This is the fifth in an indeterminate series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday.
In my last entry in this subject, I discussed my thoughts on how to create a solid foundation for a committed relationship. I may have put the cart before the horse because there is also this murky area business of sifting through the dating pool for a lifelong mate.
Let me assure you that anyone you hope to hang around with for the rest of your life will have some problems and issues. While dating, couples finding ways to accentuate their positives and minimize their negatives. Consequently, when you are sizing up someone be mindful that what you see is not necessarily what you would get if you lived with them for the rest of your life.
This is of course because when you date someone he or she is not presenting their true self. Because they are likely interested in you or they would not be going out with you, at least some part of them is projecting an image of themselves that they think you want to see. The nice thing about a date though is that it tends to last only a few hours. You can go home, kick the cat and indulge in some habit like picking your toes you would not want to show your date.
Recognizing this I figured one-way around the problem would be living together. Shacking up was actually my wife’s idea. I was somewhat reluctant because I had never done it before. For me it was a further education in real life. Eventually though it wore on my wife. Like many a woman who have tried this arrangement, eventually they feel used. I got all of the privileges, like virtually all the sex I wanted, with none of the responsibilities. Moreover, she was responsible for half the rent, even though I made more money than she did.
Since I loved her and living together was certainly not a bad thing, I eventually agreed to tie the knot. I had a good idea what I was getting into at that point, or so I thought. Yes, the stockings on the shower rail and the collection of medications splayed over the bathroom counters took some getting used to, but these were minor annoyances. I rationalized that if the problems got too bad we could always divorce.
I do not know how typical my case was, but I found that there was a huge difference between living together and actual marriage. Part of it was psychological. For the first time in my life, my assets were legally tied with someone else’s. When we lived together, our biggest joint problem was making sure we both paid our share of the rent on time. Now there was all this other stuff to work through. It ran from the relatively trivial, like deciding how our apartment would look to the very personal, such as how to accommodate differences in our sex drives. I was not in Kansas anymore. Moreover, since we were married, we did not have to wear our masks anymore. I found the first five years of my marriage were constantly full of surprises.
How much of what I experienced would happen to you is of course impossible to predict. What is true is that both my wife and I are different people. There was no way to really know how things would work out until we worked through issues as a married couple. I am confident though that stuff will happen in any such relationship that will surprise, upset you or be of concern. When this stuff happens, you learn where the friction points in your relationship really lie. How you navigate through them will tell you volumes about yourself and your spouse.
Most of us though want to minimize that stuff. We want to feel harmony with our partner ten or twenty years into a relationship, not strife. Given that most marriages eventually devolve into divorce (and arguably many that remain are not that happy) finding that harmony without surrendering your self-identity and self-respect can be one of life’s thorniest problems.
As I mentioned in the first entry in this series, the best thing you can do before getting hip deep in the dating pool is to work on addressing your own issues. Granted, this is not an easy thing to do. We all come with baggage, but young adults do not tend to come with much money. Therapists are not cheap. Anything you can do to address what you feel are your biggest relationship problems before you get too far into intimate relationships will be time and money well spent. If you do not, you will be tackling them later. Moreover, if you are in a lifelong relationship, they will affect your spouse too.
Although hardly anyone bothers, simply writing down what you are looking for in a partner will make you more mindful of people who may meet your needs. It will also tell you a lot about yourself. Virtually all of us on some level will crave a partner who is attractive. However, your ideal partner is probably someone on roughly the same attractiveness scale as you. If you examine the standard deviation for the human population, after all, you will find relatively few 1s and 10s. Most of us are in the middle and that is perfectly okay. If you are one of these types for whom looks are paramount, you can save yourself a lot of grief by adjusting your standards. Not only is a perfect 10 likely saddled with their own baggage, if you were married to one of these people your life may be much more stressful than you can imagine. (For one thing, if you were the jealous type, you would be constantly worried about the competition eager to snatch him/her away.)
When your significant other suggests it is time to meet the family, rather than run away from this activity, you should embrace it. You will learn volumes about the person from their family. Let us say that you come from a family where your parents have a happy, comfortable and mutually fulfilling marriage. You discover that both your girlfriend’s parents have been divorced twice and she has known two sets of stepfathers. You find out that her brother is also divorced or had a child out of wedlock. You discover that Aunt Mabel hates Uncle Jeff. One or two incidents like this in a family is excusable, but still a caution flag. A family rife with these issues should be ringing your claxon bells. Know that if you marry this person the odds are your marriage will likely be full of similar issues.
I suspect you came from a family that had issues too. Full disclosure is the best policy. Let your boy or girlfriend shake out your family too. If you have concerns about her reaction to a particularly toxic person in the family, tell her about it in advance. Tell her what you have learned from of it, and how a long term relationship with you would be different.
It should go without saying that if your potential partner is evasive then claxon bells should be going off too. It is fine to be evasive if you are dating casually. It is another thing entirely if you are both seriously contemplating a lifelong relationship.
Indians have a rigid caste system that has endured for millennium. While I certainly do not endorse the system, the best partner for you is likely to be someone who is in a similar socioeconomic class. If your background and outlook is blue collar, you probably carry those values with you. Most likely, you will feel more comfortable with a partner who is also blue collar. Mixed marriages are fine, but the ones that are more likely to endure occur when both are from the same socioeconomic background. I dated two black women during my dating years. One was a pediatrician and the other the daughter of an Air Force general. I am sure a mixed marriage would have been full of challenges, but they would have been less so because both women came from solid middle class households where the parents were in stable marriages, like mine.
Your best guide is likely your gut instinct. If you feel uneasy about your potential partner, trust your instinct. He or she may be attractive and on the surface, everything may seem terrific. Wait for that someone who, when the flush of infatuation fades, still fills you with a warmth and contentment. He or she is likely the right partner for you.