August 10, 2021

The Pink Elephant In The Room Will Not Go Away

I have a client (let’s call her Charlotte) who has recently started dating someone she considers to be a total catch (let’s call him Sam). Sam treats Charlotte like a princess and makes her laugh; their communication is healthy and strong; their time together is fun and fulfilling. But there is one thing about Sam that Charlotte cannot really accept. To preserve her privacy, I won’t say what her qualm is about; but this one characteristic of Sam’s doesn’t match Charlotte's values and lifestyle, and she knows she can’t ask him to change it. 


It is a dealbreaker for her, but she has grown attached to him. So they continue to date and see where things go. 


There is an enormous neon pink elephant standing smack dab in the middle of the bedroom. But maybe if we tuck it into the corner and tell it to keep quiet, nobody will notice. 


There is a glaringly obvious problem in the relationship that nobody wants to acknowledge; but maybe if we keep dating, explore our sexual connection, and develop strong enough feelings for each other, the problem will eventually go away on its own. We’ll figure it out. 


I recently found out that a friend of mine from college (let’s call him Tom) is going through a tough breakup with his girl (let’s call her Naomi). Tom and Naomi met  2-3 years ago while he was living in Los Angeles and she was living in New Orleans. They fell in love and dated long-distance for a while, until Tom finally decided that he was going to move across the country to be with her. As far as I was aware, they’ve been living together happily for over a year and loving life. 


So why the breakup? He wants kids, she does not. It’s a deal-breaker for him. And yes, they knew this from the very beginning of the relationship. 


There is a colossal neon pink elephant standing right there in the center of the living room. But maybe if we put some pillows on it and pretend it’s not there, everything will be fine. 


There is a glaringly obvious problem in the relationship that nobody wants to acknowledge; but maybe if we move in together, get engaged, get married, or have a child together, that problem will eventually go away on its own. We’ll figure it out. 


Of course, I’m being satirical in order to highlight how problematic this way of thinking is. I used to make the same mistake all the time; I think we’ve all been guilty of it at some point. So how do we move past this misguided thinking, and what’s the solution to this problem? 


First, it is critical to accept a person for who they are right now. Even if they tell you things you don’t want to hear, like they’re not willing to quit smoking or they don’t plan on having kids, listen to them and believe what they tell you. You cannot date your hope that someone will become what you want them to be, or fall in love with the possibility that they will change for you. You can only date who they are right now. Yes, the other person can change, but that is not up to you. 


Second, do not bend on the things that are of utmost importance to you. No amount of time spent or love developed for someone will satisfy the pink elephant. You can shift plenty of things in order to make a relationship work, but your values are not one of them. Your values are your values.  There is no way to circumvent our deal-breakers; they do not go away. There is no way to work around a non-starter; it will not go away. 


So if you notice an issue at the beginning that seems like it will give the relationship little to no chance of succeeding in the long run, do everyone a favor and don’t let it continue. This may seem obvious, but I speak from personal, professional, and anecdotal experience when I say that you’d be shocked at how many relationships crash and burn, and how much wreckage is caused several months/years later, due to a pink-elephant problem that could have been avoided entirely.


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