It’s easy to do. When you’re dating you put on your best face-you’re considerate, accommodating; you let small irritations go by, you hold back on the darker sides of your past and personality. But the real purpose of dating is not just being good and nice but about sorting and selecting, at some point being honest and real to see if you are both truly compatible.
Having common interests. Yes, we all know about complementarity, the bungee jumper hooks up with the fly-fisherman, the one who wants to traverse the Ural mountains meets the one who doesn’t need to go more than six miles outside of town. All this is fine . to a point.
What happens to a lot couples when dating is they web sites fall into dating activities-movies, concerts, eating out, partying with friends on weekends, lots of drinking, lots of sex-and downtime is essentially crashing from all this and watching NCIS marathons together on the couch. Do this long enough, add in mutual accommodating, and you can wind up with a distorted view of your compatibility.
At some point, everyday life has to take hold. You both settle. The sex drops off a bit because of natural oxytocin shifts, going out all the time for dinner is too expensive. This is where couples can start to drift apart-working longer hours or going to Facebook as a default way of spending time-and moving towards parallel lives. Or, if already married, they can fill this space with kids, and become child-centered-going to endless soccer games, school meetings, and trips to the zoo.
You don’t want to do this. It’s important that you have a core of activities, even if small, that you both honestly enjoy doing together and don’t cost a bazillion dollars or require you to be in an altered state of mind. These are the glue that can hold the relationship together over the long haul. Those couples that wind up building around children struggle as the children leave home and the center falls out. And yes, your individual interests may change over time, but the challenge is to have and keep a core.
Common values/philosophies over key issues. Sure, Republicans do marry Democrats, and Jews do marry Christians, but there are certain issues that you do want to be on the same page about:
Individual vs. couple time: This is about expectations and visions about what being a couple means. Is it OK for me to take a weeklong vacation with my sister? Can I throw myself into work even if that sometimes means traveling or working 80 hours a week? Here, we’re determining each partner’s needs for alone time, the introvert vs. the extrovert, but also about each partner’s own priorities and vision of a good life.
Negotiating this can be difficult at times because differences can easily stir up each other’s emotional wounds around control and abandonment (see my post Why You Tolerate What You Hate for more details on this). This is where the solo vacation feels like the other is pulling away, just as complaining about work travel can feel like micromanagement. All too quickly, each partner’s feelings are hurt and arguments slip into “you don’t care, you’re too demanding” mode.
Sex: Sex is about having compatible libidos, each partner’s baseline desire for sex, though this will change with developmental issues such as having children or aging. But it is also about both partner’s needs really getting met, and being able to educate your partner by saying what you like and don’t like, rather than, once again, slipping into accommodation. It is also about values: Is sex about connection or fun, or primarily about procreation? Once the oxytocin of dating and early marriage naturally fades, are your visions of a good sex life good enough for both of you?