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Weekly 3: Choosing a marriage partner

Summary: Avoid the bad apples. Test for commitment. Look for traffic jams. (~7 min read) Happy New Ye

Idea Journal Weekly 3

December 30 · Issue #67 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Avoid the bad apples. Test for commitment. Look for traffic jams. (~7 min read)
Happy New Year!

#1. “These are the people your mother warned you about. (Unfortunately, sometimes they are your mother.)”
Author and psychiatrist Gordon Livingston writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart that “Much of our difficulty in developing and sustaining personal relationships resides in our failure to recognize, in ourselves as well as in others, those personality characteristics that make someone a poor candidate for a committed relationship.”
He suggests that we can develop a better screening process by understanding what exactly personality is, and by being able to identify those people who are evidently not suitable candidates for lifetime commitment.
We’re accustomed to thinking about personality in superficial ways: “He has a lot of personality” is often a statement about how engaging or entertaining someone is.
As Livingston notes, the formal definition of personality includes our habitual ways of feeling, thinking, and relating to others. Many of us understand that people differ in certain characteristics, such as attention to detail, determination, introversion, and willingness to be helpful, among many others.
But what most people fail to recognize is that the characteristics we value, such as kindness and tolerance, are not randomly distributed: “They tend to exist as a constellation of ‘traits’ that are recognizable and reasonably stable over time.”
This tendency to cluster is also true for less desirable characteristics like impulsivity, quickness to anger, self-centeredness, and unpredictability.
Knowing that personality characteristics tend to cluster, and being able to recognize them, can save a lot of heartbreak.
What you want to do is construct a conceptual map that serves as a reliable guide to help you avoid people who are not worthy of your time and trust, and to embrace those who are.
The best indications that your “always-tentative” map is faulty include feelings of anger, betrayal, disorientation, sadness, and surprise.
#2. You can test for commitment and support early on
In her book Lean In, author and technology executive Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to women who are looking for a life partner is to date all types of men: “the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys.”
But don’t marry them: “The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands.”
When the time comes to settle down, she recommends that women find someone who values fairness and wants an equal partner.
For Sandberg, this means a man who thinks women should be ambitious, opinionated, and smart.
She acknowledges that the search for such a partner takes effort, and suggests that it can be helpful to test for signs of commitment and mutual support early on.
Sandberg tells the story of her friend, finance executive Kristina Salen, who devised the following two-step test when she was dating to see if a given boyfriend would support her career:
1. First, she would cancel a date at the last minute claiming she had a professional conflict to see how the guy would react. If he understood and simply rescheduled, she would go out with him again.
2. Then, if the relationship progressed and Salen wanted to take it to the next level, she would conduct the second part of the test. Salen spent part of her career working outside the US, so she would invite the guy to visit her for the weekend – in Sao Paulo. For Salen, it was an effective way to find out if he was willing to fit his schedule around hers.
As Sandberg points out, “the more women value kindness and support in their boyfriends, the more men will demonstrate it.”
#3. Could you stand getting stuck in traffic with them?
Tim Urban, creator of the Wait But Why blog, writes that to succeed at something big, it helps to break it down into its smallest pieces, and then try to succeed at just one piece.
He suggests that this same approach can be used to understand how successful marriages work.
From afar, a great marriage looks like a sweeping love story — the kind you might find in a book or a movie.
This is a nice, poetic way to view marriage, but as Urban points out, “human happiness doesn’t function in sweeping strokes, because we don’t live in broad summations — we’re stuck in the tiny unglamorous folds of the fabric of life, and that’s where our happiness is determined.”
To identify a happy marriage, we should instead think small. When we look at marriage up close, we see “that it’s built not out of anything poetic, but out of 20,000 mundane Wednesdays.”
A key ingredient for happily enduring those 20,000 days is an “epic friendship” between the two people.
For Urban, an epic friendship is one that passes what he calls the Traffic Test: “when I’m finishing up a hangout with someone and one of us is driving the other back home or back to their car, and I find myself rooting for traffic. That’s how much I’m enjoying the time with them.”
It means he’s lost in the interaction and invigorated by it — the opposite of being bored.
Here are 4 criteria to determine whether your relationship with someone passes the Traffic Test:
1. A great shared sense of humor: Who wants to spend 50 years fake laughing?
2. An ability to have fun together: Especially in otherwise mundane situations like while running errands or on long drives.
3. Respect for each other’s way of thinking: A life partner “doubles as a career/life therapist,” and if you don’t respect the way someone thinks, you’re going to be less likely to share details about your life with them because you won’t value their opinion.
4. A good number of common activities, interests, and people preferences: If these don’t exist, then the aspects that make you who you are will become a smaller part of your life, and you and your life partner will struggle to find enjoyable ways to spend free time together.
Quote of the Week
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”
- Author and journalist Mignon McLaughlin in her book The Complete Neurotics Notebook
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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