When I was single, I got a lot of terrible advice about what to “look for in a relationship”. Most of this advice was condescending, superficial, or downright wrong. I would hear things about The List, making a quiz my future spouse would have to pass before I would give them a chance. Some advice was about false harmony – like finding someone who always agrees with you (which is absurd) or superficial (someone who makes you laugh).
While all of this is well-meaning, it is just foolishness. Those of us in relationships have a hard time articulating their value and we reduce it to these platitudes to try to make it easy on everyone. But it does the single person a disservice. We set their heads spinning or put them on the trajectory of The Romance Trap, none of which is helpful for them.
The truth is relationships are hard work. They are enigmatic. Beautiful, frustrating, and downright weird. If you are looking for a relationship, you are seeking something you can never possibly understand until you find it (and even then…). Proceed the search with intention. And proceed with caution. Here are a couple of our no-nonsense pieces of advice for what to look for when looking for a relationship.
One of the things we constantly notice in singles is that they want so badly to be loved for who they are. They want a boyfriend or girlfriend who loves them for more than how they look, who adores them at their lowest, and sees past the shapes and curves to the real self.
That’s all fantastic. One problem – singles want the person who does that for them to look like Prince Harry.
In other words, there is a disconnect in what we want for ourselves and what we want from ourselves. Women will complain about men objectifying them and then compare the abs of their guy friends. Guys will want a woman to support them no matter what, then berate their girlfriend.
Gandhi advised “be the change you wish to see in the world”. Good advice for dating too. Be the kind of person you want to marry. See past people’s curves and skin tones. You have no idea who the person you marry is going to be. But you certainly are well acquainted with one half of the marriage – you! Start working on that piece.
We are all so desperate to be loved, to have someone care for us and support us and be kind to us. But we don’t worry so much about caring for others, loving the people around us well. It is a byproduct of The Romance Trap. We think love is about validation, fixing our loneliness, and making us feel good. If you want something more, look for something more.
Kylie and I do organizational coaching. We’ve been married for five years, work together, and have seen groups of people relate across the globe.
Quite simply, there is nothing more important than communication.
There are no perfect people. The kindest and most patient man is going to lose his temper at least once a year. Stop looking for perfection and start looking for communication. Look for someone who is honest, vulnerable, humble. Nobody does everything right, but the best partners are the ones who can (and will) communicate with you.
Watch how a prospective partner communicates with their friends and their family. Ask about it, if you get to that point. I’m not saying are they loud and funny and personable. I’m saying, do they apologize when they make a mistake, how do they react when they are third party to an incident? Those kind of things. A lot of marriages hit a skid when the spouses realize they may have been the life of the party, had some laughs, but they don’t actually know how to communicate with one another – how to express hurt, disappointment. How, even, to be quiet around one another!
Just like in our first section, don’t solely watch others for this, watch yourself and see how you are doing at it.
The best advice about relationships is to take all advice (even ours) with a grain of salt. No two relationships are alike. You are living your own story and making your own choices. You will have to deal with the consequences of your decisions and the anguish of waiting.
Students at our college ask about “our story” all the time. We tell them we didn’t like each other at first (but some people feel love at first sight). We tell them long-distance dating actually helped us (but it might be a death sentence for some). Our story is our story. It is not a universal addendum on love.
The best thing, then, that you can do is to know your story. What is it about? Why do you want a relationship? Really, deep down, why? What are you pursuing in life and how will someone else add to that pursuit? Are you willing (and to what degree) to not only have a partner for your journey but to partner with another in theirs?