My client Quinton was never quite satisfied. Even when he was, clearly, satisfied, he always wondered if he could be more satisfied. He moved twice in one year because he found an apartment he liked better four months into his first lease. It was a mess, but he got “the apartment of his dreams.” Or so he thought. Naturally, nothing and nowhere and no one is perfect. He realized later that both apartments had great qualities, and a few minor issues. He probably did not need to spend all that money breaking his lease and moving twice. But that’s what he did.
It was the same with dating. Online dating sent Quinton spinning. All the possibilities! How could he ever pick one? He tried. He would meet someone he liked tremendously, date her for a few weeks, and then start checking out profiles to see if there was someone even better suited to him, who lived closer, liked travel more, or had a better job. “What was wrong with Laura?” I asked him once about a woman he dated for 3 weeks then dumped. “Nothing. She’s great,” he moaned.” I don’t know what is wrong with me.”
I did. Quinton’s was suffering from chronic dissatisfaction—aka “grass is always greener”—syndrome.
What is that about? If we believe that a new relationship, car, house, job will make us happy, we are displacing our internal dissatisfaction onto something external. Chronic or repeat daters, shoppers, movers, job hunters are often in this category. Rather than looking inward, they constantly seek to fill their holes with something they can acquire. What happens then? Once the honeymoon stage is over and the newness of the ____ (fill in the blank: person, job, apartment) wears off, the dissatisfaction returns. Well, to be honest, it never left in the first place.
Possible reasons for this syndrome:
The “if/when” pitfall. Some people live forever in the fantasy word of tomorrow, believing that “if” they only ___ (fill in the blank: lost weight, lived in the south/north/east/west, had a better apartment, found the perfect boy/girlfriend) then they’d be happy. In the dating world, this situation is responsible for unrealistic fantasies and unfair idealizations of the “perfect partner” they will never find. So they keep trying. This is a tough place for both partners. If you are the “grass-is-greener” partner you will be disappointed to realize no one can make you happy, only you can do that. If you are the partner expected to make all happiness manifest… you’re screwed, since you can’t do that. The truth will out.
Envy. Pure and simple envy—focusing on things others have that we don’t—will eat your soul. The only antidote for envy is gratitude, and this is a quality of mind that can be cultivated.
The curse of too many choices. A culture in which “the next big thing” is always being touted breeds chronic dissatisfaction. If you can’t keep a smartphone whenever a new one is released, this may be you. Love the one you’re with is good advice here. Comparing your partner to someone you have not met yet but who might be out there is not going to go well for anyone!
Commitment-phobia. It often seems easier to start over than face the realities of commitment: the day-to-day being that is the next stage after becoming. If you are addicted to “new love” but can’t face just plain old wonderful “love,” you may be seeking greener grass as a means of commitment-avoidance.
Prey to feel-good marketing. Our society is on commercial overdrive. We are barraged on a daily basis with marketing that insists that we can feel better, look better, look younger, have the perfect stomach, erection, elbow skin, you name it. We are becoming a culture that is never satisfied with how we are now. Or how our partner is now. So we want something “more perfect.”
Entitlement. Don’t I deserve perfect happiness at all times? Isn’t that what my parents taught me, not to mention all those movies? Alas, we often grow up not realizing that happiness is not a right, but a privilege, and that we are responsible for making it. Our actions (the work we do, the good we do, the love we create) are what count. Yes, Virginia, there may be a Santa Claus, but there is no fairy godmother who is going to wave her wand to make sure everything is perfect for you. And besides—there is no “perfect!”
Look down at the grass under your feet. (Or snow, as the case may be.) Is it beautiful to you, or do you find yourself glancing at the neighbor’s lawn? If you see your grass as being qualitatively different from all the other grass on the block, those familiar feelings of un-fulfillment are probably torturing you. It is not a fun place to be. My first advice is: hire a coach or seek a counselor who can help you become grounded in the here and now instead of the ever-elusive “what-if” future.
Whether you are chronically dissatisfied or are dating someone who is—there are some things you can do right now. Let’s take a peek:
✓ Feel gratitude. As I mentioned earlier, gratitude can be cultivated. Every day say aloud, or better yet, write down, the things you feel truly grateful for in your life—current relationships, lifestyle, career, home etc.
✓ Figure out what you need. Needs are limited, wants are endless. Work on the short list.
✓ Practice mindfulness. Focus on your awareness of the present moment while acknowledging and accepting yourself fully—feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations. This practice keeps us in the present and out of our “future” wants.
✓ Slow down. The rat race is bringing you down? Jump off the treadmill. Breathe. Look around you. Smile.
You want green grass? You gotta water it. Nurturing where you are now will make any seeds you plant grow to fullness and fill you with satisfaction. I want that for you.