Waitbutwhy has a great 2 part article called “How to Pick Your Life Partner” and it is fantastic.
This is a bit late for Valentines Day, but that’s the starting point of the post. In case you couldn’t guess by stances I’ve taken and sentiments I’ve shared in past on various topics, I’m not a big fan of valentines day. As with many holidays, Valentine’s Day has basically been corrupted and co-opted by consumerism and basically, as I’ve heard it put, “gives people one day to make up for 364 days of being a less than ideal partner”. That’s obviously an overly cynical viewpoint, but I do think it’s fair to say that in a good relationship, every day (or week) should be a day where you show your partner that you care about them and appreciate them. Having a holiday where you pull out all the stops, spend a bunch of money, seems totally unnecessary. Isn’t that what you do on their birthday anyways? Not to mention the sexist idea that typically it’s the women who get spoiled by the men. I think The Simpsons effectively nailed it on this subject. But I digress.
So this article basically talks about a bunch of relationship myths and I think really zeroes in on the truly important things:
Dissatisfied single people should actually consider themselves in a neutral, fairly hopeful position, compared to what their situation could be. A single person who would like to find a great relationship is one step away from it, with their to-do list reading, “1) Find a great relationship.” People in unhappy relationships, on the other hand, are three leaps away, with a to-do list of “1) Go through a soul-crushing break-up. 2) Emotionally recover. 3) Find a great relationship.” Not as bad when you look at it that way, right?
I never thought about it like that before, but yeah, that’s true. I would say it’s totally fair to say I have avoided entering into relationships (or even going on more than one date) with women before because my brain was defiantly telling me “if I’m not convinced that I will never have to break up with her, then this isn’t happening”. Like, not that I’m afraid to commit, but that I refuse to commit to “the wrong person”. Because I don’t ever want to have to break up with someone. Or fire someone. Basically, I don’t like giving people bad emotional news. Of course, you can never know, because people change, and “the rest of your life” is a long time. So you just have to enjoy them while it “works”.
And when you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations, your primary leisure time and retirement friend, your career therapist, and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times.
See, I am kind of doubtful of if I can even do a serious relationship, because I like a lot of “me” time, i’m pretty independent (I’m totally not opposed to going to movies or events by myself so that I can arrive and leave precisely when I want to) and because, as stuck up as this may sound, I find very few people interesting enough that I think I would want to talk to them every day, for 18,000 days. In fairness, as interesting as I think I am, I have totally bored people after just a few minutes on multiple occasions, so yeah, it’s give and take. I’m not saying I’m some amazing catch and that I am the only one who is going to have to compromise. But I must say I have been liking the idea of open relationships a little bit more because you can get what you need when you need it, from whoever can best supply it, vs trying to get everything from one person. Of course I’m still working on myself internally for this sort of thing to be possible. You don’t just flick a switch overnight to turn off a monogamous instinct.
People tend to be bad at knowing what they want from a relationship
Studies have shown people to be generally bad, when single, at predicting what later turn out to be their actual relationship preferences. One study found that speed daters questioned about their relationship preferences usually prove themselves wrong just minutes later with what they show to prefer in the actual event.4
This shouldn’t be a surprise—in life, you usually don’t get good at something until you’ve done it a bunch of times. Unfortunately, not many people have a chance to be in more than a few, if any, serious relationships before they make their big decision. There’s just not enough time. And given that a person’s partnership persona and relationship needs are often quite different from the way they are as a single person, it’s hard as a single person to really know what you want or need from a relationship.
Yup. The numerous posts on classifieds sites like Craigslist about “must be such and such” are definitely a hint towards many people thinking they want something, but their either never find it, or they find it but it never wants them back (I’ve kind of experienced both). It has taken me many years to figure out that the best bet is probably to have a baseline of “dealbreakers”, and try and build from there. I definitely have a type (mostly in the appearance sense), but have yet to meet someone who is that type where romance has been born. So i’ve been re-training myself to go more by feeling than type. I meet someone, we talk, we hang out, how do I feel? Do I get bored quick or not? Am I often amused by things they say? Do I feel social and sexual chemistry? Basically, do I want to keep spending time with the person? Because even if she is exactly my type, for one reason or another, I may not want to keep spending time with them.
Society encourages us to stay uneducated and let romance be our guide.
If you’re running a business, conventional wisdom states that you’re a much more effective business owner if you study business in school, create well thought-out business plans, and analyze your business’s performance diligently. This is logical, because that’s the way you proceed when you want to do something well and minimize mistakes.
But if someone went to school to learn about how to pick a life partner and take part in a healthy relationship, if they charted out a detailed plan of action to find one, and if they kept their progress organized rigorously in a spreadsheet, society says they’re A) an over-rational robot, B) way too concerned about this, and C) a huge weirdo.
No, when it comes to dating, society frowns upon thinking too much about it, instead opting for things like relying on fate, going with your gut, and hoping for the best. If a business owner took society’s dating advice for her business, she’d probably fail, and if she succeeded, it would be partially due to good luck—and that’s how society wants us to approach dating.
Yeeeeesssssss. Oh my freaking gosh, yes! I swear, at least half of the romantic comedies that get made would not even need to exist if more people understood this! It’s one of those things they do NOT teach in school, but should (like managing personal finance). Even if you start dating really young, say 13 or 14, you don’t necessarily have the wisdom/maturity/good sense to learn from these relationships. It’s not surprising that the divorce rate among couples that marry really young are so high. We ask friends and family for advice, but who says they know any better? Both my parents re-married after they got divorced, but I can tell you I would never ask one of my parents for relationship advice because that parent seems to have learned absolutely nothing.
Of course, emotion is the X Factor, as a friend of mine pointed out, and that is still the part I’m struggling the most with, about how the fresh relationship butterflies can definitely cloud your judgement and how when you’re too close to something emotionally, you lose some perspective.
Society rushes us.
In our world, the major rule is to get married before you’re too old—and “too old” varies from 25 – 35, depending on where you live. The rule should be “whatever you do, don’t marry the wrong person,” but society frowns much more upon a 37-year-old single person than it does an unhappily married 37-year-old with two children. It makes no sense—the former is one step away from a happy marriage, while the latter must either settle for permanent unhappiness or endure a messy divorce just to catch up to where the single person is.
A few years ago, one of my co-workers at the time showed me a book one of her family members had given her (read: practically jammed into her hands), called “The Panic Years: A Guide to Surviving Smug Married Friends, Bad Taffeta, and Life on the Wrong Side of 25 without a Ring” (I refuse to link to it). Literally, a book that says if you’re over 25 and not married yet, you need to “trap a man”. Like, how effing messed up is that? I only barely started to have a CLUE as to who I even was as a person at the age of 25. Be married? Are you kidding? Even 5 years later, I still don’t feel I’m anywhere near ready to think about that sort of thing. Of course, I’m a guy, so there’s far less social stigma on me, but still.
But no, if you’re not hitched and pregnant by your mid-late twenties, well something is wrong with you. Because married and babies are all that matter! I know this isn’t true everywhere, but as I’ve slid through my mid-late twenties, I’ve been in the vicinity of more of these talks than I’m content with. Not everyone even wants to get married (hello!), or have kids (hello again!), at least not until they’re ready, but unless you are really firm in your resolve, that may not matter. But two of the least advisable things you can do, are put yourself into an unhappy relationship based on someone else’s expectations, and to bring children into this world if you didn’t really want them.
Next the article breaks down a few “types” of people who tend to shoot themselves in the foot in relationships:
The overly romantic person repeatedly ignores the little voice that tries to speak up when he and his girlfriend are fighting constantly or when he seems to feel much worse about himself these days than he used to before the relationship, shutting the voice down with thoughts like “Everything happens for a reason and the way we met couldn’t have just been coincidence” and “I’m totally in love with her, and that’s all that matters”—once an overly romantic person believes he’s found his soul mate, he stops questioning things, and he’ll hang onto that belief all the way through his 50 years of unhappy marriage.
Externally-Influenced Ed lets other people play way too big a part in the life partner decision. The choosing of a life partner is deeply personal, enormously complicated, different for everyone, and almost impossible to understand from the outside, no matter how well you know someone. As such, other people’s opinions and preferences really have no place getting involved, other than an extreme case involving mistreatment or abuse.
The saddest example of this is someone breaking up with a person who would have been the right life partner because of external disapproval or a factor the chooser doesn’t actually care about (religion is a common one) but feels compelled to stick to for the sake of family insistence or expectations.
Shallow Sharon is more concerned with the on-paper description of her life partner than the inner personality beneath it. There are a bunch of boxes that she needs to have checked—things like his height, job prestige, wealth-level, accomplishments, or maybe a novelty item like being foreign or having a specific talent.
Everyone has certain on-paper boxes they’d like checked, but a strongly ego-driven person prioritizes appearances and résumés above even the quality of her connection with her potential life partner when weighing things.
aka “the scantron partner”
And there are a few more but I don’t want to completely repost the entire article here.
Also, read part 2, which talks more specifically about healthy, positive relationships and what they take.