Real Life 101: Lesson 3, Relationship Basics, Part 1

This is the third in an indeterminate series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday.

I hope that during your high school and college years you developed reasonably good dating skills with the gender to which you are attracted. However, your experience may be like mine: you were socially awkward, which made it hard for you to make these kinds of connections. Even if you were the most popular boy/girl on campus, consistently had your top pick and always dated perfect 10s, it is likely that you too have not mastered the fundamentals of sound relationships. This is not surprising. Even a lifetime may not suffice.

I will concentrate in this entry on romantic, potentially long-term relationships and will save for other entries the considerable issues associated with family, work and collegial relationships. Deftly navigating the world of relationships is challenging work. If you have the inclination, you can pick up Daniel Goleman’s now classic book on Emotional Intelligence. It acts as something of a primer for understanding and navigating through the emotional relationship cloud in which we all must navigate.

In the area of romantic relationships, you most likely want to know how to find that perfect individual that you will love and cherish you. In particularly if you are a male, you will also want someone who will meet all your sexual needs, particularly the kinky ones. (If you are a woman, the research suggests you are looking for a man that will be faithful, a good father, and will not be abusive.) Here is the bad news: he or she does not exist. He or she does not exist because none of us grows up perfectly and we are all different anyhow. Even if you could clone yourself and have your clone be the gender that turns you on, your replica would still not be your ideal mate. This is because, and I hate to break this to you, but you like all human beings are not perfect either. On a daily basis, if you had to encounter yourself as others see you, then you would probably run away. You would want nothing to do with yourself.

Therefore, in your primary intimate relationship, you are not likely to hit a home run. You can get to first base, but a double or triple is quite possible. I may be 50, married and love my wife but I am not too old to have my fantasies. In my fantasy, I am married to Catherine Zeta Jones or maybe, since I am a Firefly fan, Jewel Staite. Being 50 and sanguine though, I know that neither of these lovely women would be my ideal partner. Even if they were attracted to me, I doubt they would be into my particular sexual kinks. My idea of making love might be once a day; theirs might be once a month. Moreover, they would come with their own sets of issues. As I pointed out recently, this is particularly true of celebrities. I do not know what they would be but if I were with them 24/7, they would irritate me.

If you want to find the optimal (but not ideal) mate for you, you have to do some homework. This does not mean placing personals ads on eHarmony or Yahoo! Personals. Nor does this mean surfing the personals ads for that petite 5’4″ blonde with the cornflower hair who has a Master’s Degree in Human Sexuality and who lives around the block. Rest assured that if she exists, she is in a committed relationship to someone higher up the food chain than you are.

You will have to set your sites lower. As is true with everything else in life, you cannot always get what you want in a relationship either. That so many singles are unwilling to accept this partially explains the high numbers of singles in their 30s and 40s today. It is fine to set high standards if you aspire to be celibate and childless. If you do not then you need to lower your expectations. As I will get into in a subsequent entry, you do not want to lower them too far. You want someone who has their act together, not a psycho. Fortunately, there are plenty of people in this group. You are likely one of them.

Humans of course come in all shapes and sizes, with innumerable variations from being emotionally sophisticated to psychotic. As life is a crapshoot, so are relationships. There are however, certain things you can do to improve the odds that you will find a healthy and sustaining relationship rather than end up in a dysfunctional one.

One nervy thing you can do, if you can muster the courage, is to ask your friends and family to critique you. How do they see you? What do they see as your strengths and weaknesses? Particularly if you have platonic friends of the opposite sex (assuming you are attracted to the opposite sex) seek them for their perspective. Be prepared to cringe a bit. Perhaps you dress like a slob and you never noticed. Perhaps having pizza boxes stacked up toward the ceiling in your apartment is something of a turn off to a lady. The more opinions you get the better. Nevertheless, you should notice some general trends. This process will give you some valuable insight into yourself and areas to work on. The more you improve yourself, the more attractive you will be by those you want to attract. In short, you are widening the pool of potential mates, which is good.

What if like me you are socially awkward? I have a cousin so socially awkward that he is in his forties and lives with his brother and his wife. Ideally, you would invest in your personal life the same way you would invest in your career. In my last entry in this series, I suggested that it is okay to go into debt to advance your career, providing you have taken care of your necessities. It is also okay to go into debt to straighten out your social awkwardness or any of the other kinks in your armor that resulted from childhood and adolescence. Lord knows we all have them. This can be intimidating. Let us say you figure you need six months of weekly therapy from a competent clinical psychologist at $125 a session to get through your social awkwardness. That is $3250. That is a lot of money, but when measured against your entire life and even the cost of college tuition these days, it is not a lot of money. If your therapy succeeds, you will be well positioned for healthy relationships and more likely to attract a higher quality mate. That is because you will be less messed up. In short, to achieve the goal of competently navigating the complex emotional waters of dating and mating, six months of your life and $3250 is a sound investment. If you have health insurance, some or all of your therapy may be covered. In addition, you may be able to deduct the expenses.

I will have more suggestions on navigating intimate relationships in a future entry. Stay tuned!

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