know where to find live music. When I meet them, I become inspired to expand my culinary skills and discover new tunes to add to my tired playlists. With my hunky ski instructor, I was attracted to his commitment to his community. He coached high school kids and built hiking trails in the summer. He was beloved in his small town. His sense of belonging made me realize that I needed to put down stronger roots in my hometown and become more involved.

4) You get better at moving on

You realize when someone isn’t right for you and don’t waste time hanging on or indulging in unhealthy fantasies. You don’t pine for someone you can’t have or torture yourself by asking “Why not?” or “Is there something about me?” You gracefully put them in the “Nice to know you” box and make space in your head and heart for someone who is a good fit.

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.