When going out into the world (or, more often, the internet) to seek love and companionship, most of us decide to date someone based on how they make us feel, or based on attributes we seek in someone else. Most of us don’t think about the relationship we want. We think about the person we want, and, once we find them, assume a lasting relationship will organically take shape from there.
Our list of traits that a perfect partner must display often comes from a good place, (“I know what will work for me - who I’ll click with” or “I have standards!”) but, without realizing it, we’re applying the same mentality we use to pick new upholstery fabric to picking out a person to share part of our life with. “This one makes me feel good, and will make me look good to others, so I’ll buy/date it.”
But these partner prerequisite lists, for all our time spent ruminating on and refining them, have absolutely nothing to do with the potential quality or longevity of the relationship possible with that partner.
A lasting relationship is about acceptance of the other, love without conditions, and self-sacrifice. Things which have little to do with shared hobbies, credit scores, and whether or not you have a career which allows you to drop everything and fly to Brazil next weekend.
Having a lasting relationship means accepting that, at some point, your partner will fall below your list of minimum requirements, and you will decide to stand by them anyway. They may get cancer, and their alluring physique will crumble. They may have a loved one die, and in a cave of depression, abandon the positive communication you so cherished. They may get laid off, and fall into financial ruin… Vaya con dios, Brazil. At some point, something will happen that will make them fall far below your oh-so-carefully-crafted standards, that you will be asked to accept something you don’t like, to love without condition, and to sacrifice your ego for the sake of your relationship — IF you want it to last.
This initial understanding of self-sacrifice is why arranged marriages last so much longer, and report equal or higher degrees of happiness, than so-called “love marriages.”
People in arranged marriages usually approach their relationships with the more practical notion that the bond between them is bigger than either of them separately, and they must do what they need to do to make it work. People in love marriages approach their relationships with a belief that their feelings towards the other person should be strong enough to last a lifetime. “How you make me feel will sustain our love through thick and thin.” As in, with some Disney stars in our eyes: “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.” But, this way of thinking rests on the shaky, illogical ground that how we make each other feel in that moment is how we’ll make each other feel always.
Relationships aren’t fun. They’re an inherently not-fun thing you do with someone whom you often have fun with. Just as light is both a particle and a wave, lasting love is a choice as much as it is a feeling.
If you accept that every person will change throughout their lives, then basing your relationship on your partner’s financial status, hobbies, or how much you feel they “complete you” is like stepping onto a train you know is going to slow down, speed up, switch tracks repeatedly and possibly even… crash.
Yet we scour dating sites, complaining about the “selection,” the “quality” of the options presented there, judging each other and trying on person after person after person wondering where our Mr. or Ms. “Perfect” is already.
But as long as we keep searching for a person, rather than a relationship - we are doomed to repeat this cycle. Are you looking for a relationship, for companionship… or for a trophy? Are you searching for life mate, or more like a mirror of validation made of flesh and blood, someone who says the right buzzwords in their “about me” section and filled out their sex questionnaire to your preconceived satisfaction?
If lasting love is truly what we seek, we need to flip this paradigm around.
We should first decide if we are ready to build something that is bigger than our own egos, something that goes beyond “you make me feel good right now,” and then find someone we want to build it with.
Perhaps we need to question if lasting love IS indeed what we all seek. In an age of revolutionary individualism, life-long relationships may feel anachronistic and irrelevant. The realization of what it takes to maintain one is depressing, potentially soul-killing, even. But there is nothing inherently wrong with loving ourselves and our own path more than we’re willing to sacrifice aspects of ourselves which would inevitably have to go to sustain a lasting relationship.
There’s no right or wrong here… but it seems like a self-reality check would be helpful.
The point is, one’s inability to sustain a lasting relationship isn’t the fault of every prospect with an online profile or their inherent lack of suitability. The fault might lie more in just how one approaches the territory. What are you really looking for - a person, or a relationship with a person?
Pick the love lock,
Author of Heartalytics Series, The Love Gates