There is no formula for picking the right partner. None. There isn’t even a good one for having a happy relationship that applies to every relationship.
With both my first and second husband, people around me expressed confusion. An office assistant, after meeting my first husband, exclaimed to me “But he’s so normal!” I didn’t ask her what she expected.
A cousin actually lowered her voice and asked of my second husband, “What’s he like?” The correct response to that question is always “What the hell is wrong with you?” since it’s code for “is he black?” However, a frosty “How do you mean?” communicated enough.
The way you picture a person – or what you’re told about a person – may well have nothing to do with how a person actually is. It certainly won’t help you extrapolate a person’s partner.
Recently, I’ve had a few comment on how “tight” he and I seem, and that at first people don’t get us together – but then they see us together, either in the context of our own home or out with friends and suddenly it all makes sense to them. Since I don’t really know what these people are initially seeing, not seeing and then suddenly seeing, I can only guess what starts the observation process to begin with. I also know that consciously or unconsciously we tend to look for ourselves – or for our parents – in other couples and prospective partners until we train ourselves not to. For Mike and me, I think it starts with “if he’s a scientist and she’s a Pagan, how the hell does that work?” The short answer: our relationship is usually pretty far separate from our egos. Usually. Beyond that, all I can do is gently assess – what works here may not work for everyone.
- We are not the Best Couple EVAR. You will not see us wearing “Mike and Di” T-shirts with a big heart around our names. I don’t think either one of us expends thoughts on the kind of couple we want to be. Both of us have expressed at one time or another that we do spend time thinking about how to be a good partner to the other one.
- Honestly, we don’t try very hard to present. We are of communal mind at home sort-of, but we’re still pretty strongly individuated at home and in groups. So at parties, when Mike and I are having separate conversations, there’s a percentage less “we” than you might hear from other long-time couples. “We’re very green, but very techy” does come up, as does “We went to…” or “We found…” It stops there. There are pictures of us individually – we take each other’s pictures all the time. But there aren’t a whole lot of “look at us” type pictures besides our wedding pictures, and even then nearly all of them took some coaxing on the part of the wedding photographer. Much of those were more of the “Ha! I finally caught you!” variety. Many still are. We’re not camera shy… we’re just not camera concerned when I’m not working. The only pictures we have up of ourselves in our home is one of me on Mike’s desk, expressly because he gets a psychic boost from seeing images of me when he works. That’s it. I would certainly love to have a nice picture of Mike for my desk … HINT.
- Nobody has given up dreams for anybody else. I see this all the time especially with women but sometimes with men who got caught in the “surprise! the condom broke!” accident. Mike very much wants his PhD and to change the world with his programming skills. So he’s off doing those things a good chunk of the week. I very much want a steady, lifelong writing career, to make interesting things with herbs and to do something really interesting with Fat Chic once I’m done with this whole Pagan author schtick. Mike hasn’t shoved aside any of his stuff to be my husband and I haven’t shoved aside any of my stuff to be his wife. I did shove aside nearly all my stuff for my first husband – and then the dark side reason for leaving him became that he was holding me back.
- We consciously spend a good chunk of time apart. Our common interests revolve around movies, television and the desire to create a home so comfortable that it easily facilitates creative work. But we both have a lot of other interests that don’t match up. Certainly the Paganism and dancing aren’t on Mike’s list of fun stuff to do. I’m also not the kind of woman that will sit down and watch a football game or a video game just to be next to my partner. We do try to watch things together we both like, and we both love having new experiences so we try to get a new experience together once or twice a month. But we are both introverts in the classical sense and that means we need time alone – and that means time apart. My needs are higher than Mike’s in that respect so I’m likely to travel alone or go on mini vacations. Mike isn’t fond of this, but he handles my doing so reasonably well.
- Mike still makes an effort with me to be romantic – marriage did not give him an excuse to stop trying. I’m less romantic by nature than Mike but I try to set aside my baggage with romantic gestures being used as manipulations in childhood.
- I make an effort to be my best self with Mike every day. Love damn well means saying you’re sorry – the people you love are the ones you’re supposed to make the most effort with, not the least. That includes valuing the relationship over being right.
- As soon as we could afford it, I got mental health care. My family was dysfunctional so I didn’t learn the skills necessary for a healthy relationship. So I’m going to a professional for what amounts to tutoring in developing healthy romantic and platonic relationship skills. Of course I’ve made some mistakes in the process, but I’ve gotten a lot more right than I used to.
- I am not weirded out by any other person’s sexuality. While Dan Savage is an asshole, he’s a smart asshole, and I bring the GGG’s home to my sweetie, and he does the same for me. You won’t find me gasping over things I catch my husband doing unless they are without question a felony. ((I have never caught Mike doing anything felonious, or even all that salacious.)) I actually think variant sexuality is awesome and I’m forever taking notes on how those people manage their relationships so I can take it home to my relatively vanilla lifestyle. These are people motivated to communicate. It’s noteworthy. Just becaue I lack the neurology necessary to enjoy bondage or same sex fun doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good, transferable idea when I see one. Whether he’s conscious of it or not, Mike benefits from my outlook.
- Labor is divided pretty well. He does laundry and takes out garbage. I handle cooking and dishes. When we can afford it, we hire someone else to handle that stuff. Clutter is left until one of us cracks. We both crack pretty fast.
- Neither person is responsible for the happiness of the other. We each work to be good to each other, but neither of us has the illusion that the other one is the whole world and thus must supply all, including moods.
- It never occurs to us to compare ourselves to other couples. Each relationship is a locked universe. It’s not ours to get, and I’m not intervening unless one half of that couple tells me s/he is physically and/or emotionally afraid of his/her partner.
- We both believe in things that the other person may consider either hard to relate to or ludicrous. With me, Mike takes the attitude that since my mental health is sound, if it’s real to me he can respect it. I accept that Mike has a lot of different experiences from myself and that that adds up to different conclusions.
Of course we fight. Mike farts a lot in closed spaces. I put my Diva cup in the dishwasher and he finds it. We’re not really sure whose hair clogs the drains the most. There have been knock-down-drag-outs over in-laws, health, living situations and non-shared friends. His quest for the perfect popcorn is really annoying me, but it’s way less gross than his chili and chips phase.
We organize a lot of the big stuff so it doesn’t crash on us – we found a way to sync our shared budget on our phone, we hire people to do work we don’t want to do when we can afford it, we will not live anywhere that does not have a dishwasher (a great reducer of marital strife.) As someone commented when we first started dating, “You two are weirdly domestic together.” We live together well and have since before we moved in together.
Most of the conversations aren’t terribly scintillating. Some are unintentionally funny. But we work, and we’ve made an effort to organize our working as a couple in such a way that it isn’t a lot of work.
Is this a formula for a perfect marriage? Maybe. Maybe not. But I’m writing about divorce long after I remarried – and people always want to know why I think what I’m doing now works. So far, it does work. It might stop working or have to change in the future. But I like what it is right now.