My partner and I have a great relationship. I am going to go ahead and take 46% of the credit for that. I’d say she gets about 48% and the rest is luck and timing. Not infrequently people comment on how good we are together, how much fun we seem to have, how much in love we appear to be, etc. So obviously I am totally an expert on how to have a great relationship and ought to share the secret to our success with the entire Internet.
Here’s my advice:
1) You have to really LIKE each other. Liking each other is different from loving each other. Love is loyalty, commitment, being there even if you don’t really feel like it. Love is verb, it’s action, it’s something you do because it needs to be done. It’s important but it’s secondary to liking each other. Liking each other means actively enjoying each other. In one of my favorite stand-up comedy specials, Ugly & Angry, Chris Porter observes: “I made a mistake. I found someone that couldn’t live without me. I thought that’s what you wanted … What you want is someone who doesn’t need you in the least but chooses to be with you because they love you.” The key here is CHOOSES to be with you. Actively chooses it, every day.
When you were little and your best friend came hurtling around the corner, biking faster and faster to decrease the time and space between the two of you and that rush you felt as soon as you spotted said friend1 – that’s the feeling of really liking someone. You want to feel that way about your partner at least once a day. I recently caved at a time-share sales pitch presentation and my first thought after signing the paperwork was, “I can’t wait to go on a bajillion vacations with her.”2 You need to be actively excited to be with each other. Almost every day, I confess, “you’re my favorite” or “you’re my favorite person” or “you’re my fp.” Why would you make a lifelong commitment to anyone OTHER than your favorite person?
Of course there are those moments when I have to take walnuts out of a recipe, or can’t put the window down on the highway, or have to turn the music/TV down lower than I’d like, or am being shoved out of the arcade sooner than I’d like3. After the initial moment of frustration, I’m hit with the tidal wave of her smile, her cartoonish evil-villain laugh, her ridiculous alternate words for everyday items, the way her breasts look in a tank top, all the times she’s gone out of her way to surprise and delight me. Woosh. That ephemeral rage is carried out to sea. After the tide goes out, I can start an honest conversation if I actually need to talk about something but the conversation won’t be tinged with aggravated resentment. Which brings me to …
2) You have to be kind to each other every day. We both have different struggles and challenges rooted in our different life experiences. We see too many couples who cut each other down on their shortcomings with snippy remarks, snark, sarcasm, etc. It’s played as funny, but it’s relationship cyanide. I wake up every morning and invariably this is one of my first thoughts4: “how can I make today easier for her?” I pack her a lunch, I set up the coffee the night before, I do the grocery shopping, I make food, I remember birthdays, and I buy spot-on holiday gifts all year long. I do the stuff that’s easy for me to make her life easier. She makes phone calls that require navigating through infinities of phone jail, she manages our day-to-day finances, she coordinates our social schedule, she does all the driving. I round up all the stuff to be packed and she puts it all in the suitcases. I lift the heavy bags, she decorates the Christmas tree.
We don’t pick on each other or tear each other down over our weaknesses. I mean, in the short-term feeling superior provides a decent boost. But it’s like buying a single-serve dessert pie. Delicious for 5 minutes and then it’s gone. We invest in flour, sugar, butter, fruit and make lots of pie. Ask not what your partner can do for you but what you can do for your partner.5
3) You have to like the same things. I know I’ll get disagreement on this. You can go ahead and hit me with “opposites attract” and “we don’t need to do everrrrrything together” and similar platitudes. Maybe you think it’s shallow that I think liking the same things is important. But I’ve seen couples who take separate vacations and they don’t seem like happy relationships to me. Yes, independence. We are each our own person. We have our own interests, our own friends, our own identities apart from each other. But quite honestly, when people ask for the secret in our sauce, we most often say, “we like the same things!”
Indeed, life is really easy when she buys concert tickets at 6 a.m. on a Wednesday morning without needing to check with me first. When we can share a dinner or dessert off a menu without compromise. When our idea of the perfect day is pretty similar. When we both wanted a dog but not any new kids. When we both want the same things on our pizza. When we share similar values and morals. When a silly costume always seems like a good idea. When we’re both unapologetic atheist, humanist, feminist, fat-positive, queer, non-conformists who make it a priority to be as kind and loving to all the other passengers here on Spaceship Earth. When sex is un-serious, mutually fun, and a priority. When a hilarious photo op is worth the extra 5 minutes and detours are a road trip requirement. When we don’t care who’s winning as long as everyone is having fun. When we both believe that we’ll change over time and we’re both excited to see who we’re going to be, actively supporting each other’s goals. When we both believe in the beauty of adventure – doing new things, meeting new people, getting beyond anxiety, together.
Yeah, there are Venn diagrams that don’t line up for us. She’s better at sitting in one place for a long time. I really love Star Trek. She prefers Mrs. Butterworth to real maple syrup.6 I love swimming in nearly any body of water. She likes fishing. I’m not afraid to dance at a party. She likes scary movies. I like walnuts. I’m not suggesting you change who you are or disingenuously adopt all of your partner’s favorites as your own; I’m suggesting you hold out for someone who likes MOST of the same stuff as you do.
That’s it. That’s all my advice. What’s yours?
1 Or so I’m told. I didn’t really have that many friends and I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until well after most kids stop riding bikes.
2Shortly after that moment, I realized my math was horribly off and that the time-share was a terrible deal financially. When I disclosed my math error I got hugs and help with the heavy-lifting of un-buying that time-share even though it was my stupid idea to buy the thing.
3 Whining the whole way. Just one more game of Tetris, I swear!
4 This thought generally comes right after, “Whoa, I’ve really gotta fucking pee. I hope she’s not already on the can.” Love with only one bathroom is a special kind of love.
5 The copyright is expired on this, right?
6 She’s the only person I know with this preference. Does anyone else PREFER this stuff? I am seriously interested in the size of the phenomenon.