February 16, 2015

Can't Every Day be Valentines Day? Picking the Right Partner for Lifelong Love


By Crabby McSlacker

Note: Altra Shoe Giveaway Winner announced by the End of Today, stay tuned!

So Valentines Day is over, and we're done with all the flowers and candy and cards and jewelry and candle-lit dinners in snooty overpriced restaurants.

Do you ignore it or did you celebrate? If you played along, did you find a way to make it meaningful and fun or did it leave you feeling a little let down or lonely?

Even if you had a lovely Valentines day (we did!), doesn't it seem a little weird that we set aside a single day to show love and appreciation... right during the middle Gum Disease Awareness Month? (And I'm not making that up! I just got an urgent PR email about it).

This was originally going to be a handful of post V-day relationship tips for keeping the love going 365 days a year, for decade after decade. But when I went to write 'em up? I realized that the most crucial relationship-saving tip in the world is: to pick the right partner in the first place.  And by the time I climbed off my soap box about that, the post was already too long to get to any other tips.


We are Totally Disgustingly Happy, So I Figure Everyone Else Should Get to Be Too.

While I mostly write a lot about physical fitness and nutrition, I write from a place of constant struggle and mixed success. (And yet, somehow that doesn't stop me from giving advice to others!)

But one area where I feel pretty damn smug: finding the perfect partner. (I should say "perfect for me," but hell, I secretly think she'd be perfect for anyone, and I just got lucky and grabbed her up first.)



We'll be celebrating our 25th anniversary this fall, so this ain't no quick fling.  We almost never squabble and we enjoy each other's company immensely, even when we spend a lot of time together. (Try three and a half months in a campervan, for example).

But we also cope well when we spend a lot of time apart! Separation doesn't seem to breed insecurity or resentment or weirdness (just sometimes an extremely messy house if I'm left too long to my own devices).  And the whole spending-weeks-apart thing makes reunions that much more fresh and fun. We end up giggling and grinning and frolicking and saying mushy things to each other as though we were legitimate newlyweds instead of fuddy-duddy oldyweds.

But none of this nauseating over-the-top affection and lack of conflict would be possible if I hadn't found someone so generous, flexible, sensible, smart, funny, charismatic, trustworthy, understanding, and reliable in the first place.

If you have found someone who is similarly amazing and awesome, then you know what I mean! And I'll be curious about what you treasure about your partner and your relationship.  But if you have not yet found someone to hunker down with for the long haul, here are some thoughts.

#1  Don't Rush!


Do I sound just like your mother when she's at her most annoying?  Well, sorry: She's right.

There are many things to love about all kinds of different people. Which is a great reason to sow those wild oats while you are young.

But the kinds of things that will be most important to you in a long term relationship are often not obvious, and it takes a lot of people driving you crazy in all sorts of different ways to know what to steer clear of.

Nothing wrong with having relationships along the way as you learn and grow! Just try not to get too commingled financially or legally until you've sorted things out properly.

(Oh wait... my wife and I met on a cruise to Mexico when we lived thousands of miles apart, had a long-distance telephone courtship for 9 months and then as soon as she could get a job transfer, we bought a condo and moved in together.  Which sounds exactly like the kind of stupidity I'm warning against, right? But, in our defense, we were both in our thirties and had been slutty open-minded enough to have experienced a totally embarrassing number few other relationships first.  We knew this was going to be a forever-type thing from the beginning, and weren't being quite as insane as appearances would suggest.)

And this may sound totally obnoxious, but especially, if at all possible, I'd advise you to RESIST THE URGE TO BREED until you have found someone super-suitable, who is mature and kind and responsible not too f--cked up psychologically.  The repercussions of a failed or abusive relationship are exponentially worse when children are involved.

#2  Pay Attention to the Right Kind of Chemistry

Sure, there is a difference between a friend and a lover, which is why attraction and romance and erotic sparkle are all important. "Like" and "In Love With" are two different feelings.

But I think there are two distinct species of chemistry:

The good kind of chemistry:

In my mind, this is the sort of energy and excitement generated by being with someone who makes you feel good.  Someone who is fun to be with who makes you laugh. A person who gives you the feeling of being understood, cared for, and appreciated.  And also, someone who comes with experiences and interests, who can offer you new perspectives, who knows about interesting things and is open to learning and growing generally, and who has skills and traits you admire.

The key indicator of this kind of chemistry?  This person not only becomes more and more likable over time, based on objectively good qualities and behaviors, but makes you aware that you are likable and quite a catch yourself!

The Bad Kind of Chemistry


Cartoon: natalie Dee

Sadly, it's the unconscious and dysfunctional kind of longing that can feel the "deepest" and most profound, and it could be aimed smack at the person least likely to meet your real-life needs for love and support and connection.

For example: Some people unconsciously long to be caretakers, so they are drawn to people who are broken.

Others were treated badly when they were young, and seek to return to those situations and re-experience those dynamics.

Obvious red flags to avoid, no matter how sizzlin' the chemistry seems? Inflexibility, dishonesty, excessive jealousy, rudeness to others, substance abuse issues, and a long history of interpersonal conflict... even if it's always the "other person's" fault. Actually, especially if it's always the other person's fault.

However, I think the most common problematic partner-choosing chemistry mistake is more subtle:  we feel that someone who is not quite available, either because they are "out of our league" or because they need special care and handling that only we can provide, is by far the most exciting choice for a potential partner. The period of doubt and struggle and the quest to win that person over... how thrilling when victory is ours, right?

Doesn't it make more sense to gravitate towards people who are emotionally open and enthusiastic about us?  Yeah, but we are stupid humans! And we see too many movies and read too many romance novels and get confused about what it means when someone acts as though they are kinda interested in us, but throw up all kinds of barriers to intimacy.

Our cultural narrative seems to say: don't "settle" for someone who is sensible and high-functioning and crazy about you! Your true love lies with the prince or princess high up in the castle. Or, alternatively, with the misunderstood outlaw who is soulful, brooding, wounded, and rough around the edges.  Does this person sometimes treat you badly or withdraw for no reason or cause you all kinds of angst and self-doubt?  Oooh, bonus!  Let's take out our guitars and write a few emo ballads to celebrate!

My old fart take?  Unless a potential partner's emotional unavailability is a temporary situation with a reasonable explanation, it's usually a recipe for heartbreak, betrayal, abandonment, or even abuse. On-again off-again love is like relationship crack... totally compelling but generally Not a Good Idea. It can make you far crazier than simple unrequited love.

photo: slylock

#3. Know What's Important to YOU in a Partnership.

We all have different priorities in a relationship, and you'd think it would be obvious that it doesn't matter what other people think, but it's weirdly easily to be unconsciously influenced by societal norms.

In fact, if you are in a dating market that is limited, or highly competitive, being clear on things you don't care about that your competitors do, can be helpful in increasing the odds of finding someone with all the qualities are important to you.

For example: if you are open-minded about someone's educational level, conventional physical attractiveness, body size, disabilities, sense of fashion, earning potential, IQ, current geographical proximity, ethnicity, age, etc., you may find someone who is a great match and not yet snatched up!

(Oh, and on a related theme, Charlotte at Shape profiled some happy couples with an age difference and included us in her write up, yay! I was not at my most articulate; however, it was one of those ASAP things so I suspect she forgives me.)

For me, kindness, sense of humor, flexibility, and intelligence were probably the highest priorities going in, and yet I got all kind of bonus qualities that I was too clueless to even look for, like confidence, maturity, optimism, generosity, tenacity and playfulness!



And yet there was time in my life when I was younger, where I might not have immediately appreciated what an awesome catch I'd hauled in. I might have gotten waylaid by a moody ambivalent hottie with a motorcycle and a seductive smile. And no doubt my life would not be anywhere near as joyous!

#4: Try a Fresh Start?

OK, this is a post-publication edit, because of course it's all too normal and natural to end up with someone who feels like the wrong person, (I've done it) and I don't mean for this to sound all judgey. It's meant to be preventative.

First up, don't beat yourself up! But don't feel like your life has to miserable either, unless of course your religious beliefs are firmly held and a source of meaning to you and they command you to be miserable.

You have a couple choices: fix the problems, or start over with a more appropriate person.  In making the determination, it's really important to figure out: is your partner a person who lacks the emotional capacity to be in a relationship?  Or is this a person who is unwilling to compromise or otherwise make the necessary efforts to heal and grow?  If this is the case, you may want to consider getting the heck out. You can't force someone to change, and there's a limited amount one person can do if they're not getting any help from the other side.

However, if an otherwise generous and sensible person is consistently clueless and hurtful to you, it may be that there are some relationship and communication skills that either or both of you need to acquire to bring out the best in each other.  Crappy relationships between otherwise thoughtful people can be vastly improved! That's where workshops and counselors and other sources of support and personal growth can be helpful.

How about you folks, what do you look for in a potential partner, or treasure in the one you've got?

38 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Crabby., and congratulations. It's 25 years for us this year, too, and we look after one another.

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    1. I love that whenever you mention your husband, Leah, it's always in a positive light! And congrats on your almost-quarter-century too!

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  2. I spent Valentines Day debating with myself about splitting with my partner of 6 years. I definitely chose the bad chemistry and compounded it by not knowing what I wanted until it was too late to make it a priority. We're done now - but these are three really good points to move forward with when I'm ready to pull my head out of the sand - thank you Crabby, and congratulations on making the quarter century.

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    1. Oh Anonymous, I'm sorry this post came at a lousy time! (And your situation made me realize that my original post was in some ways a little insensitive, so I added a #4.) Transitions like that SUCK and I'm sorry and I hope the healing and recovery period is swift and not horrible, and that your next relationship (if you choose to have one) is all that you deserve!

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  3. What a great post - not only a love letter to your lobster, but some really excellent words of advice. I think a lot of people DO jump in too quickly to a permanent relationship without realizing just how long "forever" can be.

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    1. Thanks Shelley, and I know you're someone who chose well too... we are lucky gals!

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  4. I knew the two of you have been together for quite some time but I hadn't realized it was twenty five years. That's awesome. You make a wonderful couple. I'm glad you found each other. :)

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    1. Well you and Frank may not have quite the longevity yet Hilary but you are a totally adorable couple and it always sounds like you enjoy each other!

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  5. I love hearing about couples with longevity - it gives me hope! My husband and I are two months short of our 7th anniversary, and since it is marriage #2 for me (the first one lasted just over a year before I filed for divorce), every day is pretty much a victory for me at this point. Also, we dated for several years beforehand, so we've been together over 10 years!

    We are both our own people, which I think is what works for us. We have shared interests, but we also have a few that are our own. That means we get to spend time apart AND together, and as an only child who is very introverted, sometimes I like that he leaves the house for awhile and gets out of my hair!

    For me one of the most important things was to find someone who didn't want children. I've always known I didn't want to start a family, so knew that was dealbreaker #1. Beyond that, a sense of humor is really important, and so is a certain level of fiscal responsibility (doesn't matter how much you make, but living within your means is key).

    I'm knocking on wood that one day we'll be celebrating 25 years, too!

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    1. OTF, sure sounds like you have a great marriage and I'm sure you'll hit 25 too! And I agree about having a mix of ways in which one is similar and different. And good point about kids... I was on on the fence but flexible, and my wife didn't want to go that route, but had we felt totally differently that would have been tough. As it turned out, I think opting out on the kid thing was a great choice for us given how much we love our itinerant lifestyle.

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  6. I love this post - might be my favorite Valentine's post ever!!!
    Such great tips!! We are getting close to our 19th anniversary and looking forward to many more. I went through several serious relationships before meeting Chris that would never have worked (although at the time it was brutal to learn the truth!!). Since we were older (over 25) and had been through a number of failed relationships we knew exactly what we were looking for when we found each other!!

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    1. It sure sounds from everything you write Kim that you and Chris have a wonderful relationship, (and great kids too!) And yay for 19 happy years!!!

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  7. I think that is a lot of good advice. It may not seem romantic, but you do need to use your brain when choosing a partner for life!

    I never know how to explain why Husband and I work, I just know that we do. We are friends, we laugh together, I feel safe and cared for. We met almost 20 years ago, have been married for 13. I took my time and would not be rushed into a commitment. When we did get married I had no doubts at all. Outside of work, we spend most of our time together, since we are both home-bodies; we drive back and forth to work together; still, if I happen to run into him unexpectedly during the workday, it makes me happy and leaves me with a goofy smile on my face. We are not really a sappy, mushy, romantic couple, but we know we are together and we know we are going to stay that way. What can I say? All these years later, we still like each other. :)

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    1. You guys sound so perfect for each other JavaChick! And it's funny, you're right that using one's brain to choose a partner is for some reason not considered "romantic" in our culture, but how silly is the notion that common sense should play no part in finding the person who will make us happy?

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  8. Can't say you don't take on some tough subjects, Crabby!

    If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands! Then there is the sound of one hand clapping, lol!

    There are a lot of ways to go in this life, so glad you found a good one!!

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  9. Hmm. Do I feel smug, or just old? We've passed our 41st anniversary, and we'd been together in college for 3 years before that. Even our daughter is rapidly approaching her 10th anniversary. Anyway, I agree, it's got to be someone you can have a true partnership with, and we seem to have figured that out!

    I've always remembered something my grandmother said right after my grandfather died. These were my formal, proper grandparents, so this really startled me. She said, "Goodness knows, there were days I would have given him away with a bar of soap..." and then went on to talk about what a good life they'd had. I think I learned so much from that remark about a long, healthy relationship - far more than if I had focused on a more "romantic" style. So, back to your original question, nah, don't do much Valentine stuff. For me, that has to come when it wants to come, not be assigned a special day when you have to trot it out no matter what you feel at that moment. I ran my 5k, and we brought an old friend a birthday dinner & let it go at that.

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    1. Well, I'd say some smugness is called for DRG! And your valentines day sounds wonderful to me... the fact that your "ordinary" days are so happy together kinda makes it unnecessary to make a big fuss!

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  10. I loved this post. You guys are a couple I greatly admire. :) She is pretty darn cute too! Sam

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    1. Aww, thanks QD!!

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  11. ((((takes copious notes :-))))

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  12. There were many happy marriages among my relatives, but one of my favorite memories is of one great-uncle and aunt, who were married about seventy years: when we'd visit them, if one of them left the living room for a few minutes and came back, their eyes would meet and they'd light up as though they'd been apart for days.
    As a lifelong single I just never met anyone I could stand the thought of having around all the time. Luckily, I'm impervious to social pressure.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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    1. Mary Anne, I love the way you've carved out the life that's right for YOU! I think single folks can be just as happy as happily married ones. But love your story about your great aunt and uncle!

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  13. So much truth in this post, Crabby. After a painful divorce and a couple of weird relationships, I knew exactly what I DIDN'T want. That's how I ended up with my best friend. We've been together for thirteen years and have never had a fight. If he were to quit me at this point I'd just stay single for the rest of my life, because they don't make them any better. :-)

    As for what I treasure about hubs, it's his intelligence, his humor, his integrity, and his great big loving heart. He's just dreamy. <3

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    1. Aww Heather, sounds like he's a real catch, (as are you) and you two sound so happy!!!

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  14. I have a good one too - not quite like yours but it works for us. COMPROMISE!!!!!!!!! :)

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    1. Jody, I agree, compromise is so important! For us though, after so many years we seem to share one brain between us, so it's rare we have to use that skill anymore!

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  15. Cranky,
    That's super!!! Good for you both! From my end, among the many things, I'd say one really nice one is that we are similar enough in loads of ways, yet different enough in other ways, bringing fresh abilities and ideas. :-)

    Best, Dave

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    1. Sounds really healthy Dave! Some couples really struggle with the "differences" part instead of realizing how they keep things fresh!

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  16. What a delightful post, Cranky! Dear Hubby and I are approaching 23 years and, while it is not all rainbows and unicorns, there is truly nobody else I'd rather be with. I married way too young the first time around, and didn't have any clue what I wanted or needed in a relationship. My oldest son is the only good thing that came out of that marriage, and his passel of adorable kids, of course. I kissed quite a few toads before finding my sweetie, and we both just knew from the start that it was the real deal. While I wish I would have chosen better the first time around, that starter marriage really prepared me for a better choice the second time around. We do like to do little gifts for Valentine's day, why pass up an opportunity to say "I love you", right? This year I gave him personalized M&Ms with our picture and several pet phrases on them. His smile when he opened them was all the gift I needed! (but the beautiful earrings didn't hurt...) Thanks for the post!

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    1. Love this Emmaclaire! And sorry about the toads along the way, but heck, it sure does sound like you learned a lot from them and it got you right where you needed to be to be when the charming prince came along. And personalized M&M's??!??! What an awesome V Day gift!!

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  17. I can vouch for you, Cranky. I get to experience the joy of your relationship through your partner almost every day. While I thought the biggest gift was being able to learn from her professionally, learning from her life experiences (with you) make her that much more fabulous. You guys are an amazing example of what love should look like. My husband and I have been together for 20 years in April (we were babies when we met ) and I although I love him more every day, I aspire to achieve a love like yours….unselfish, limitless and forever. Your happiness is contagious.
    Love, (you know who)

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    1. How absolute sweet of you to write this... Anonymous! And seriously, did you guys meet when you were 7 or something?!? I know how I lucky I am to have such an amazing partner, but I also know how lucky SHE is to have such an awesome kind, funny, smart, and supportive gal like you in her corner!

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  18. I feel so fortunate to have my guy in my life. I was married 21 years to the first one. I will share a 15h anniversary with the one I am married to now, the one that is a keeper, in just a few weeks. It took me a long time to wise up to how bad the first marriage was. The only thing good that came out of it was my three older kids.

    So what is different about this marriage? First off, we meet online. We didn't hear each other's voices for months. We had to communicate through the written word in an online chat setting. Communication was the foundation of our relationship.

    What has sustained it? Respect. We respect each other. In both our previous relationships, we were not respected by our spouses. Communication. We talk about anything and everything, no matter how uncomfortable.

    Here I am, 15 years later, the product of an online relationship, mother to a forth child, married on April Fool's Day because we were fools in love, and feeling like there will never be enough time in the world to want this relationship to end. We often say that there will never be enough kisses, enough "I love you"s, enough smiles...so we enjoy the time we have now. We cherish each other.

    We have things in common and we have things that are totally different. We respect each others differences and think it is neat about the things that are the same.

    I am rambling. I just want to say I am deeply in love with my spouse and cannot imagine anyone else in my life. I am SO happy that you have found the same Crabby!

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  19. Man I wish you could observe my current situation and give me the 411!!!!!! I am in a very confusing situation, but I adore this person, and I know it's completely mutual.

    I IDOLIZE your relationship!!!!

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  20. Mother's Day and Valentine's Day are the two days you can not go out for a nice relaxing unplanned meal and you are guaranteed to suddenly want to go desperately! Sorry Hallmark cards and the Florist. I reject your made up holidays and I'm not going to be told how and when to honor people in my life.
    Congrates on 25 years!

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  21. Crabby, congratulations on 25 years with the perfect person for you!!! All great advice and I really enjoyed reading the comments from others!

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