Rocky Balboa’s Expert Dating Advice
What a Boxing Movie Taught Me About Dating
If you are a self-motivator, a sports fan, or simply a Sylvester Stallone fan, then chances are that you've heard Rocky Balboa's speech that he gives his son in the 2006 film. (Need a refresher? Check out the movie scene above. A written transcript of the speech can be found here.) A motivational gem, it has helped carry me through everything from sporting competitions to traumatic life events. While sports and difficult life experiences go hand in hand with the theme of the speech, it doesn't take much to see how it can apply to another aspect of life: Dating. Here is why parts of this speech really stood out to me in my dating days and why it can be useful for you too.
The [Dating] World Ain’t All Sunshine and Rainbows
Dating is hard. You are trying to find someone that you can happily build a life with, someone you can thrive with, and someone who will strive with you to make sure you both succeed. Along the way, you'll meet a wide gamut of people, and the experiences you can have with these people are as varied as the people themselves. With that in mind, there is no way to list every single experience you may have nor every type of person you may date, but it is safe to assume the following: You will find people you care about, people you genuinely love, people you think you love but actually don’t, people who love you but you don’t have the same feelings for, people who don't have those same feelings for you, people who are abusive (to themselves, to you and to others), and more. In short, you’ll have some of the best experiences and you’ll have some of the worst. The good times will create memories and experiences that will make you a better person, the bad times will do the same—usually with a dose of serious heartache. I think Rocky’s view on the world can apply easily to dating: “It [can be] a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.” Do you know anyone who has been immobilized by fear when it comes to dating? I certainly do. Heck, I’ve been that person, as I’m pretty sure almost everyone has.
It’s Not About How Hard You Hit
Rocky’s advice for dating continues, though. “But it ain't about how hard [dating life hits you.] It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward…”
I’ve never boxed, and I don’t pretend to understand just how nasty it can get. I can only imagine an opponent twice or three times my size beating me to a pulp in the corner of the ring, and at that point (if my brain is working at all anymore), I’d be hard pressed to be thinking about anything other than how much those punches hurt.
Applying this to dating, I think the best correlation is being afraid of how much it can hurt to open up your heart to someone. It makes you vulnerable. It is hard to look at the menacing boxer that is dating life, standing across the ring from you, and think, “I want to let down my defenses, so that the next punch that comes hurts even worse.”
This is the wrong mentality. Rocky, in this scene, deliberately tells us not to focus on how strong our opponent is, but rather how strong we are. Focus on how strong you are. Focus on the knowledge that you’ve been through difficulties before, ones that you never thought you’d make it through. Focus on how good things will be if you take a chance and it pays off. Focus on the fact that you can take the hits, because you’re tougher than your fear would ever have you believe, and it’s time that you prove it.
That’s How Winning is Done!
So, what does ‘winning’ look like in dating? It depends on your goal. What do you want out of dating?
If you’re dating to find someone to build a life together with, someone who thrives with you, then finding (and building) that relationship is how you ‘win.’ For the purposes of today, that is the goal I will assume you are working towards, mostly because emotionally or physically intimate dating, with no long term goal, is like entering an endless boxing tournament where the prize trophies have been replaced with cheap counterfeit knockoffs. Sure, you can keep going round after round, opponent after opponent, but why would you ever do that to yourself?
You will never find a perfect person who will suddenly solve all your problems. Even if such a person existed, that would be one very unhealthy relationship.
What if you’ve been in the dating game for a while now, you’ve taken some hard hits but you have nothing to show for it? How do you know that you’re making progress? Well, have you given up? Are you still ‘moving forward?’ If you haven’t given up, then you’re making progress.
The Most Important Part
Which brings me to the part of Rocky’s speech that I think is most important when talking about dating. Rocky states: “Now if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth.” There’s a lot packed into this little phrase. What are you worth, when it comes to dating? How do you determine that? (Hint: We're not talking about money here.) Here are some questions to consider.
Are you trustworthy? Then don’t settle for someone who is not. Are you kind? Then don’t settle for someone who is not. Are you a resilient and hard worker? Then don’t settle for someone who is not. As you improve yourself and what you bring to the table in a relationship, you can rest assured that you deserve at the very least someone who is willing to do the same.
After you know what you are worth and once you’re back in the dating game, Rocky gives this final advice: “But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that!”
Rocky's final wisdom is both a dose of personal responsibility and a battlecry to never give up. Personal responsibility is vital in relationships. No matter what stage of dating you are in, you cannot control the other person, and only an emotionally immature person would try. Everything boils down to what you can do yourself. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of blaming other people because "you ain't where you wanna be." (The spanish translation for this phrase of the speech translates to "you aren't who you want to be," and I think that speaks volumes here.) If you are unhappy with where you are or what kind of person you are, you can do something to improve yourself. Blaming someone (or something) else is dangerous because when you cast blame on something else, you also assign it both responsibility and power over your current circumstances. Worst of all, if you continually blame something else for the aspects of your dating life that aren't ideal, you may actually start to believe that you are powerless to improve your own dating life, and that's a sad state of affairs.
Learn from your mistakes when you move forward. If you suffer a break up, take the good and leave the bad. You have the power to forge yourself into a better person every day, one experience at a time, and as you do so your confidence will grow. You will know that you are becoming worthier to get what it is that you want.
Secondly, you have to be willing to take the hits. You have to be willing to risk the hard times in order to have the good ones.
So Now That You’ve ‘Won,’ Everything is Easy, Right?
In some ways, life is easier when you’ve found someone who will stick by your side. Many of the nuisances and the drama that pervades the dating world can be shed or left behind. It would be misleading to believe that life suddenly and magically stops being hard, though. Life is still a massive, jacked-up, pissed-off, roid-raging opponent who (it sometimes seems) will stop at nothing to beat you into submission. So what’s the difference? Simple: Now it is a tag-team match, and your partner can step in when you’re against the ropes.
It is a common practice after a wedding for the newlywed husband to carry his wife in his arms when they come out of the church, venue, or courthouse that they were married in. Referring to this practice, I read something that rang true for me. In a marriage, the couple takes turns carrying each other. There will be days that one of the spouses will not be physically, emotionally, or mentally capable of carrying their own weight (so to speak) in a relationship. It is during those times that the other spouse takes over, carrying both themselves and their partner.
This isn’t a fun thing. There have been times that I have been unable to care for myself or my family, and seeing the burden fall to my wife was devastating to me. On the other hand, there are days when my wife needs a little extra help, and there is no better way to repay her kindness than to pick up the slack. Most often, you both shoulder the burdens of life together. You’re a team now. Your success depends on each other.
The second piece of advice that I’ve taken to heart and think you would find most useful is this: Every relationship requires work. You can choose to do the work on the front end of the relationship or on the back, but either way the work will need to be done if the relationship is to thrive.
What do I mean by work? Well, honestly, it depends. Sometimes it is social work that involves understanding how your significant other deals with stressful situations and how you can best help them through it. Sometimes it is learning how to communicate feelings and desires or helping them do so. Sometimes it is work related to your finances. Sometimes it is literal physical work.
When my wife and I were dating, it was a common practice among our friends and acquaintances to be engaged or even married within a month or two after they began dating. She and I, who dated for over a year, were the ‘slow’ ones. (Although, our other friends who dated for years before getting engaged looked as us and thought we were going fast. It’s all about perspective, I suppose.)
I could never have married someone within a month of starting to date them, and I was always a little skeptical of those who did. I wanted to know the person well first. I needed to know their friends, their family, how they react when stressed, angry or sad. I needed to learn the best way to communicate with them. I needed to see how they treat their parents and if they were good around children. Were they good with money? How would they handle a disagreement about money, or anything else for that matter? I needed to know if they and I would be compatible together even when life wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows and we were both tired, “hangry” and stressed.
For me, it was better to get as much of the work done before marriage as possible. For others, that wasn’t as important, and they were willing to put off some of the work for later. Regardless, the work has to be done.
So keep this in mind as you continue to push through the dating scene. I don't know what your circumstances are, but I know it isn't easy for anyone. Don't give up. Figure out what you are worth, and what it is that would be worth taking the hits for, and then go get it.
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