by someecardsBy 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.)
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!
photo: wikimedia commons
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.
(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
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 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.
#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?