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Finding and Deepening a Long-Term Relationship: A Case Study

Five embedded principles and practices.

Key points

  • The goal of your dating-app profile isn't to attract the most responses; it's to gather good fits. Describe what makes you different.
  • Using a "report card" can prevent infatuation's fog from clouding your judgment.
  • Even if you feel desperate, have high-standards in a partner. It's better to be single than to join the many unhappy couples.
Gerhard Lipold, pxhere, CC0
Source: Gerhard Lipold, pxhere, CC0

This is part of The Quests series. The others are linked to at the end of this post.

Here we turn to the quest for a good long-term relationship. As in the previous installment, this one begins with a first-person report from "Jeremy." It is a composite of my clients' experiences, and it embeds five keys to finding and deepening a long-term relationship. After, I call those out.

Hi, this is Jeremy again. There are all those songs about love: passionate love, deep love, even lasting love.

But that hasn’t been my experience, although I’ll admit my experience has been kind of limited. Sure, I dated some in college but the longest lasted just three months. I hate the word “hookup” but that’s kind of what most of them were. If I had been sober, maybe I would have had fewer, I don’t know. I told you I’d be honest so I figure I better tell you this: I wasn’t great at it. Sometimes, I was no good at all, if you know what I mean.

My parents are still together although I don’t think they have a marriage made in heaven. They seem to make it work here on earth, although I don’t know what their marriage is really like. Kids don’t know about that. At least I don’t.

But I thought I wanted to try for a real relationship. Actually, I wasn’t sure: So many couples start great but it doesn’t last. And if they get married, half get divorced. I hear divorcing sucks. And if they have kids, it’s even worse.

I knew that bars aren’t good places to meet a real partner—too loud, too much alcohol and weed. There, it comes down mainly to looks. Sometimes I think the 9s and 10s figure they can get by on their looks so they don’t care to be nice, or they don’t work on their personality. I don’t know.

So I told my friends, at least the ones who weren’t screw-ups, that I’m looking to meet someone. I didn’t know exactly what to tell them so I just said “attractive, kind, and well-adjusted.” I even lowered myself to tell my parents that.

I felt I should also use apps—today, even winners use them, by the millions. But what should I say about myself? Something that will attract a lot of responses like, “Successful, kind, fun-loving, communicative guy seeks similar woman?” But I heard that the game isn’t how many responses you get, it’s getting a well-matched one. And that requires you to be honest. Well, at least that’s something I can be. What do you think of this opener? “Kind, recent college grad guy with a decent job (finally), seeks a similar gal.”

Here was my thinking: I wanted to imply that I wasn’t a 10, maybe a 7, and that I wanted to be fair, expecting around the same in a woman. And I used just a little humor, self-effacing humor—that I finally got a job—because I didn’t want to seem like I was trying too hard.

Rather than wait for women to contact me, I reached out so I could be pickier. And I stayed picky: If they didn’t respond within a couple days or seemed at all mean or whose attic seemed dusty, I wrote them off.

My parents made me try Michelle. Well, her texts were okay but the coffee date? All she wanted to talk about was her family and pop culture. And I mean talk—she barely asked me anything. Maybe she was nervous but you gotta make choices—there are a lot of fish in the sea. So, I didn't want to see her again.

A friend insisted that Christine would be a good fit. Yeah, except that there was no chemistry. Remember when I said that sometimes I was no good at all? Well, with Christine, I knew I wouldn’t be.

But the third time was the charm. I felt like I always knew Lily—the conversation just flowed. She wasn’t a 10 but I just couldn’t wait to kiss her, and I could sense that she felt that way too. At the end of our first date, we had the best kiss good-night, but we sensed that we shouldn’t go further that night.

The next day I was flying! I wanted to text her 20 times that day but put myself on a texting diet: I waited until mid-morning and when she responded in 20 minutes, I waited 15, even though I wanted to respond that second.

Fast-forward six months. Lily and I have been living together for two months now. Things are great although the sex isn’t quite as good as it was. And she’s been a little pushy about wanting me to get a better job. But when I rated her on a sort of report card, she’d make Phi Beta Lova: Sex A-, Career A, Kindness B+, Well-adjustedness A-, and that ineffable thing called love: A-.

I brought Lily home to meet my parents. They love her, or maybe it’s that they’d love to be grandparents. It's probably some combination of the two.

God, I don’t know. Is this it? Is there someone even better for me out there? After we got married, would Lily change? Would I change? Would we tire of each other, mad at each other, join the half of couples that divorce, screaming over who gets the home entertainment unit? Or would we be okay, or better than okay? Or should I stay single at least a while longer? I’m not sure. I’m really not.

The takeaways

Use filtered sources. Bars provide no screen for compatibility beyond looks—anyone can come to a bar. Seeking a partner at a bar screens in people who’d rather drink and talk little—it’s too loud and too public to hear much.

Better: Reach out to well-curated people on the dating apps, ask trusted friends and relatives to set you up, and attend events likely to attract your Mr. or Ms. Long-Term Right: a particular talk, a volunteer opportunity, or a course. For example, if you’re fun-centric, maybe it's a dance class or tennis group lesson. To meet someone practical, you might attend a class on financial planning.

Create an honest dating profile. The goal isn’t to get the most responses, it’s to get a few on-target ones. So, acknowledge not only your strengths but a weakness or difference that the right partner would need to accept, maybe even welcome. For example, if I were single, my dating profile would mention that I like to work unusually long hours. That would screen out the wrong partners and screen in the right ones: those with a rich life independent of their partner.

Reach out. When you do the sifting, you're finding good fits for you. In contrast, if you respond to others, you're tempted to compromise to fit the other person's desires.

The beauty of dating apps is their potential for curation. Have high standards: Sift through many profiles to find a few that you could imagine becoming your special someone. Then, if their initial response is less than a net A-, move on. Sure, you could have guessed wrong, but it’s a probability game: You want to spend your time so it maximizes the chances of your meeting Mr. or Ms. Right.

Chemistry is necessary but far from sufficient. Sex is what differentiates romantic from platonic relationships. So, attraction that's insufficient to last beyond the infatuation phase may be a deal-killer. That’s also true of different sexual appetites: If you’re a daily person and he or she is much less than that, it could be a difficult chasm to bridge.

That said, in the long-term relationship at least, as the rose-colored glasses of infatuation begin to clear, consciously grade the partner and perhaps yourself on sexual compatibility, as well as on kindness, well-adjustedness, financial self-sufficiency, having a rewarding life outside of the relationship, and the key emotional catch-all: love.

In rating yourself on those, do you see an area for growth that you want to address?

Question external pressure. Peers and parents may verbally, or by example, pressure you to “move forward” and marry and perhaps have kids. Weigh their input wisely: Given your situation, to what extent would your life be better or worse, long term, by “moving forward” rather than going slower, or even, at least for a while, going solo?

I read this aloud on YouTube.

Other installments in The Quests series are Finding Good Work, Succeeding on Your First Professional Job, Finding a Good Place to Live, Finding and Growing Money. Finding and Maintaining Diet Discipline, and Finding Peace of Mind.

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