I began to think more deeply about “the grass is always greener…” concept after watching Woody Allen’s terrific movie Midnight in Paris. Barring sex addicts and neurotic, never-happy people, I think it’s safe to say that the grass will always seem greener somewhere else if you’re with the wrong person. So, based on my experience—both personally and clinically—I thought I’d offer you a list of five ingredients that I think are essential in choosing the right person. This topic is of special interest to me because I have seen so many couples over the years with at least one partner who was never in love with, attracted too, or had much in common with their current mate, but chose them anyway. The suffering came later of course: one year, two years, even 25 years post with major investments already made. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Pick someone you’re physically attracted to: We don’t make enough of this in our society primarily because people consider it too “shallow” a concept. It’s played up in commercials and other forms of the media but it’s generally not the message we receive at home or in serious conversations. When we are to think about marriage or long-term commitments we are raised to prize familiarity, safety, and security and as a consequence most of us are too afraid to go after who really turns us on. But remember, once you’ve chosen there will usually be pressure to make love to your choice, and if you didn’t have the upfront “hots” it will be almost impossible to get them later. This will also leave your relationship wide open for future affairs. Allow me to be shallow: It’s a great sign if you can’t stop starring at the person you’re interested in; it’s an even better sign if you can’t keep your hands off of him/her. And don't forget that the sex should be hot and compatible...the hotter the better.
2. Choose someone you find interesting; someone you are emotionally attracted to: I remember dating a brilliant girl with whom I couldn’t stop talking. We could stay up night after night yapping and yet it was never boring. Truth be told, it was just as exhilarating as making love. There is some truth in the saying: "It’s easy to pick out a married couple in a restaurant; they’re the couple who isn’t speaking.” If you find your potential partner really interesting, your connection can last a lifetime.
3. Speaking of connection, choose someone with common interests…and the more the merrier: I used to undervalue this one. I foolishly thought that love can conquer all. I think I was heavily influenced by the music of The Captain & Tennille. Look, if you’re an avid golfer do yourself a favor and choose someone who likes golf. If you love to ski, find a skier. If you read, find the like…or even better…seek out a writer. Studies have found that couples who attended church together had a better chance of staying together—makes sense because they value the same thing. Generally speaking, athletes and couch potatoes aren’t built for the long-haul; neither are intellects and anti-intellects.
4. Find someone who’s open: Just because you have a lot in common doesn’t mean you’ll never disagree. It’s vital to choose someone with an open mind and a willingness to negotiate and to problem-solve. Too many partners refuse to attend sessions with their mates despite obvious relationship issues. Whether borne out of anxiety or control this is usually a very bad sign that is destined to kill off a relationship. An open person will also be able to roll with the punches of life more easily and be supportive of your dreams. Micromanagers will grow on you like a fungus.
5. Match up with someone who is going in the same direction: Couples grow apart because they were never on the same page to begin with. You must have the same hopes and dreams. If only one of you wants to write books and live in a cabin in the woods like Salinger, you’ll have problems. If only one of you wants to live abroad you may only need one passport. Be sure not only to discuss these issues but the degree to which each of you’d like to carry them out. For example, if you’re with a man who wants to make a good living but not the expected living you’d prefer, a struggle fraught with anger and disappointment will soon follow.
In my latest book, Magnetic Partners, I think I make a better than adequate case that we will be automatically drawn to someone with the same internal conflict—I list 19 of these so-called master conflicts beginning on page 61. Given the determinism of my theory, once we are drawn to our “twin-in-conflict” it’s important that this individual has some insight into their conflict, or has it somewhat under control. For example, if you both have a “success vs. sabotage” conflict in which a side of each of you wants to succeed and a side of each of you has a desire to fail, then you’ll be okay as long as your conflict is balanced and nobody becomes too successful or too much of a loser. But if one of you changes via therapy, a life event, or from watching Oprah, then the conflict will become unbalanced and you must have a partner who is willing and able to re-stabilize it. Although we are drawn to someone with the same master conflict, you will still need to have the ingredients listed above to have a healthy, interesting, long-term relationship. Then the grass won’t seem so greener…