Friday, November 13, 2015

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need

One of the things about having gone through a divorce and then embarking on efforts to date is that it forces you to figure out what went wrong before and how to make sure not to repeat old mistakes.

It feels almost strange to go through the process so deliberately and analytically.  When I was younger, my feeling - which was reinforced by the social and cultural ethos - was that love is something that just happens and you just have to let it happen and go with it.  Opposites attract.  Love conquers all.  Blah blah.

It's kind of bullshit.

On the one hand, some of it is luck.  My parents were 22 and 25, respectively, when they got married.  When I was 22, the idea of marrying someone was absurd to me.  Even though I was in law school, I still felt like a kid, completely incapable of making that kind of life-long decision.  But it worked for my mom and dad - they remain happily married because they have similar interests, they enjoy each others' company and conversation, my mother continues to find my father hilarious and to laugh at his jokes, my father recognizes that my mother is the delightful, sane antidote to his particular brand of crazy. In the infamous words of Cher Horowitz, they mesh well together.

Still, they had no way of knowing, when they were 22 and 25, how it would turn out.  On a certain level, it was a leap of faith, and it happened to work.  Other people similarly situated might grow apart, stop enjoying each others' company and conversation, become bitter or disengaged or disillusioned, and end up divorced or just miserable in their marriages.

It's all a question of quantum physics, molecular attraction, and timing.

I'm not 22 anymore.  Hell, I didn't get married until I was 35, and I still got it spectacularly wrong.  I think part of it was that my biological clock was ticking, and I ignored warning signs, and I just assumed that love would conquer all.  I didn't realize that love couldn't be a substitute for compatibility, and that compatibility is the key to making love or a relationship last.

Of course, there are different areas of compatibility.  I've been trying to figure out which are the really important ones for me, and which aren't.

There's the cultural compatibility, which can take a number of forms. Being brought up with similar traditions, similar frames of reference.  Religion can be one, but there are also others like educational or socio-economic background.  I don't particularly care if I'm with someone who is Jewish, but it doesn't hurt to have someone who speaks that same cultural language.  Education is very important to me, socio-economic background to a lesser extent.  Not because I'm a snob, but because I spent a long time with someone who was very different from me in those areas, and it resulted in a lack of shared interests, as well as a sense of intense discomfort and insecurity on his part about those differences.

There's the compatibility of values - a sense of the importance of family, and how family dynamics should work.  Values like kindness, compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness.  A curiosity about the world, a sense of adventure. An ability to go with the flow.

There are relational compatibilities - how you are or behave with a partner.  I am affectionate and passionate and can be a bit intense. I tell people I love them and I'm physically demonstrative and I need a certain heat.  I like to feel respected and adored and desired.  I need someone who has strong opinions about things, who has a sense of humor.

I have to be with someone who appreciates the importance of sex in a relationship - not just from the perspective of wanting to get laid, because it's not really about that, but because it fosters intimacy and closeness. I've done my time in a sexless relationship, and I'm not doing it again.

It feels almost clinical to try to come up with a list of qualities to be ticked off.  As I said, it runs counter to the romantic notion that love just is, and you just have to be ready for it and go with it.  But experience provides a counter to that notion.

Obviously, there's no accounting for chemistry.  It's either there or it's not.  But I think it's important to figure out what you want and need.*

And then, when you think you've found it, all that's left to do is take a leap of faith.

*In reading over this, I realize it sounds like I think a successful relationship is all about me - what I want and need.  It's obviously not at all - it's so much more, including the need to make the other person feel loved and supported and desired; the importance of fun and frivolity from time to time; the realization that you can't change the other person, so don't try; not every fight needs to be picked and not every mistake needs to be highlighted; and that many perceived slights aren't personal, so don't take them as such.  Just wanted to point out that I'm not a complete self-centered asshole.   

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