Monday, March 15, 2010

What do men and women want? And are the lists really so different?

Pearls N the Hood recently drew attention to her personal struggle with relationship ennui, in the form of her beau seeming to bristle at the nurturing she provided by instinct.  I doubt this reaction was really about getting too much of something (home-cooked polenta?  Sign me up!), but rather not enough.  I don't think we ever get enough from relationships.  For women, I think it has to do with the fact that we're constantly sent the message that finding the right man will solve all our problems, leaving us disappointed when it doesn't instantly transport us to carefree happiness.  For men, maybe it has to do with being taught that what they want for themselves and what their partners want for them are necessarily in conflict.  E.g., they want their careers, their buddies, their beer, their freedom, and we want them to do dishes and watch chick flicks.  Of course these gender roles are totally unrealistic, and for same-sex partnership there are entirely different dynamics, but I feel like the messages we are fed about relationships from a young age play a big role in programming us for dissatisfaction later in life.  We think relationships have some kind of magical power to transcend our life situation, when in reality, they are simply a commitment to share that life situation with someone else.  Don't think I'm advocating for settling like a certain (fat-shaming) Lori Gottlieb.  Far from it.  I'm simply advocating looking for a partner instead of a savior.  We shouldn't expect a relationship to fix us, rescue us, or make our lives something they weren't before.  We should expect our relationships to be filled with ups and downs, to be thrilling at times and tedious at others, and for the people we embark on them with to be wonderful and flawed, just like us.  It's because relationships are so hard that we need to find wonderful people to be in them with.  Not perfect people, but wonderful.

My non-negotiable list of what to look for in a partner, and an opportunity to share yours, after the jump.
  • Someone who you enjoy doing things with, even everyday things
  • Someone who shares your values
  • Someone with a similar level of ambition, or if not that, a compatible level of ambition.  If you want to be a CEO and s/he wants to teach middle school and raise the kids, that's great as long as you won't resent him/her for not contributing more financially, or come to think less of him/her for not "achieving" (by conventional standards) as much as you.
  • Someone you feel comfortable communicating with, even (especially?) about intimate things, and who reciprocates that communication
  • Someone you admire: for his/her talent, drive, goodness of heart, etc.  Someone who, if you won an Oscar, you could call your "inspiration."
  • Someone who challenges you.
  • Someone who treats people well, makes you feel better about yourself not worse, and conducts him/herself graciously in the universe.
What would you add?  And do you agree with me that finding happiness in a relationship means we may need to let go of some of our preconceived notions of what a relationship is?


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  2. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I feel sharing my life situations with someone WOULD have a magical power to transcend those situations. I'm looking for my best friend to enjoy the ride with, despite the inevitable up's and down's.

    Great list, Coca Colo. I'm interested to learn if the men out there feel the same, but this list pretty much covers my wishes. What do you think guys? Are you looking for an ambitious challenge? Just kidding... but seriously, do the men out there agree with this list or is your list longer or shorter?

  3. yes! i've been saying it for years.

  4. It's a good list. You've obviously put a lot of thought into it. And my list, if I had one, would probably look a lot like yours (I'll comment on your individual items a bit later). However, I would add one thing that I consider to be absolutely crucial for a successful relationship: you have to feel something for them in your heart. Emotional affection.

    We use our minds so much in everything that we do that we often try to apply our intellects to solving problems of the heart... and then we always end up confused, or hurt. In relationships, we all come up with *ideas* (in the mind) of what our perfect partner would be like. He will have these characteristics. She will meet these criteria. Personally, I've gone out with girls who seemed to have all the characteristics I thought I wanted in a partner. Yet, in my heart, I felt nothing. And I've also had experiences where someone who seemed to clash with everything I wanted, nevertheless elicited an emotional affection in me deeper than I've ever felt before. It didn't/couldn't work out. We were just *too* different, and we both knew it. But I still feel that having that type of emotional response to someone is more important than any intellectual criteria we can come up with.

    That being said, my experience there speaks to the necessity of what you are doing here, which is to temper (or guide) the emotions with the intellect. To be completely honest, I would not want to fully give myself to a girl unless I was *all* there: head and heart. Which, after prefacing with that lengthy caveat, brings me around to the subject of your post: What does my head want?

    I think Mad Dr actually puts it pretty well. I would want my partner to also be my best friend. I really think the communication issue you brought up (in bullet point number 4) is key. I would not want to share myself physically with anyone unless I was also able to share myself mentally and emotionally with her as well. That means we would have to be comfortable talking with each other, even about difficult topics. And that implies a certain degree of maturity, strength, and courage on the part of us both. So many times I hear things like, "Oh, don't tell that person, because they will overreact." Or, "They will take it the wrong way." "They will be offended." "They will be overly judgmental." "They will not understand." I personally would not want a partner that I would have to hide things from for any of those reasons (or any reason at all). But it's very hard to find someone who has that kind of maturity.

    (I've exceeded the word count. Continued in the next post...)

  5. Also on your list (point 2), you mention having someone who shares your values. That is also important to me, but I think it's useful to clarify what "values" are, since I feel that can mean very different things to different people. For instance, I was once at a pro-life convention down in D.C., and one of the speakers there told us a story about how she had been flirting with a man, and was later horrified and disgusted when she found out that this gentleman happened to perform abortions. That was a very important issue for her (obviously, or she would not have been speaking at a pro-life convention). And I have met other people who only want to be with someone of a particular religion or political persuasion. And so they reveal by these preferences that they care about the opinions that a person holds in their mind. For these people, it seems, "values" means "opinions." I do care about finding someone who shares my values. As one of my teachers once put it, "If you marry someone who is opposed to your spiritual work, then that's just dumbness." Nevertheless, as far as a person's *opinions* go, I am not especially concerned. Personally, I find people with different opinions than mine to be very interesting, and I would have no problem being with a partner who had wildly different opinions than me, as long as we are able to discuss those opinions openly and civilly, and as long as we are able to understand each other (even if we never end up agreeing with each other).

    The ambition thing (your bullet 3) has never really been a particular concern of mine. I cannot really see myself respecting my partner any less because she does not live up to my standards of material success. Along those lines, I would also hope that she does not look down upon me if my ambitions do not cause me to rise up as high as her or achieve as much. Though as an addendum, related to the "sharing values" thing I was just talking about earlier, if my partner were *too* identified with titles, wealth, or other forms of material success that we typically accumulate in order to prevent our sense of self from collapsing into the vacuum where our soul should be, then that might spell trouble...

    Finally, I think having someone who challenges you (your bullet 6) is also important. As Nietzsche put it, "Not only onward shalt thou propagate thyself, but upward! For that purpose may the garden of marriage help thee!" I think one of the primary purposes of our relationships (married or not) is to help each other grow as human beings. That is what I hope for in my future wife. That *will* be challenging, as growth typically is. And so in that sense, I disagree a bit on your last point--that is, having someone who makes you feel better about yourself, not worse. I would want someone who respects my feelings and is hesitant to hurt me, and when she does hurt me, will do so respectfully and gently. But I do not necessarily want someone who will always make me feel better about myself. I need to grow, and sometimes that hurts. As one of my teachers told us once, "My wife whips me." He has a wife who really helps him grow. She makes sure he's not shirking in his work upon himself. And so in that sense, I view that as the ideal situation, not necessarily someone who makes me feel good about myself. Personally, I'm not sure it's particularly healthy to feel too good about myself. I think that would make me too resistant to change.

    And that's about it. A very long comment post to describe what turned out to be a very short list. Go figure...


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