On Dodging Bullets
There was recently an article in The Atlantic called All the Single Ladies in which the author explains how she broke up with her steady boyfriend when she was 28 (“something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down”) and went on to find herself still unmarried at age 38 (and is, apparently, unhappy about this).
When reading this article, I thought of one of my friends who could have written it… and another friend who recently got divorced… and another friend who has hit 40 and has never been married… and, after thanking my lucky stars that I have a happy marriage, started thinking about the whole “dating” thing and how absolutely awful it is and, of course, how everyone out there is doing it wrong.
Luckily, I’m here to help.
It seems to me that the biggest problem that most folks have is that they are already in love with someone in their head. What they are looking for is someone who looks like this person who is already in their head. Pardon me for using the second person for this next part but it works better than “one” does. So imagine when you’re walking through the mall or a local bar or whatnot and you see the light hit this other person’s face just right and whammo. “Love.”
Ask the person out, maybe he or she will say “sure” and watch the sparks fly. All of the other person’s jokes are funny and the insights are all trenchant. As time goes on, however, there is conflict… the real person and the person in your head don’t match up exactly. A comment here, a habit there… next thing you know, you’ve got a decision to make. Are you in love with the person in your head more than the person who actually showed up and had the light hit their face just right?
If so, you get to say “you’re not who I thought you were” or, even better, “you’ve changed” and break it off. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find someone who looks and acts like the person in your head and doesn’t have a horsey laugh or plays tennis instead of hockey. Odds are instead that you’ll end up like Ms. Bolick… writing articles that say “I dumped a very good boyfriend because something was missing and not only was I unable to find that something, I’m unable to find someone.”
Which brings us to the other decision that you could have made when it comes to the other person who actually showed up: you have to ask “is this person worth investing myself in and with?”
And *THEN*, if the answer turns out to be “no”, you should probably break it off. (Hint: Dave Barry said “Someone who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person” and he was right.) You can still use the “you’re not who I thought you were” line. It’s probably appropriate.
If, amazingly enough, you happen to answer “yes”, then work at the relationship and work at it and work at it some more. Maybe it’ll work out.
Now, when it comes to working out, there *IS* a way that you can work with the various variables and end up with someone that you’re most likely to want to answer “yes” to the investing yourself question for and that little trick has to do with where you’re most likely to be when you get hit with the whammo. First you have to ask one very, very, very important question: What is the one trait that it’s most important that this other person have? Find the answer to this question. If you can’t find the answer to this question, think about it some more because, lemme tell ya, if you don’t know it, you’re not going to have a whole lot of control of that answer (and you *DO* have an answer to that question even if you’re ignorant of it) when you start investing yourself in the other person.
Got your answer? Good. Here’s what you need to do: go to the place where those people go. If your answer is “it’s very important to me that this other person be a rock climber”, then you should hie thee down to City Rock and make friends with folks and things will, inevitably, happen. If your answer is “it’s very important to me that this other person care about the life of the mind”, you may want to go down to the local library and make friends at one of the discussion groups. If your answer is “it’s very important to me that this other person be a theist”, you probably want to get to a church (this isn’t the indicator that it once was, of course… when everybody realized that church was a great place to meet people, church ceased to be a great place to meet people).
It should probably go without saying that you should be very careful with this… because let’s say that your answer is “rock climbing” this year then, next year, it might be “willing to help me recover from a femur that’s been broken in 3 places”. You may want to fast forward to the second answer… that said, it’s a lot less easy to figure out where those people hang out. (The hospital, maybe?)
Now, most of the friends I have who find themselves in the bind of Ms. Bolick are friends who have a litany of traits that the other person has to have (odds are, that person is already taken) or the main trait is something to the effect of “physical trait” and, lemme tell ya, it’s fairly easy to not be distracted by “physical trait” after a couple of months and you have to actually hold a conversation (they break it off and find someone who looks vaguely like the last person that didn’t work out).
By contrast, the folks I know who have figured out what the one thing is, however, and that answer is an honest answer, they tend to be happily married and quite pleased with the answer they’ve found for themselves.