The right one is out there somewhere…
When you were little, did you have a picture in your mind of the man you wanted to marry someday? Maybe he looked a little like your dad – or maybe he looked nothing like your dad. Maybe you imagined someone who liked all the same things you did, who made you laugh, and whose smile sent a happy shiver up your spine.
As you grew up, you probably added to the list, making it more specific as time went on and you actually started dating. My list was, he had to play the piano, he had to be taller than me (but not too tall), he had to believe in God, and he had to have brown eyes.
A few years after I made that list (yes, I actually wrote it down in one of my college journals), I married an atheist the exact same height as me, who didn’t play the piano or any other instrument, and whose eyes were decidedly more hazel than brown.
Ten years later, we got divorced. Perhaps not surprisingly, the reason we got divorced had absolutely nothing to do with his height, his eyes, or his musical ability. It might have had a little, or even a lot, to do with the not-believing-in-God part though. But could my marriage have failed because I settled for someone who didn’t tick all the boxes on my ‘perfect match’ wish list?
The problem with lists
“As a species, I don’t think we have a good understanding of which qualities and traits produce marriages and relationships that work at the deepest levels,” says psychiatrist Scott Carroll, author of Don’t Settle: How to Marry the Man You Were Meant For (Balboa Press, 2016). According to Dr Carroll, the things that matter most in a mate aren’t things you might write down on a list, like physical characteristics, hobbies, or even personality traits.
Instead, we need to focus on our attachment styles, which stem from the way our caregivers related to us when we were young, and which affect the way we behave in relationships for the rest of our lives. “Certain attachment styles are super attracted to each other, but then these combinations produce dramatic fights and breakups,” explains Dr Carroll. That’s why you can’t rely on chemistry alone to judge the long-term potential of your relationship – and why too much chemistry can actually be dangerous.
We should also consider whether we are more leaders or supporters when it comes to relationships, and whether we have more masculine or feminine energy. This doesn’t necessarily have to do with your gender identity; a woman can have primarily masculine energy, and a man can be more feminine. Dr Carroll says that some combinations work better than others; a successful marriage needs partners who are opposites. So, someone with female energy who is a leader would do best with a supportive partner who has male energy. Two supporters don’t do well, and neither do two leaders. Here’s an article that explains more about how the archetypes work together.
“Getting back to the original question of settling or not settling, it comes back to knowing what actually matters in a marriage versus what is window dressing,” says Dr Carroll. The things on my list were clearly window dressing. My marriage didn’t last because we were fundamentally incompatible; not because my husband didn’t match some ideal I’d cooked up and committed to paper years earlier.
Finding the right one
After I got divorced, I gave up on lists and dated guys of every description: tall, short, musical or tone-deaf – I was open to anyone who seemed interesting. I went out with an opera singer, a banker, a chef, a film grip. They had beards or were clean-shaven, had curly black hair or thick blond mops, and I cannot recall what color any of their eyes were. They were perfectly nice, I suppose. But I didn’t want to settle for ‘perfectly nice.’
When I tried to conjure up a picture of my ideal man, this person I was supposedly searching for, I couldn’t see anything at all. If I could have dreamed up an ideal partner, I’d probably still be mulling it over and drawing a blank. Experience had taught me that none of that external stuff mattered anyway, leaving me with nothing to guide me except my gut. So when I met the one who might really be The One, I didn’t recognize him at first.
He wasn’t the man of my dreams, because I didn’t have those dreams anymore. I couldn’t have dreamed him up if I tried; he’s different than anyone I ever would have imagined for myself. He has clear blue eyes, he’s just a smidge taller than me, and he plays the piano beautifully. He’s perfect – or anyway, perfect for me. I’m not ‘settling’ for anything. And neither should you.
GIFs via tumblr.com and wifflegif.com.
Comment: What’s the number one most important thing you look for in a partner?