How Do You Know If You’re Truly Compatible?

Name: Shawn
Age: 36
State: CA
Comment: I’ve recently been dating a lot of women. It’s fun and I’m really enjoying myself. I’ve met anal retentive attorneys who are total foodies (I’m not anal retentive, but I do love eating out), neurotic bartenders who have tons of free time (I’m not neurotic, but I am semi-retired and have tons of free time), total stoners who are pro snowboarders (I’ve never done drugs and never will, but I am a semi-pro boarder), and so on.

Basically, Im going out with lots of really fun women who I’m not totally compatible with. I’m generally okay with this because, for the most part, none of the things about these women I’m not compatible with really matter in the grand scheme of things for me. If they did, I simply wouldn’t be around them.

Recently, I met someone who would be pretty darn awesome for me…except for one thing. She’s funny as hell, pretty smart (though she doesn’t give herself credit for it), and gorgeous. The problem? She’s pretty conservative. Like, social conservative, fiscal conservative, the whole thing. She likes Sarah Palin.

I come from a pretty political family and have political ambitions myself. My sister is gay and a very prominent lawyer. Needless to say, I’m a left-of-center Democrat. Now, the Republican vs. Democrat thing? I can handle that. The social conservative (read: homophobic), I have trouble with. Obviously, things aren’t going to work out between this girl and me.

But this woman aside, I wanted to ask about the broader question of identifying areas of compatibility. How can you tell if you’ll be compatible with someone long-term? What are some things that other (successful) couples identify early on as traits that make someone worth settling down with? Clearly, let’s set aside the obvious deal-breakers: does hard drugs, is a recently recovering addict, exhibits unsound financial judgment, is dishonest, and so on. I’m trying to understand the subtle and not-so-subtle things that make people compatible with one another.

Thanks…love your column.


The only way you can tell if you’re compatible with someone long term is to date them long term. I can sit here and tell you that you need to find someone who shares your core values, but even that requires real time and effort.

True compatibility isn’t just about having beliefs or interests in common. It’s also about how your personalities mesh. You could meet someone who is a as left wing as you are, who enjoys doing all the things you like to do and who shares many of your opinions. But if you two have opposing communication styles or differing lifestyles, the whole relationship could be shot to hell after one disagreement.

To me, the true test of compatibility is to spend an extended amount of time together. Couples who see each other once or twice a week and spend a those nights together only to return to their individual lives the next day don’t really know how compatible they are. In my mind, those aren’t real relationships. They have the potential to be. They’re just not, to me, solid relationships. They’re filler relationships. Something to do to pass the time.

That’s something else that is key: how does each person define “relationship” or “commitment?”  Someone who casually throws the word relationship around probably isn’t someone who understands, needs or even values true compatibility. You can enjoy someone’s company and not be compatible. You could also convince yourself that you and your partner are compatible simply because you rarely disagree. “We share chemistry on sooo many levels. I can be myself and be honest without having to compromise.”  Translation?  Their partner never asserts themselves or speaks up or they don’t have their own identity. The two people don’t really communicate or relate. They just hang out. You don’t have to compromise? Red Flag. Every relationship, every real relationship that involves a true level of intimacy and caring,  involves compromise. No real relationship is ever that simple.

The other deciding factor lies in how the two people in the relationship communicate and, more importantly, how they  argue. Every couple argues or bickers. Having disagreements doesn’t mean your relationship isn’t healthy. But if one person is assertive and the other is passive, eventually things will implode. The longer you’re together, the more invested in the outcome of the argument you become. If you and your partner can’t confront an issue in a way where you both won’t be left feeling battered, then the relationship is in trouble.

I used to be a big believer in not moving in together until you got engaged. Now? I think living together is a must. That’s the real test. I would never accept a proposal from someone unless we had lived together for several months first.

It can take many, many months worth of time and communication before someone can discern true compatibility. That’s why so many people are shooting themselves in the foot by blowing some one off after one or two dates because of some sort of frivolous, non-existent flaw.  But then, the people who do that don’t really want relationships anyway. They enjoy the attention and the appearance of being emotionally available. But they’re not.

Finding someone truly emotionally available, who is willing to fight for your relationship and who is open to compromising isn’t an easy task. You won’t know that about someone after a handful of dates. That takes time. Just because you and they share common interests and have fun doesn’t mean you’re compatible. It means you get along. It’s easy to “get along” with someone. I “get along” with a lot of people. But it’s only those who choose to make the effort to understand me, who listen, who are forgiving, who are willing to admit when they are wrong that I let in to my life on any level. Even when we make friends, it takes time to really get to know them and discern if we’re compatible. My closest friends now are people that I always enjoyed and liked. But I didn’t really understand their true value until well in to the friendship, like after my nephew died or I learned a family member was ill. (Grammar help: am I using “in to” correctly?)

It’s the trying times that test compatibility. Not the easy ones. The instances where you come to some kind of impasse or are faced with something difficult are what matter. I’ll take someone who can say “I’m sorry” and who can effectively express their true feelings and who can accept an apology without holding something over my head over someone who simply likes what I like any day.

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15 Responses to “How Do You Know If You’re Truly Compatible?”

  1. Angeline Says:

    Although we have a lot of things we enjoy – talking about history or his military experiences or our shared stay-at-home parenting trenches stories, one of the key signs for me that me and my guy had a shot was that after a big disagreement over something, after we’d each said what upset us, and hashed it out, was when I said I’d spent the last half of my long marriage knowing he was upset about *something*, but never getting any kind of answer as to what. You can’t fix or compromise if you don’t know what it is that’s pissed them off, so you try to do *everything* as perfectly as you can. Invariably you pick the wrong things. My guy said, “look, I’m here for the duration. However mad we get at each other, it doesn’t matter. We’ll work on it, talk about it, fix it.”

    That, even more than professions of everlasting love, is commitment.

    After several bad marriages between us, that willingness to stick was a big compatibility requirement for both. Whether they live (not talk but walk) with a sense of honor and integrity (returning to the store to pay for the dog food). Whether they have any sense of the concept of ‘fighting fair’. How the other person handles adversity, how they treat their kids, family, how they treat people who don’t factor into their well-being (Ex.: not bosses or customers, but say, servers or the grocery cashier), whether they live within their means, whether they take reasonable care of themselves, would all be way higher on the list than political afiliation.

    Beyond that, some things to consider would be how does the other person like to spend their downtime? How do they like to organize/NOT organize vacation time? Especially if either or both have kids, what are their expectations for spending holiday time? Does one or both need lots of solitude/togetherness? What kind of social commitments do they have/intend to keep?

    (Into – in this case, one word)

  2. Andrew Says:

    Lengthy answer but quite good. We are all like onions these days and we seem to need to peel the layers off of each other. I really wish it were easier than the lengthy process we all have to endure. There is that song, “We just now got the feeling that we’re meeting for the first time.” There are so many stages in a relationship that one gets that feeling. I know people who lived together for ten years, and then got married, and complained of then only truly learning about the other person. A further complication is that people change too, many times, what may seems to us, for the worse. However intuition is a powerful thing and shoud never be devalued. Use it.

    Also think about how the person makes you feel as you communicate. And I am not talking about excitement or infatuation; those two are the biggest culprits in distracting you. They are obviouly extremely important, but don’t let them rule the day. Pay attention to these: Number one, does the person make you feel appreciated? Also,do you feel totally at ease with the person? Does the person’s opinions, attutude, actions and communication style fit with you? There is obviously much more, like commonality on a whole host of issues, but what I oulined above, is a good place to start.

    • Andrew Says:

      Oh I forgot one important thing. How do you fight with each other? Eventually, there is going to be a disagreement, and the way you both handle that is really important.

  3. Crotch Rocket Says:

    “women who I’m not totally compatible with” Keep in mind that “compatibility” doesn’t mean “same”. You can have different interests and tastes from someone else and still be compatible; the key is respecting, nay valuing, each other’s differences as valid. If you’re looking for someone exactly the same as you, why not just stay home with a mirror and masturbate?

    “The social conservative (read: homophobic), I have trouble with. Obviously, things aren’t going to work out between this girl and me.” Why? Can you not respect her choices? Can she not respect yours? You need to know how to agree to disagree, in any sort of relationship. I have friends on both sides; some of them are a bit less tolerant and we agree not to talk politics, while others like to debate and can enjoy it even when we both know that neither will ever convince the other–just like friends with different favorite teams can give each other grief over a game.

    Focus on the stuff that matters, like character, rather than the stuff that’s really just window dressing.

  4. Saywhat! Says:

    All good responses but in the moment, some people just find that thinking of these things to focus on are a distraction in itself. Most, want the quick answer or quickest result. And if you live in the metropolitan /NYC area you are automatically just wired this way: quick answers, quick results. I’m not saying all, but a good portion of people don’t really take the time to really, reallllly, think about the key things such as HOW you communication with the person which will provoke or not provoke the other persons reactions. People are driven, and have had enough success in the past with their communication working just fine for them in situations, be it at past relationships or landing their dream job so to some they don’t have to put much time into these sort of corrections on themselves or simply just don’t even know how. We are all mindful of our own feelings and needs until we can build a solid connection with a stranger. If the OP isn’t able to tell the difference between what he wants vs what is important qualities to have in a partner, he will always have a hard time finding someone he is compatible with.

  5. Saywhat! Says:

    I also took his statement about Homophobe to sound a little judgemental and critical. Did she make a comment about being a ‘homophobe’ Why would he draw this conclusion? because she’s republican?

    • Kurt Says:

      The ironic thing is that he mentioned it presumably to show that she is judgmental. However, he is the one who comes across as closed-minded and judgmental.

      I have met left-wing women who apparently rarely encounter Republicans and who often have crazy intolerant ideas/views about Republicans.

  6. Selena Says:

    I wonder if because his sister is gay, he may feel uncomfortable with this woman around his family and social circle given how he perceives her values.

    • Shawn Says:

      OP here. On the “homophobic” and “judgmental” question…yes, she has expressed a less than respectful tone towards the LGBT community (she has a close family member who is tranagendered who she expressed disparaging remarks about, for example). Further, my sister, who I’m reasonably close with, is gay, as is her partner, obviously.

      But she’s not the focus of my question. I was aski a broader question, which Moxie answered quite well.

  7. Nan Barbara williams Says:

    Visit an astrologer. Competible starts with thoughtfulness,compromise and a great sex life. An astrologer can answer all three

  8. Trouble Says:

    In answer to the broader question, I think there are the paper matches (in other words, you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, and they fit those things to a high degree). Then, there is the intangible, which is what it’s actually like spend time with that person, travel with that person, live with that person, be sick around that person, fight with that person, etc. One you can know relatively quickly, the other takes much longer.

    One thing a friend said to me that really struck me when I met my guy is this…I had just broken up with a really bad guy (and I mean REALLY bad…cocaine use, verbal abuse, hitting me, breaking stuff). And, she said, “M, you will know it’s right when it may be work, but it just isn’t that much work.”

    It’s true. With the right person, it isn’t always easy, but it usually isn’t hard. Being with my guy feels like a relief…I can let my guard down, be myself. He knows the worst things about me, I haven’t tried to hide any of them, and he still loves me. When you can really be yourself with the person, and they still love you, that’s a good sign.

  9. mari Says:

    I would look for someone who has friends..and has had long term friends. This indicates an ability to maintain a friend relationship, which over time, generally involves give and take and disagreement. It also involves commitment, showing up when times are tough etc.

  10. Mr. R Says:

    I’m a Republican, and my wife is a Democrat. Every year at the polls, we cancel each others vote out. Oh well.

    Then we get back to the best relationship we have ever been in. Our marriage gets better every day. :)

  11. Paula Says:

    There are a lot of studies out there that show one of the primary factors in whether a relationship will last is how you communicate to resolve conflict: does one face it head on while the other ducks his/her head in the sand? does one regularly demonstrate anger while the other withdraws and shuts down? can you both let go of it once you’re done?

    Reconciling those styles and coming up with mutually-agreed principles for problem-solving and disagreement often seem determinative as to who will go the distance vs. flame out early.

  12. Saj Says:

    Um shouldn’t you wait for this girl to actually act homophobic before judging her for the potential of it?

    How to define compatibility. I think it’s when somebody feels like home to you. The cheesy cliche of I feel like I’ve known you for a long time applies. You can relax, you don’t need to be all super pleasant and chatty without being punished for it. You find the same random things funny. A lot of this stuff doesn’t start to show up til around month three. Oh and taking a trip together is a good test to see how you guys weather random difficulties outside of your comfort zones.

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