There are, it seems to me, two essential things in deciding whether to spend your days and nights with someone else.

Firstly, there must be some sort of real physical attraction. We, like the animals we resemble, have to like the smell of the other, or the sound of the voice, or just the swing of the step. We have to stare fascinated at the sweep of the long lashes on the cheek, or the scintillant gaze, or the sweet curve of the well-shaped lips.

In other words something physical has to attract us so strongly that the person almost seems in a strange way familiar, part of our past. The question, “Have I not seen you somewhere else?” may not be an entirely a false one. Some echo from our past seems to ring with a melodious chime in the present yet our lover may seem at the same time strange and exotic.

In my own case, coming from an Anglican family, I fell in love with a Jewish man. Yet my own mother, born in South Africa, had eloped at seventeen with a Jew. Her parents had come after her and annulled the marriage, something I was not told until I turned twelve. Was I then, by falling for a Jewish psychiatrist, repeating something from my mother’s past, though this man, a Middle –Westerner with what seemed to me a sexy cowboy twang to his voice, seemed so exotic and different from me?

Just as important as this first physical impression is what might be called a moral one. We must be as sure as we possibly can be that the person we have chosen will treat us as we would treat them. Is our lover capable of putting our interests before his/ hers? Will she/he help us in our daily life? Will he/she help us achieve our aims, our desires? Will she/ he help us with our life’s work? Will our lives be improved by this man/woman?

If these basic demands are satisfied, we need then to let everything else go. Don’t ask for anything more. Be willing to compromise on the rest. Overlook small foibles and failures, perhaps even bad table manners, a difference in opinion over a book or a film, or even a political view. We have to realize that all relationships like everything else require patience, perseverance, and above all, of course, that indescribable quality: love.

Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.

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