In the long list of bogus standards with which Hollywood has blessed us, their idea of romantic love is among the worst. Not only is it a false hope, it’s something far worse; an impossible dream.
Most of us think – because of the movies – that the best relationships begin with instant bonding, the storied glance across a crowded room. Something begins that way, but it’s not the best beginning to a serious and connected lifetime of shared experiences.
Chemistry is at the heart of this instant noodle notion of coupling. Chemistry is certainly a thing, but it’s a reproductive and entirely mammalian thing. Lasting reltionships of course require chemistry, but they need so much more; character, for one thing.
Character is like a vertical flight of wines from a quality winery. Over a series of years, one can see the differences between each vintage. Some years are lesser than others; less rain, or too much rain, or insufficient sun or too much, or the winemaker quit in the middle of harvest. Individually, each bottle is a snapshot, but when we put them together we can see the thread of substance and flavor from one to the next.
People are the same. Coupling with someone because we thought the first sip of one glass from one year is both shallow and dopey. Without knowing the backbone of this person, how can we know what happens under stress? When we argue? When we lose in the lottery of life? When we grow old?
Character, not chemistry. Patterns, not promises. Backbone, not bullshit.
Wine is fun because every wine is the same, and yet every wine is different. Does that remind you of a bipedal mammal with whom we’re all familiar?
Blind wine tasting ups the fun factor because it hobbles much of the circuitry we normally use to decide whether we like or dislike a specific bottle.
Remove the label, the price and everything else and we have to judge based on the only criteria that matters: smell & taste. Is the fragrance appealing? Do I like the way this mouthful tastes or not?
Wine is one thing, because we only commit until the bottle is empty; that upright bipedal mammal is quite another.
Sorting through old family photos and launching them into the cloud awakens long-dormant memories and emotions. Connecting the dots of our lives isn’t a daily priority, but when 100 years of evidence flashes across the screen, resisting is futile.
From this distance, it’s cleat that life is a series of phases. We could extrapolate that to something bigger, that everything is a kind of perpetual moving into, within and beyond a phase. The connective tissue between phases in all of our lives is the people, some of whom overlap, some of whom do not.
Change is inevitable. I wonder if coupling with a right person is about our mutual ability and willingness to stay with each other through life’s changes. That is an enormous ask, today more than ever. Phase direction and magnitude will always be unknowable. Not only will we have decades of unpredictability together, we don’t know how we as individuals will phase in and out, let alone the relationship or – gasp!- the world around us.
Choosing carefully remains critical…but we’ll never be certain.
We spend enormous amounts of time sorting through the emotions of relationships. Endless loops of
What do I feel?
What does she feel?
What does this mean?
Why did she do this?
Is this important?
Does she like me?
How will she react to this?
Yet we ignore so much of what happens after our feelings are…well, as organized as feelings ever can be. Practical stuff makes up big gobs of our lives and contains traps for every relationship, but we often overlook them and their impact.
Money and how we handle it is one such under-examined element. How many couples fall apart over poorly managed finances, both as a unit and individually?
My answer is to start questioning this part of your dates’ lives much sooner in the dating process than we do currently, and to that end I think there’s one question to ask:
Do you have a budget?
Someone who has a written budget and at least attempts to follow it automatically falls into the top 5% of candidates. Living within one’s means is a foundation for reducing stress, in itself a head start to a better relationship.
Being in our heads all day every day means that it’s a leap to see us as other people see us.
From inside, we sound different from the way others hear us, we look different from the way we (think) we look, we don’t smell the same. Most people understand that this is the case, but understanding in the context of dating is different. Friends and family who know you already have a template of your personality and emotions. The new person is working in a dark room, blindfolded.
Why doesn’t she see that I’m yada yada yada?
Can’t she tell that I’m thinking this and that and this?
How come she didn’t notice my blah blah blah?
This is the critical nature of meeting and beginning to understand people, that we have a whole lot of stuff to learn about each other but only limited ways of doing so. Language is wonderful, but limited in so many ways. Body language is often accurate, but requires skill to interpret. Text, phone, email and everything else is a step away from the complexity and nuance of the way we really think, and so oftentimes only hinder the process.
My feeling is that getting to know someone requires time and patience. Imagine sitting on a train, commuting to work. Every day you pass the same set of buildings that you like the look of. Every day you might learn something about who lives or works there, how they look in different light at different times of day, in different seasons. Who goes in and out? Who hangs about on the street? Are there improvement or repair works going on?
Over the course of months and years, you get to know the rhythm of that building, know what’s normal and what’s not, and what’s part of its character and not.
People are not buildings, but I think you get the idea.