Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Relationship Instructions: The Care and Feeding of Me

Unfortunately none of us comes with instructions on what makes us grow.

If you have ever received a delivery from a florist or even bought an orchid at a Farmers’ Market you’ll notice they usually come with a little tag that tells you how to take care of it. Of course you know that living things need sun and water but it is possible to give it too much sun and it scorches or too little and it withers, too much water and it drowns, too little and it dies. An orchid grower or violet fancier would know how much of each his or her favorite plant needs to thrive, but most of us have to read that tag or suffer the consequences.

Relationships too need care and feeding so they won’t wither, but the people who enter into them do not come with informational tags, alas. Therefor it is necessary for each of us to provide instructions to a partner on the care and feeding of us as individuals.

By the time we are old enough to look for and become involved in romantic or intimate relationships we are each complicated individuals with foibles and idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, habits and requirements. It’s not necessary to approach each initial interaction with a laundry list to check off but I’m sure each of us knows what are or might be deal breakers.

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A deal breaker for someone eager to start a family is their first date with a person who states his or her adamant intention to remain child free. Less obvious but just as clear a communication is a date who singlehandedly consumes a bottle of wine during dinner if you are skittish about drinkers and alcohol abuse. If you must marry someone within your religious affiliation don’t date someone who is outside it. People who are smart enough to avoid trouble simply do not pursue a relationship with someone whose life choices are in opposition to one’s own or, if the attraction is enormous, at least move forward with eyes open to an eventual showdown.

Informing a potential friend or lover about your care and feeding would be statements like “I know it might strike you as persnickety but I am always on time and it bother me greatly when friends of mine are late” or “I might be the exception in your experience but I really don’t enjoy receiving flowers.” If you are usually grumpy in the morning and you are a houseguest let your host know that you are just not up for a pre-breakfast walk. If someone special invites you to the basketball game let them know that you don’t like crowds or are not a fan of professional sports.

I think it wise when informing someone of likes and dislikes that might run counter to theirs to immediately give other options. If you’re a stickler for being on time suggest you meet at your destination rather than waiting to go together. Let your host know that you will be happy to join them for breakfast upon their return from the early morning walk, that while you might not like sporting games you do enjoy music concerts.

What you are doing is showing the other person how to avoid upsets between you and how to please you. This is important throughout a relationship, not only in the beginning. A statement like “I notice you seem not to eat much when we go out for pizza. It’s okay with me if you order something else or suggest trying another restaurant with a bigger variety.” Something like that encourages your companion to speak up a bit more about his or her requirements and preferences, the care and feeding of them.

Modeling and encouraging these types of disclosures enhances communication and ensures a relationship that rather than wither from a lack of sun or drown from overwatering will thrive and grow strong and beautiful.

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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