1. When I was 25, I thought we needed to be opposites to attract. Well, in a sense, we all wind up with our opposite; after all, none of us weds our clone.
But did you know? People fight about their differences, not their similarities. Hundreds of studies all over the world show that like attracts like. So if you want someone you like, make sure they’re like you in all the important ways (personality, values, goals, dreams) and some of the less-important ways.
2. When I was 25, I thought we had to share all the same interests (yes, even though we also had to be opposites; what can I say, I was confused). And we do need to share some interests. But all? No. My husband just went to Africa while I stayed home and wrote a book. We had great stories to share, him of safaris, me of academic pursuits, when he returned. Fantastic!
3. When I was 25, I thought my man had to be cool. He doesn’t. What he has to be is kind and respectful. My husband is. Did you know that in almost 40 years of research, the big picture is that if you can find and be someone kind and respectful, you’ll thrive at love—and if you can’t, you won’t? Yep. Truth.
4. When I was 25, I thought he had to have a great butt. Okay, he does have a great butt.
5. When I was 25, I thought independence was vital. But interdependence is much, much more important. Being able to rely on the one you love is highly valued in at least 37 cultures where these things have been researched. And the most important question you can ask is not one about “me” but about “we”: Are you on my side? Make sure that’s a Yes, because that’s THE question that never stops mattering.
6. When I was 25, I thought that love was enough. Sorry, Beatles; it’s not all you need. Almost everyone in the USA marries for love, yet about 47% of first marriages end in divorce. If love by itself was enough, that wouldn’t happen. Turns out you need similarity, kindness, respect, and friendship too.
7. When I was 25, I thought sex was the end-all, and that you should have sex quickly in a relationship to find out whether you want to know more about someone. And sex is definitely important; don’t get serious about anyone you don’t want to put your hands all over, who doesn’t want the same with you.
But sex-first, questions-later broke my heart, and for many folks, it does something even worse: It breaks lives—health, families, children’s futures, bank accounts, and the ability to have faith in future relationships. Casual sex is rarely casual.
In studies, 3/4ths of women and 1/4th of men say they have trouble remaining emotionally distant even in a friends-with-benefits arrangement. Another study found that almost half of women, and about a tenth of men, had actually used ‘casual’ sex to try to create commitment.
So yes, choose someone who rings your bell. But don’t let them ring it until *after* you’ve established that they’re similar to you, kind, respectful, and on your side at a core level.
8. When I was 25, I thought I didn’t need someone who could/would take care of me.
But I found out that adulthood is just too dang hard to do on our own! Partnership is all about taking care of one another, and sooner or later, we all need it. For me, I wound up needing to be taken care of through open-heart surgery while I was still young. I needed help raising our daughter; I’d been a single parent, and boy, did that suck! I needed someone to listen and care about my day.
Of course, my husband has needs too, and it is my honor and privilege to take care of him. Folks, we’re human; we evolved to need and to be needed. Choose someone who wants you to take care of them, and who wants to take care of you too.
9. When I was 25, I thought I needed someone with advanced degrees. What I found out was that I needed my peer—my equal. My husband and I don’t have the same number or level of degrees; we do have the same levels of achievement and intellectual curiosity in the areas we’re interested in. Pick a peer. Remember, that peer may not have exactly your set of credentials. But they are your equal nonetheless.
10. When I was 25, I thought I needed someone who felt like home. And it’s true, I needed someone who made me feel totally comfortable in my skin; whose love made me want to be my best self. But I didn’t need to pick the same issues I grew up with. Too many of us choose someone who pushes the same buttons that got pushed in the families we grew up in. Pick wisely; choose someone who heals rather than worsens your issues.
Ultimately, research is very clear that married folks are twice as likely to be happy as adults who live any other way. But first you’ve got to find the right partner. Changing your criteria can seem tough, but it’s easier than changing someone once you’re together.
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015. You can get a free chapter and see more at http://www.lovefactually.co