How to Quit Being the Practice Partner

Crystal Jackson

Ah, love! When you find that person you want to be with and think it’s going great—only to figure out that you were just their foster partner until they found their forever home.

No one really wants to be the practice partner, forever being the one left behind while our exes ride off into the freaking sunset, taking what they learned from our relationship and using it to live happily ever after with someone else. But the truth is it happens for a reason.

Ouch! — as if being left for someone else wasn’t bad enough, we figure out we actually have a little responsibility here. It might not have been entirely our fault, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t make some choices that might have pushed, shoved, or catapulted the one we loved toward their happily ever after.

Let’s review, shall we?

Here are a few sure-fire ways to become someone’s foster partner rather than their forever home.

1. Doing a great impression of a doormat.

While being accommodating seems likes a way to keep the one we’re with, the reality is that never having our own opinion or standing up for ourselves just makes us seem like giant pushovers. It repels rather than attracts.

2. Criticizing and being negative.

Want to send a partner running into literally anyone else’s arms? Try criticizing them all the time. Be constantly negative and always find the downside of everything. After all, nothing says “happily ever after” as much as “I’m never happy with anything.” Good luck with that!

3. Always being on call.

That constant availability where we’re willing to drop our friends or plans for the last-minute whim of our partner makes us look like we’re not active, busy, interesting individuals on our own.

4. Living in the future rather than enjoying the present.

This one has bitten me in the ass a time or two. If you’ve ever been dreaming of a rosy future while ignoring the actual reality of your relationship, this one’s for you. If we aren’t actually cultivating a bonded and happy relationship now, the future we’re building will only ever be a fantasy.

5. Self-awareness? What’s that?

A sure-fire turnoff is to have a total lack of self-awareness. If we don’t have a clue who we are, we can’t project confidence. If we project anything, it’s probably just confusion. We can’t be strong partners for someone who’s already figured their shit out if we don’t have ours together.

6. Making our happiness our partner’s problem.

Whew! There’s just so much to unpack here. A relationship — yes, even the right one — will not automatically make us happy if we’re not happy alone. Any initial spike of warm, happy feelings won’t last. Eventually, life will go back to normal even if we’re deeply in love with our partners.

Delegating our happiness or mental health to another human being is incredibly damaging to ourselves and to our relationships. Not only have we surrendered our own power to help ourselves, but we’re expecting someone else to take care of themselves and us, too. Who would want a lifetime membership of that???

7. Treating your partner as your latest DIY project.

Repeat after me: partners aren’t projects. If everyone we partner has “great potential”, we’re probably rescuing every stray in hopes of turning them into a great partner rather than liking them for who they are, as-is.

Most of us are a little broken, but that doesn’t mean we want to partner someone who sees us as their latest fixer-upper. We’d rather be with someone who wants us for who we already are and who will support the growth we want to make rather than trying to turn us into their vision of a perfect partner.

8. Never forgiving, never forgetting.

Can we really be surprised we’re not our partner’s forever home when we never let them make a mistake without holding it over their heads for all eternity? I’m not talking about when they accidentally tripped up and slept with our best friend. I’m talking about ordinary human failures — like having a grouchy day or inadvertently hurting our feelings by being insensitive.

Being able to allow someone the grace to admit they made a mistake, apologize, and make amends without adding it to the list of things we plan to bring up later is an important part of a long-term relationship.

9. Forcing a bad fit. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make a bad fit work.

Often, we do everything we can to convince ourselves that opposites attract and it’s okay if our value systems are entirely different rather than face the uncomfortable truth that we’ve landed in a relationship that just isn’t a match.

While watching them find an actual match isn’t ever going to be enjoyable, isn’t it better to have the opportunity to do the same?

10. Caring too much about what other people think.

Wanting our relationship to look good to other people rather than being good and feeling good is deeply problematic. Pretending away the problems won’t change them. It could even make them worse when we expend all our energy trying to convince everyone we’re happy versus actually working on our relationship.

I don’t want to be anyone else’s practice partner. With that being said, I can also acknowledge that every single person who ever walked away from me and rode off into the sunset with someone else was better off with that person — because they were never right for me. I’m at peace with that.

These days my bullshit tolerance is low, and my self-love is high. I don’t twist myself up in knots trying to be indispensable to my partner so that he’ll see he’d be an absolute idiot to try to live without me. I’m no longer interested in convincing anyone to stay in my life who doesn’t wholeheartedly want that. It certainly changes the dynamic.

I hope my days of fostering partners are over. If that’s your hope, too, consider this your anti-guide for future partnerships. Don’t do any of the things I’ve mentioned here.

Seriously, quit. It’s for your own good (and everyone else’s).

Learn from your experiences. Grow as a human. Embrace your bliss.

Go live happily now for a shot at happily ever after.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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