Should I compromise on valuing myself?

I.
asks:
I've always had high standards. Really high. Some of my friends used to agree with me, but when it came down to it they lowered their standards and went on dates with people they wouldn't have previously considered. I didn't. For a few reasons: after a few failed relationships in middle school (in which I hurt my s/o pretty badly for a middle school relationship), I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't date someone unless I felt like it could be a mutually beneficial relationship. I didn't want to hurt someone again like that. After that, I ended up talking to a boy at my school, just as a casual thing, although he was a junior and I was a freshman, so it never got serious physically. The thing is, we kept talking after that year, even though he moved to the other side of the country. We got really close because of that, and are still really good friends, (maybe even a little more), but he's in a committed relationship, he seems really happy, and the last thing I want is to get in the way of that. I want to move on from him, at least physically, but I just don't feel like there is anyone here (I live in a pretty small community) that both would create a healthy relationship (even a one night stand kind of thing), and fits my standards. There is one guy that I feel like could kind of work, except he's a pathological liar, and can get really weird with girls. He also has a reputation for sleeping around and I don't want to be just another girl on his list, but at the same time I feel like being physically intimate with someone is what I need right now, and would be a really healthy thing for me. I don't want to get into something that doesn't hold true to what I want though. I don't know what is more important, which desire to follow. I want to do what is the healthiest, but at the same time I don't want to be the kind of girl who is super uptight and hung up on a relationship from three years ago and who doesn't lose her virginity till she's like 20 or 30. It is a stereotype, and I don't like that or want to encourage that, but it feels like one that I'm getting increasingly closer to, and that's not who I want to be.
Mo Ranyart replies:

When people ask about lowering their standards and whether it's worth it to do so, the answer to that question depends on what those standards are. You didn't describe yours in detail, so I don't have much to go on, but in general, I'd divide what people tend to call "standards" into two types of criteria used to evaluate potential partners.

The first type includes preferences for physical traits or general personality characteristics: someone might want a partner who's tall, interested in musicals, able to afford fancy dates every week, or from the same religious tradition as their own family. These are subjective preferences, and everyone's list will be a little different; there's no one ideal body type or personality that everyone prefers, of course.

You don't ever need to force interest in someone when you just aren't feeling it, but it can be helpful to make sure you aren't dismissing people out of hand if they don't align perfectly with your preferences. If you have chemistry with someone who isn't your usual type, it may be worth it to take a chance on them even if they don't tick off all the boxes on your ideal partner checklist. I wouldn't call this "lowering your standards," to be honest, because that could wind up being pretty insulting to the person in question, but you could call this something like re-evaluating your criteria or pursuing a person you may not have normally expected to go for.

In fact, I'd encourage you to rethink how you're approaching the idea of low vs. high standards altogether.

As I mentioned, a lot of what people offten call "standards" are personal preferences, and different people have their own priorities when it comes to who they want to date or be sexual with; it's all subjective. Expanding this kind of dating criteria doesn't mean you're going to be dating a "lower" class of person, and vice versa, and framing your preferences this way can wind up being pretty disrespectful to people who just don't line up with your personal ideals.

There is another type of criteria people have for relationships that I don't think it's a good idea to compromise on; these are standards about the basic levels of kindness, care and respect people expect from a partner.

It makes a lot of sense to only date people who are honest and trustworthy, who respect your limits and communicate their own, and who value you as a person. While I think it can be good to step outside of your regular "type" when it comes to physical or personality preferences, compromising on how a person treats you, even if they're attractive, charismatic, or otherwise appealing, is usually a recipe for eventual heartbreak, as well as potential abuse. Someone can be the best-looking person you know, but if they treat you badly, they won't be an appealing partner for long, and they'll likely start looking worse to you over time as well.

You mention that you only want to engage in relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial. That's a great foundation to start with when you're evaluating people as potential romantic or sexual partners. This is the sort of standard that's good to hold firm on; getting involved only with people who treat you with respect, and with whom you can have a positive and healthy dynamic, isn't being unreasonable or having standards that are "too high." If someone's telling you to lower your expectations because you insist on a certain level of communication or respect from a potential partner, I worry that they might not have the best handle on what makes a healthy relationship.

It might be helpful to think about the sort of partner and relationship you're looking for, and come up with a concrete list of attributes you're seeking. What feels like a must-have, and what's more would-be-nice? Taking the time to think about this and write down some specifics may give you a bit more clarity about what you find most important in a partner. Those criteria might look very different from the ones your friends have. That's okay. People have all sorts of different goals and priorities when it comes to looking for dating or sexual partners, but that doesn't mean that your (or their) priorities or standards are "low" or "high" compared to each other, or that some people are looking for the right things while others have it all wrong. When you're evaluating your own standards, the only person who has to be happy with them is you.

Because you say you want to limit yourself to healthy relationships and interactions -- a basic line that we encourage everyone who comes to Scarleteen to have and hold -- I'm a bit confused as to why you're considering a person you know to be dishonest and disrespectful as a potential sexual partner.

Someone who lies to partners and doesn't treat them well doesn't sound like someone who'd provide any benefit to you at all. That kind of person isn't even safe on the most basic level: they're a danger to you and others. I know you're interested in experiencing sexual intimacy with someone, and it might feel like having that experience sooner rather than later would be a positive step, but sex is far more likely to feel good overall when you're with someone who has your own enjoyment in mind, who respects you, whose sexual wants and desires are in at least partial alignment with yours and who is at least a generally safe person to be intimate with. 

Dishonesty in a partner is one of those standards you really shouldn't compromise on; a relationship built on dishonesty is unlikely to go well, whether it's a casual arrangement or something more serious. If you get a weird or bad vibe from someone, or know that their sexual history involves a lot of lying and unkind choices on their part, I feel safe in saying that you're better off not getting involved with that person, even if your other options for sexual partners are limited and you're feeling impatient. It's hard for sex or other physical intimacy to be a positive experience when it's with someone who isn't honest or doesn't respect the limits their partner has set.

If you're feeling frustrated that you haven't found someone who's a great match as a sexual partner yet, it may help to take some of that energy and do some things to prepare yourself for a sexual or romantic relationship, whenever one comes into your life. Now's a great time to work on your communication skills and ask yourself some big questions about the kinds of relationships you might be interested in.

Are you looking for something casual, or do you want to focus only on long-term, monogamous relationships? How comfortable do you feel with the idea of talking to a new partner about sex and intimacy? Do you feel like you have a handle on your birth control options? When you do find someone you're interested in, having some answers to questions like these may give you a better chance of making a good match.

A benefit of starting relationships when you're in your twenties and beyond is that you have more time to get to know yourself and what you really want from a relationship than you might when you're, say, sixteen. People who've done some of that self-reflection and are comfortable articulating their desires and needs to other people often find that they're happier in their first relationships than people who start dating before they feel comfortable having those conversations.

It may also be helpful to think about yourself as your first sexual partner; exploring your desires through fantasy and masturbation can be a fantastic way to gain a better sense of your own sexuality and what excites you about the idea of being sexual with someone else. This entire article is worth a read, if you want some ideas about how you can nurture your sexual self right now, but this excerpt seems especially applicable to your situation:

Really claiming and recognizing yourself as your first and foremost sex partner is a powerful thing. It equips you with some tools for healthy sexuality and balanced relationships for the rest of your life: it can help you to best determine when it's the right time for you to have solo sex (like when you're just plain horny) and when it's right to take a partner (like when you're wanting deeper intimacy, or are able to account for another person's feelings and desires). Getting to know your own body and sexual identity through self-evaluation, through masturbation, enables you to find out a good deal of what you like and dislike physically, to see and feel what your genitals and the rest of your body are like in a healthy state, to discover how your individual sexual response works, explore your orientation and gender identity, and to gauge your sexual expectations realistically.

I encourage you to make sure you aren't internalizing negative, sexist or misogynist messages about women who aren't having sex (by choice or not) when you're making decisions about your own dating and sexual life.

Not having sex doesn't make you uptight, it doesn't mean you have emotional baggage, it truly doesn't mean anything other than the simple fact that you haven't had sex yet. There are about as many reasons for someone not to date or have sex before their twenties as there are people who haven't had sex by that time. Here are a few possibilities:

  • They haven't found a partner they feel comfortable being sexual with.
  • They are focusing on schoolwork, sports, artistic pursuits, etc. and sex and relationships aren't a priority.
  • They are uninterested in having sex at all.
  • The sexual opportunities they've had so far haven't seemed likely to be interesting, beneficial or satisfying.
  • They are taking time to heal from abuse or trauma before pursuing sexual relationships.
  • They are waiting until they can afford or access the sexual healthcare they need to feel comfortable being sexually active

That isn't an exhaustive list; there are way more possibilities than just those.

You're clearly aware of some of the negative (and usually both sexist and patriarchal) stereotypes people have about women who aren't sexually active. I hope you won't fall into the trap of thinking that just because you fit one characteristic of a stereotype you hear, that you fit the others, or that you're somehow "proving" it to be true. If you don't become sexually active until your twenties, it doesn't mean you'll be reinforcing a stereotype, or you'll develop those other negative attributes you mention. If other people are judging you for not being sexual yet, that's much more of a negative reflection on them than it is on you.

Ultimately, even if you're feeling impatient or frustrated, there are some things it's just not going to be healthy to compromise on when evaluating potential partners. I encourage you to take some time to think about the criteria you've been using to evaluate people up until now, to see if there are any change you'd like to make to your approach, but if your goal is to focus on healthy relationships and positive sexual experiences, it's going to be best to hold out for people who have those same goals in mind for their own intimate relationships.

I'm going to leave you with some links to articles about creating and evaluating relationships that I think can also be helpful:

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