One of my dearest friends, S, recently broke up with her boyfriend. They’d been dating six months and by all accounts, were a fine-looking couple together, both very tall and lean, successful, and very smart. I immediately volunteered myself to the task of cheering her up and took her to one of my favorite vegan restaurants in West Village. Over dinner, it became obvious that despite picture-perfect appearances and complementary resumes, they were not at all well-suited for each other. Under their matching credentials, they were two very different people. Apparently, this fellow told S that he wanted to be so rich, as to be able to buy a yacht–and not just once, either. I had secretly raised a warning flag when I first heard he only wears Hermes ties (ugh), but this was still surprising, and totally not in line with S’s family-oriented values.
At the end of the day, they didn’t part over the yacht or the ties, or even value differences. But I think ultimately those were signs that they weren’t right for each other. When you’re first dating, you give the benefit of the doubt that you’ll grow into each other–but so often what you need is finding someone who has that potential, to begin with.
So how can you tell? Here are the signs that you’re with the right person.
1. You share the core values.
This isn’t about sharing the same interests or even passions. My love of ballet, literary fiction, or even veganism was shared by…none of my boyfriends ever. But what’s much more important is having a similar philosophical outlook. Where do you derive ultimate satisfaction in life? How important are material possessions, relationships, or accomplishments? We often take for granted that others share our own values that we forget how different each person’s needs are. You might crave freedom and adventure while your lover needs stability and security. Or you might not want kids, while your lover definitely wants them. If you differ significantly on your ideas of the ideal life, you won’t be able to grow in the same direction.
2. You make each other laugh.
Say you have someone who looks so amazing on paper (and in person). But if you can’t make each other laugh, you’ll run into trouble (or boredom) the minute first excitement fades. For instance: my boyfriend walked me home after our first date, and we passed by one of those self-storage buildings. There were signs all over the outside that said, “We Sell Boxes!!!” And we both started laughing over the fact that yes, they sell boxes there. It was a nice promise that we speak the same language of goofy and corny jokes that other people don’t even get–even though at that stage we were both busy acting cooler and edgier than we really are.
3. You have physical chemistry.
You know when you have it, and you can’t fake it. This means you’re attracted to one another, but it’s also much more than that. You might aesthetically appreciate your new date but if his/her kiss leaves you cold, it probably won’t improve upon age. Does this person make you feel beautiful, sexy, desirable, and fulfilled?
4. You have similar temperaments.
We speak often of having complementary personalities, but in reality it’s difficult for two people to have the same personality. Personality reflects your inherited nature as well as life experiences, and often includes more complex, value-related qualities (like arrogance, sincerity, or diligence, for instance). On the other hand, temperament is your fundamental “emotional tone” that has likely been around since you were an infant. According to psychologist and author Steven Stosny, temperament differences can emerge as problems “around 10th month of living together and often rise to crisis level in the second year.” And if left untreated, “they rupture the relationship by the fourth year.” Oh my!
Temperament can be assessed through several different measures (just like color can be measured by “hue,” “saturation,” “lightness,” etc). In a relationship, it’s most important that you share similar intensity (energy level) and mood. Are you highly reactive? Do you feel emotions vividly and quickly, or are you mild and mellow almost all the time? How anxious, sensitive, or low-maintenance are you? These fundamental aspects can overcome other, outwardly more obvious differences. For instance, my boyfriend is a textbook extrovert and I often have to overcome a sense of anxiety when meeting large groups of people, especially strangers. (Getting better at it!). But we both have very high intensity and similar mood (jovial when happy, super-grumpy when stressed, you get the idea). High emotional frequency helps us feel more connected, even if sometimes that gets directed at each other like Fourth of July fireworks.
What do you think? Have you ever experienced a situation where it clearly wasn’t the right fit–or vice versa?
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Photo: Fairuz Othman via Flickr