If They Wanted to, Would They?

Is the internet offering you sound dating advice?

Jasmine Garcha (she/they) // Contributor
Tara Asadi // Illustrator

If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “If they wanted to, they would” in response to a relationship where one party is, at surface level, making a grander romantic effort than the other. People will make posts explaining how their partner is “underperforming” in their eyes, whether it be by not buying them flowers or by not proposing with 5 different rings so that they get to choose which one they like. The comments will tell the poster or other people who may be reading, “Break up with them because if they wanted to, they would.”

If your significant other wanted to make the effort or do things for you, would they simply snap their fingers and do them? Is it reasonable to assume that everyone knows what’s going on in your head and can figure out what you expect from them? I don’t think so.

It’s not fair to hold everyone to that standard. I’m not Akinator; I can’t accurately take a guess at what you expect from me. I’ve never been in a relationship and thought, “maybe I should take complete guesses at everything Maria wants from me and perform insanely grand gestures for her instead of having a mature conversation about what we expect from each other.”

Not everyone has the same relationship experiences. It’d be a gross overstatement to assume that all people are simple creatures who function at the same baseline which you get to set for your partner. Not everyone thinks the same or has had the same experiences, so there can’t be a one-size-fits-all relationship formula. Everyone has heard different things about dating; some people have been told to play hard to get or to save special moments for special occasions. It’s reasonable to expect that you’ll need to have a mature conversation with your partner in order to understand what you both want from each other, rather than expecting people to merely know in simple, “if they wanted to, they would” fashion.

On top of having different experiences, everyone also has a different love language. Your love language presents itself in two forms – how you receive love, and how you show love. The only way to accurately understand what this looks like for you, your partner, and your relationship is by, you guessed it, having a conversation with your significant other about what you expect from each other. 

Your relationship won’t look the same as your friends or the relationships of people you see posting on the internet because everyone functions differently. It’s totally possible that your partner simply expresses love differently than what you’re used to. Or perhaps something is holding them back. Honestly, there have been many things that I’ve wanted to do, but didn’t. Humans are too complex to be boiled down to such a simple phrase. You don’t know what’s going on in your partner’s head; maybe they’re a chronic overthinker and are worried that they’re being too clingy. Maybe they’re trying to respect your space. If you landed on the assumption “they simply do not want to,” then perhaps they landed on an assumption about you, too. Again, it all comes back to having a mature conversation about your expectations.

One thing everyone should remember is that communicating your needs to your partner is not the same thing as playing build-a-boyfriend. Your partner doesn’t come pre-programmed with a manual for how to love you the way you need to be loved.

If you have to chase and beg your partner to pay attention to you, there’s definitely a problem. But if you’re aching at the thought of having to message your partner first, schedule the plans first, or the thought of having to talk to your partner about your expectations for one another… maybe your partner isn’t the problem. Someone has to message first. What if your significant other is holding the same mental attitude about you? It should go both ways. The whole idea of playing mental gymnastics to try and “win” your relationship is petty and unnecessary. When did it become uncool to just talk to each other and try to understand each other?

So, in response to those who say, “If they wanted to, they would,” I’d just like to say – if you wanted to communicate your needs to your partner, would you?

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