I wanted the “spice” of finding my opposite, or at least someone different enough to make up for my flaws.
But did you know? People fight about their differences, not their similarities. Studies show that like attracts like. So instead, I got a man who is similar to me in all the important ways (personality, values, goals, dreams) and some of the less-important ways.
When I was looking for my Mr. Right, I thought we had to share all the same interests (yes, even though we also had to be opposites; what can I say, I was confused). We do need to share some interests.
My husband just went to Africa while I stayed home and wrote a book. We had great stories to share, him of safaris, me of academic pursuits, when he returned. Fantastic!
I admit, despite my own vast uncoolness, I thought I would seek out someone cool. But cool not only isn’t mandatory; research finds that truly loving people tend to be pretty uncool. So, instead of cool, I got a man who is kind and respectful. If you can find and BE someone kind and respectful, you’ll thrive at love—and if you can’t, you won’t? Yep. Truth.
When I was looking again, I thought he had to have a great butt. Okay, he does have a great butt.
I thought an independent-minded man was key. But interdependence is much, much more important. Being able to rely on the one you love is highly valued in cultures where these things have been researched. And the most important question we ask is not one about “me” but about “we”: Are you on my side? I made sure that was a Yes, because that’s THE question that never stops mattering.
When I was looking for my next husband, I (oh, so briefly) thought that love was enough. Sorry, Beatles; it’s not all you need. Almost everyone in the USA marries for love, yet about 47% of first marriages end in divorce, as I should know by experience! If love by itself was enough, that wouldn’t happen. Instead, I went for love plus similarity, kindness, respect, and friendship too. Bingo!
I thought sex was the end-all, and that I should have sex quickly in a relationship to find out whether I wanted to know more about someone. And sex is definitely important; don’t get serious about anyone you don’t want to put your hands all over, who doesn’t want the same with you.
But sex first can break your heart, and for many folks, it does something even worse: It breaks lives—health, families, children’s futures, bank accounts, and the ability to have faith in future relationships.
In studies, 75% of women and 25% of men say they have trouble remaining emotionally distant even in a friends-with-benefits arrangement. Another study found that almost half of women, and about a tenth of men, had actually used ‘casual’ sex to try to create commitment.
So yes, I chose someone who rings my bell. But I didn’t let him ring it until *after* we had established that we belonged together in all the other important ways too.
My divorce left me feeling as if I couldn’t rely on a man, and I thought I didn’t need someone who could/would take care of me.
But I found out that adulthood is just too dang hard to do on my own. Partnership is about taking care of one another, and sooner or later, we all need it. For me, I wound up needing to be taken care of through open-heart surgery while I was still young. I needed help raising my daughter; I’d been a single parent for several years, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done! I needed someone to listen and care about my day. I am so fortunate to have gotten all this and more with my husband. Of course, he has needs too, and it is my honor and privilege to take care of him. Folks, we’re human; we evolved to need and to be needed. Choose someone who wants you to take care of them, and who wants to take care of you too.
When I was single and looking again, I thought I needed someone with advanced degrees. What I found out was that I needed my peer—my equal. My husband and I don’t have the same number or level of degrees; we do have the same levels of achievement and intellectual curiosity in the areas we’re interested in. I picked a peer; peers may not have our exact set of credentials, but they are our equals nonetheless.
As I began looking for Mr. Right, I thought I needed someone who felt like home. And it’s true, I needed someone who made me feel totally comfortable in my skin; whose love made me want to be my best self. But I didn’t need to pick the same issues I grew up with. Too many of us choose someone who pushes the same buttons that got pushed in the families we grew up in. This time, I was wiser to choose someone who heals rather than worsens my issues.
Ultimately, research is clear that married folks are twice as likely to be happy than adults who live any other way, but second marriages have a much higher fail rate than first ones—especially if we bring kids to the new union. The second time around, we’ve got to be pickier in all the right ways. Nearly seven years into my happy remarriage, I’m grateful science showed me what to choose and what to leave behind.
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015. You can get a free chapter and see more at http://www.lovefactually.co