So what are you looking for in a long term relationship?
I watched a few episodes of the TV drama “Never say goodbye 说好不分手” these days in Hong Kong. It’s astonishingly touching. I remember one comparison pretty clearly when one of the lead guys commented on his relationship with two distinctive girls in a very interesting way:
- The relationship I had with A is like playing video games. There’s always another challenge waiting for me. It’s fun and engaging, it keeps me going. The best part is, you have multiple chances with one challenge, and you can even restart if it’s “game over”.
- The relationship I had with B is like doing a surgery. I have to be extra careful every second. The more I care about the patient the more nervous and intense it becomes. It gets tiring to be honest, because as a surgeon you have but one shot. If you screw this up you don’t have another chance.
This simple but very insightful comparison and analogy made me reflect deeply on how human beings interact and leave impressions on each other. Then I started thinking about relationships in general, and all the wonderful girlfriends of mine who are still single, and all the charming guy friends of mine who are still confused about what the hell all the girls are thinking. But the fact is: the girls are not less confused, and probably only more.
I am in no position to categorize myself as a relationship expert because I am simply not, but I know one thing that I am actually good at: to state the obvious but in a unique way that would make sense to all of you no matter where you are coming from. I used to tell myself: the first step to achieve anything in life is to decide what you want. So what I am trying to do here is really just to share some observations and understandings on how to make a smarter decision on what you should be looking for in a long term relationship.
Let’s be honest. Physical attraction is important for both guys and girls. This should be the ONE THING you can never be confused about because it’s easy to tell and it’s freaking right there…But if you are perfectly okay to be with someone you have absolutely no feelings for (maybe in exchange for other important things to you in life, be it money or fame), that’s your personal choice. But at least for me, kissing someone I am not attracted to is quite disgusting.
So I have no plan to waste your time on this but I do want to point out just one thing: Physical attraction is usually important when you decide whether you should GET INTO a relationship, but it is NEVER the reason WHY YOU SHOULD STAY.
I know everyone (especially girls) has a list of so-called qualifications for an ideal significant other. And I guess it’s okay if you have “a decently good school” or “a decently good job so he/she can be self-sustainable” on the list. But if your extensive list includes ridiculous things like the below, I suggest you go back to kindergarten.
- Height: at least 180cm
- Education: at least Ivy league schools (oh, maybe plus Stanford, actually at least MBA or PhD)
- Career: at least VP/Director level at a large bank
There are two points I do want to make regarding education and career background though.
- Be relative compatible to your own background so at least you guys can carry on a sustainable intellectual conversation.
- It’s like SAT scores. It doesn’t mean you get into the top school even if you have a perfect score. It doesn’t mean you won’t get in if you only have a mediocre score, because you still have a good chance if you know your strengths and how to position yourself well.
Please allow me to differentiate Character and Personality for one second, speaking from a girl’s perspective.
- Character defines how much you can trust each other = whether he is a good person, a reliable person, a mature and sophisticated person who knows how to handle himself, how to handle you, and how to handle different situations in life.
- Personality defines how much chemistry and emotional connection you may have with each other = whether his interests and approach with people and life is generally compatible with yours so you have much to share, to experience, and to explore.
Though you hear this often that character can be built and personality can be trained, but even if it’s true this has to happen earlier in people’s lives. You are not in a position in your 20s to train another person in his 20s or 30s. Whatever you see and feel is who he is, that’s it. Now you may understand why this is one of the most popular reasons two people, once so in love, have to walk their separate ways.
I know character and personalities are hard to tell in the beginning though, and I agree it takes time for any person to reveal his/her true identity, but if the relationship is getting serious there are two questions you can ask yourself (not necessarily ask the other person but just ask yourself and see what answers you can come up with) if you are still confused:
- Test on Character: Is he still going to be by my side if one day I get really sick, or lose a leg, or doesn’t have any money, etc?
- Test on Personality: Can I see myself growing old with him? Can I see myself becoming a mother one day or work super hard but always always have a lot to talk to him about?
If the answer is yes to both questions, it’s an easy decision to make.
Different stages in life
Being attracted to someone, having feelings about someone, or wanting to be good to someone are easy because ultimately these activities only involve you yourself (how the other person responds is another story). But relationship is hard because the very definition of relationship involves two people (in some situations even more than two), and that freaks the hell out of some people.
So let’s talk about the second most important reason why people break up: different stages in life. This is not about age, you can be 23 and you know exactly what you want in life and who you should be to make yourself happy; you can be 37 and still not ready to commit to anyone or settle down in any place. I am a firm believer that life has different plans for different people, and your plan may intersect with mine, but it doesn’t mean your plan will walk hand-in-hand with mine from now on.
People say good relationships are good for similar reasons, but bad relationships are bad for all kinds of reasons. I disagree.
I think good relationships are good for many reasons and usually distinct reasons and many times reasons only known to the people actually in the relationship but not to everyone else. Yet all relationships have one universal killer: different expectations. Even if you ultimately want the same things, if your expectations on these things to take place come in different forms, by different sequences and with different time schedules, the relationship will without doubt suffer.
And this has nothing to do with how compatible or comfortable you are with each other. You are at different stages in life, so life gets in the way.
One or two things that you truly admire
Finally I want to share with you something that is not immediately obvious but which has struck me again and again in the past few years, until one day I realized it’s not just me, it’s probably everyone, especially girls.
Forget about these reasons she may give you, because if these are so true and so important, she wouldn’t have wanted to be with you in the first place (suppose your girlfriend does know what she’s actually doing…)
- You’re not mature enough
- You’re younger than her
- You’re not caring enough
- You’re not making a lot of money yet
- Her parents don’t agree
- You don’t have much time to spend with her
- You never buy any gifts for her
- You have too many female friends…etc
I am not saying these are not problems. These could very well be serious problems (depends on the situation) but these are not fundamental and are not damaging enough for her to call quit. So the No. 1 most important reason why a girl would leave a guy is: she simply cannot find that one or two things SO SPECIAL about you that she respects and admires so much that she’s willing to give up everything else to be with you.
So what do I mean by Being Special? He doesn’t have to come from a rich family, he doesn’t have to be super successful in his career yet, but is there one or two things about him that you truly admire and would like to support him wholeheartedly no matter what?
- Maybe he is really talented in writing, painting, or playing piano
- Maybe he is the most determined (strong mental strength) person you’ve ever known
- Maybe he has his own special way to stay optimistic and always knows what to say to make you laugh
- Maybe he is an expert in being healthy and he motivates you to lead an energetic and inspiring life
- Maybe he is really ambitious himself and he knows how to lead you to follow your own dreams too
There are many forms of being special, and it doesn’t matter how I define special, because this is something you need to figure out on your own, for what matters to you in your life, and your life shared with someone else. Without knowing what matters to you in life, you will not be able to identify with that someone special, even if he has exactly what you most admire of. And I will not be surprised if you keep jumping from one guy to another, being attracted to this and that, but can never decide where you belong.
At the end of the day, life is about fulfillment; and people struggle when they can’t fulfill, and people get confused when they are already trying so hard. It’s exactly the same thing in the context of a relationship. For some people, love will fulfill, or sex will fulfill, money will fulfill, or a big house/a trendy car will fulfill…But for many other people, these are not enough.
So you have to go deeper into who you are as a person and what you want from life, before you figure out what draws your own lines in terms of trust, compatibility, and being special in a relationship. If you haven’t done this exercise yet, I seriously recommend you take even a detour to accelerate this process, so you will be able to make a much better decision for yourself later on in life.
Until then, good luck! And help me to TWEET if you like what you just read!