From time to time, people ask me stuff. Like for actual advice. Crazy, I know. For example, I received this email yesterday from a former dance student:
My boyfriend of 2 months and I are taking a short break to try to work through our differences. I’m having a hard time figuring out what kinds of differences are trivial and insignificant, and what kinds of differences are fundamental and red flags. And how do you get past the small annoyances that aren’t deal breakers? I decided to seek advice and counsel from men and women who are more experienced in relationships (who are married or engaged)...I’d appreciate any thoughts you have to offer!
So I thought I'd share my response to this question via blog post. Because who doesn't love the chance to get on the "relationships" soap box? Just kidding. The real reason that I am sharing this is because choosing your life partner is, in my opinion, the most important decision you will ever make. And I know that there are several more of my friends out there who are going through this process right now. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but if my life experiences and thoughts are helpful to someone, then this post will have served its purpose.
When I was in college, and in high school for that matter, I went on a lot of dates. I loved going on dates, and I went out most weekends, and sometimes on the weeknights. And, for me, the dating process was really important. Looking back, I think it was a discovery process. In some ways I was trying to figure out who I was, to get to know myself better, but more importantly, I was trying to discover how being with that other person changed me and made me feel.
If I were going to compare it to something I would maybe compare it to finding that perfect pair of jeans. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I don't think I've ever found a perfect pair of jeans, but I've seen other women do it on Oprah, so I suppose it is possible.) But I have worn jeans. Dozens of different pairs in fact, and I have to say, my butt looks different in all of them. And some of them feel great and I want to wear them every day. And some of them just don't work for me. Too big. Too small. Wrong color. Wrong pockets. Whatever.
So for me, dating was like trying on a bunch of different pairs of jeans. Because sometimes you think that a pair of jeans looks so great folded up on the table in the trendy store. And they might have everything you think you are looking for. Just like that guy with the great dimples and the adorable sweater who is definitely pre-med in your chemistry class. But until you try the jeans on, you have no idea if really they are just going to make you look fat. And until you get to know the guy with the dimples and see for yourself who you are when you are with him, and who he is when he is with you, then you won't really know if your idea of the perfect guy really is the perfect guy for you.
So what I am getting at is that there isn't really a checklist of things that work for everyone. Just because a certain brand or style of jeans really works for my body doesn't mean that it will work for yours. Remember that when people are sharing relationship must-haves.
The other night I went to dinner with my dear friend Brent Mecham. And we were talking about our relationships. And he pointed out that his marriage to Katie had changed him. And that he was a different person now because of having been married to her. And that I was a different person than I otherwise would have been for having been married to Matt. That we are different together than we are alone. Our togetherness fundamentally changes us.
So who are you when you are with your boyfriend? And do you like her? Does he bring out your best qualities and make you want to be even better? Or does it feel not quite right?
At one time in my life I thought I wanted to marry this guy. And he was a great guy in so many ways. He was cute and talented and smart. And he was good to me. And he loved me. And I loved him. But there was something about our relationship that when I was with him I wasn't able to be as freely independent as I now know I need to be. Had I married him, I fear that I would have felt stiffled in the relationship, or that the expression of my independence would have made him unhappy. Luckily, in the end I listened to my heart. I ended up with a man who loves and celebrates my independence and supports me in becoming everything I need and want to be. I am truly and deeply happy, and I try every day to make him happy too.
What are some core aspects I believe every relationship should strongly evaluate--the potenital deal breakers you mentioned? Faith. Do you belong to the same faith and do you approach it in the same way? If you belong to different faiths, can you truly support each other? Family. Do you both want kids? Do you have similar parenting ideals? How do you fit into each others families? Finances. Let's face it, it's not sexy but in the end this is a huge part of any marriage. I recommend finding common ground on this as early as possible.
Since you asked about red flags, I will share one that I've observed in relationships over the years. I have noticed that in serious relationships where many of the family and friends have a strong negative reaction to the significant other, that the friends and family are usually right in the end. This can be hard and painful to accept.
How do Matt and I get past small annoyances? We make jokes. We laugh our heads off. We make fun of each other all the time. It is easy since Matt gives me so much material. I'm practically perfect so it's harder for him to find anything annoying about me, but sometimes he makes stuff up.
I recently read a book where the author described the moment that she first saw her husband to-be and she said, "He looked like home to me." I loved that. If I could sum it all up, I would say that is what you are looking for. When you find someone who, for you, looks like home and feels like home, you will know that you are home.