Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What's what

I received the following "article" in an e-mail from one of the dating sites that still has me on their mailing list. It's always good to reread these kinds of lists because they help to focus all those silly ideas, feelings, and questions that are floating around inside one's head. In the past I've often found it hard to describe some of the ideals and needs that I look for in a guy. This seems like a very good set of basics. I think it's a very fair list of traits that people could keep in mind when assessing a relationship.

What's important?

The key to dating well is to know yourself and your partner deeply enough to be able to accurately observe the ways that you interact from the beginning stages of the relationship’s development. The feeling of new love is like nothing else, but if you are completely swept away in emotion to the point that you are ignoring obvious incompatibilities, you might find that months and maybe even years down the road that you feel "cheated" in your relationship. By ignoring the following seven similarities you could be missing out on a much more satisfying and happy relationship.

When I read it this time, it reaffirmed some of the choices I've made in my life. It reminded me about why my guy is often right and where sometimes my rationale for decisions is sometimes unrealistic. Attitudes and priorities change as you grow older, no answer is perfect. The best you can do is be honest with yourself about who you are versus who you want to be at that point in time.

1. Spiritual Harmony
Although not always referring to religious affiliation, spiritual harmony refers to a shared perception of God or a higher power as well as how much weight spiritual belief weighs in on your life. It is about the relationship of spirituality in your life. If you are religious or very spiritual and your partner has a very low level, there may be problems, especially if marriage and children follow.

I'm not religious, so it goes to say that I'd prefer someone who is similar. I dated someone Catholic in college. I learned a lot, and I know I don't want to deal with that again.

2. Desire for Verbal Intimacy and Ability to be Intimate
Intimacy is what romantic relationships are all about—emotional intimacy, mental intimacy, physical intimacy, and for many spiritual intimacy. A committed, monogamous relationship is a special union in which you can share the most intimate sides of yourself and so can your partner with you. As part of sharing this intimacy, there are three key factors: the ability to connect with another through caring, interest and compassion, the ability to express, and the ability to listen well. Beyond those skills, both partners must have mutual desire to get to know the other on all of these levels. Love is a total package, and one that must be wanted equally by both parties.

This one is very important even though I would never say I'm very good at it. My problem is that, in the past, I've bottled up feelings when I've **really** liked a guy. I'm afraid to rock the boat or scare him off by talking about my hopes for a future together. I also fear showing a side of me that seems insecure or annoying because they will like me less or realize they don't want to be with someone who acts like that. It's something I've worked on through friends, through my therapist. I also need to know that he'll tell me what he's thinking when he's brooding in the corner. I can't read minds, and it's totally frustrating when it's brushed off as nothing.

3. Energy Level
The energy level of a person may sound like something simple, but it can affect many things about a person, including other key similarities partners should share such as ambition level, interests and personal habits. If the disposition of your partner is more low-key and your disposition is all about high energy wave-making, you can be sure that there will be future problems to contend with—you’ll want to go, go, go, and your partner will feel pressured and may even pressure you to slow down, down, down.

This is definitely important. I don't want a couch potato but I could never keep up with a party-hopper. Sometimes I wish I'd done more of the clubbing scene in my twenties, but it's just not my pace. I like being up at a decent hour, like 9am, because so much can get done before noon. I've never understood people who wake up at noon on weekends.

4. Ambition Level
Differences in ambition levels can wreak havoc in relationships because work and achievement is such a large part of our culture, and work in most cases is necessary for survival. Those who are highly goal-driven will have a hard time understanding why their partner seems to be "aimless" or is not interested in accomplishing anything, when to their partner, they may seem like they never take time to stop and simply enjoy life for what it is. And yet, life for what it is to the ambitious is work and achievement. Therefore, ambition level is best when relatively similar.

This has definitely been a reason for not wanting to continue dating one guy. He would constantly complain about his company and his job and yet he stayed there for years. Even now, (we're still friends) he has a somewhat aimless career. It would have driven me nuts. I have no interest in being the wife of a CEO who's never home, but certainly I want someone who cares and nurtures their career.

5. Role Expectations
Not just about traditional roles of who stays home and who works, role expectations can involve everything from who does particular household tasks such as shopping and taking out the trash to who pays on a date to how a person should dress. Role expectations should be similar and compatible. It is not so important what the roles chosen are, but that both partners enjoy and are happy with mutual expectations that partners have for each other.

I don't think I consciously think about this, not this comprehensively. I do always joke about who's going to cook or fold laundry so this descriptor captures the bigger pictures. I'd like to have it be fairly equal but I think there are just some things that one person will do better than the other. I'm not June Cleaver though it might be fun to try for a few months.

6. Interests
Relationships are built on love, attraction, compatibility and a history of shared experiences. Interests help to create those shared experiences that become memories of happy moments spent together. Looking back, participating in particular interests becomes evidence of the good times and love that you have shared. While all interests do not have to be the same, and partners can introduce really enjoyable independent interests, the major ones should be relatively similar. If your idea of a Saturday involves a beach chair and a great new bestselling book, but your partner is more into hiking, biking and rock climbing on his days off, or if your partner’s idea of riveting entertainment is rental movies and take out on a Saturday night but you’re already dressed and ready to go out to paint the town red, you may want to reconsider whether your interest aligns enough for a long-term relationship.

This is definitely something that makes a difference. The one thing that can be hard to tell is whether a hobby someone has is something incompatible or something that you need to give a good try. My cousin has dated men who were into the outdoors. She tried camping once, but it wasn't fun. She's an urban girl. Her tolerance is a half-day hike within 20 miles of modern facilities. On the other hand, CC's sister-in-law was a total urban girl until she started dating her current boyfriend. She couldn't stop talking about his awesome body, now goes camping with him often, and works out constantly. They never would have imagined her new-found interest in the outdoors. When I look at couples I know, it definitely seems to be a better fit if they enjoy similar things like playing piano, board games, cooking, parties, traveling. It's amazing how long couples can debate, even argue, over the color they want to paint the house and what fabric and style to choose for new drapes.

7. Personal Habits
Personal habits are often overlooked during the "honeymoon stage" of any relationship. In fact, even some of the most off-putting habits later declared as near-deal-breakers are even regarded as "cute" or endearing. Whether or not your partner is on time or runs chronically late, is clean or messy, is responsible financially or plays things more "loose"—all of these personal habits come into play. Additionally, habits like weight management or fitness activity level are equally important. There may be other personal habits that particularly resonate with you as being unacceptable—make sure you watch out for them and agree to come to terms with them; most times habits are hard to break and even harder when they’re not likely to change.

I'd guess this is the reason many people move in together before getting married. People want to know if they can get along. As much as two people might spend their time together, it's impossible to know these things unless you live in the same space and share responsibilities. There are things to be fixed, places to be cleaned, bills to be paid. A guy who's bachelor apartment is strewn with junk mail that's been collecting for years or who's bathroom hasn't been cleaned for 5+ years (yes, I have male friends like this) is going to have to change. Can he? I want someone who I believe wants to take care of himself. I don't want to be a mother who has to clean up after someone or remind him to watch his calories and salt intake. I have to admit, I want someone who wants to look attractive, though not someone who spends more time or money on it than me. For me, I still don't like the idea of living with someone until I'm engaged or married. Who knows what will actually happen, I just want to know there's serious commitment before I take that big step.

This list has been interesting because, often, when little things have bothered me about someone I've dated, I worried that I was being picky or looking for excuses. Seeing this list, however, reminds me that some of these little things can turn into bigger things if I don't talk them through to determine whether or not they are serious issues.

Nothing, of course, is ever perfect. There will always be compromise. I see from married friends that you learn to know how to pick your battles or present things in ways that minimize conflict. I don't know that I really understand the criteria for marriage. There's so much uncertainty involved compared to dating because you have to think about the long term.


Lost said...

I. Love. This.

This was great! I completely agree. Especially the one about the ambition. One of the things that drove me crazy about an exbf is that he seemed aimless and never seemed to put in the effort to achieve his goals. I was the extreme opposite. I would crazy if I didn't strive for things. Things don't need to be crystal, but I like to be on the road to getting clarity or close to what I want!

Thanks for this insightful and reaffirming post!

zerodoll said...

Interesting, I never thought of energy levels as a compatibility test but it really makes sense. I'm a homebody and laidback and didn't like dating guys that wanted to go out clubbing and partying all the time.

An interesting read!

Sitcomgirl said...

That was a very interesting read. I've thought a lot about the intimacy and energy level topics in my relationships and in pondering new ones, but not as much the others. Good things to keep in mind when dating and assessing whether to continue a relationship with someone. Thanks for posting that!