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.