Being clear and being romantic

This guest post is by Brigid Rankowski, a disability advocate, author, circus performer, LGBTQ+ advocate and the reigning Miss Mermaid Maine. 

By Brigid Rankowski
Brigid Rankowski

Starting a new relationship with romantic intentions is intimidating. Let’s imagine we have the power to bypass the whole game of online dating and instead, we are directly faced with someone who we have a “spark” with. Once we meet that special person, everything else is totally easy and the hard work is done, right? 


For those of us who have either not been in many relationships or who have been in toxic relationships, a new relationship may have an unexpected challenge people don’t realize. We will be faced with the question “what does a healthy relationship look like?” We are the only ones who know the correct answer for us. What looks like a healthy boundary or expectation to one person may not be what another person is looking for in a relationship. I’m not talking about the big stuff, like having kids, marriage, joint bank accounts or what side of the bed a person sleeps on. It is actually the smaller details that make the biggest impact on a relationship.  

So how do we figure out what we want in a healthy relationship? First off, it is highly likely we already know at least a little bit of what we don’t want in a relationship. Make a list of the parts of a relationship you know and give yourself permission to dream big about what your ideal relationship could be. Thinking about how often you want to talk, how you want to communicate with a partner (via text or phone calls, for example), and how often you want to see each other are all good places to start.  

Once you make a list and figure out what you want in a partnership, you need to think about how you communicate those needs with a potential suitor. For me, I reached into the past and brought out a tool I honestly never thought I’d willingly use in my adult life. 

Index cards! 

Back in the fall, I began a courting relationship with a great guy, but I had some serious anxiety around talking to him about relationship expectations. The anxiety was around thinking that it would be very un-romantic to take time to sit down and discuss my expectations while learning about his. (There is a scene in the newest romantic comedy movie starring Sandra Bullock where she sits down with a partner to talk about how often she is comfortable receiving text messages from him.)   

It was nerve-racking to think about having a spontaneous conversation when what I really wanted was to create an environment around listening to his needs and sharing my own. The thing about carving out time to sit and discuss, verbally or nonverbally, the small things that really matter to us in a relationship is that it is romantic in a real way that movies won’t ever be able to capture.  

The index cards had some simple rules 

  • Decide who goes first when reading and responding to the cards. 
  • Go back and forth for each card. 
  • Be truthful, honest, clear and transparent. 
  • Don’t overshare or tell stories in response to the card. 
  • Actively listen and don’t interrupt. 
  • For clarification, say, “Can I ask you a follow up question on this one?” when it’s your turn. 
  • Feel free to rephrase or simplify a question. 
  • It is totally valid to say, “I don’t know the answer to this one.” 

The thing about these cards is that they have the potential to evolve and it doesn’t take too much time to use them. We began to regularly use the flash cards to get to know each other better, and the “I don’t know” answers become answered over time. The answers helped both of us because way too often, we don’t take the time to really think critically about relationships with a goal of a succinct answer. Using multi-colored index cards with pictures on them can also lighten the mood when discussing serious boundaries that would otherwise put us on edge or make us anxious.  

So, as you make your own index cards, lists or illustrations, know that the experience of getting to know someone new can be so romantic in a way you have never seen in the movies. Sharing your history, your boundaries, expectations, hopes, dreams and wishes with someone will bring you closer together or make it clear that you have different needs in a partner. That’s okay!  

Making your boundaries clear in a relationship is a gift to your companion because you are saying, “This is how I can be my personal best.” By thinking more about what matters to you, you will also get to know yourself better. As you continue to grow, some things you didn’t think mattered might actually become more important to you in a relationship. For those of us who have a history of unhealthy couplings, it can be very hard to say to ourselves, “Yes, this matters to me,” without trying to shrink ourselves for a potential paramour.  

As for me and the amazing man I was courting? The flash cards brought us closer together and he very quickly became one of my best friends. I learned through interacting with him that the expectations I had for a relationship weren’t “too much,” they were quite healthy and it gave me permission to expect more support from those who I support so freely. It reminded me that the love I share with others should also be shared with me and the important people will accept me as I am, without needing to be something different.