Where do people compromise?
December 6, 2012 1:38 AM   Subscribe

Did you have expectations for a potential partner, then find someone, and they didn't fit them - and it worked out?

It's a common response to people asking 'Are my expectations/wants from a future partner unreasonable' to say that yes, they are, and that they should lower their standards, or stop being picky. This is sometimes accompanied by a lot of other good advice - get to know people and give them a chance, don't start counting 'warning signs', date out of your usual circle, make sure they're realistic ideas, and consider what you yourself would fit.

I'm curious which preferences tend to be the ones that are 'settled' on, which just don't matter, and which tend to not change, in successful relationships.

You had a fair idea of what you wanted in a relationship/partner. You had some idea of dealbreakers, qualities they had to have, or criteria they had to fit. Then you found someone, and they didn't really match something that was a must-have or very-strong-want. And it worked anyway, and whatever they didn't fit didn't seem to matter any more.

What quality did your partner have or not have, that it turned out you didn't really mind?

Do you see it as settling, or a compromise, and how do you feel about it now?

Or is it just something you expected to care about and don't? Or something that in hindsight wasn't a big deal/unrealistic?

Or did your idea match reality?

(Particularly answers that aren't along the lines of arbitrary physical standards of attractiveness/physical features, and answers from successful relationships.)
posted by Ashlyth to Human Relations (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I'm curious which preferences tend to be the ones that are 'settled' on, which just don't matter, and which tend to not change, in successful relationships.

You ought to be ready to settle on things that usually fade with youth anyway, and you ought to stand fast on inner qualities that tend to strengthen with age.

You want someone who is good (but not a would-be saint), honest (but knows how to tell a white lie), faithful (no buts here), hardworking (but not to the detriment of your home life), even-tempered (but not a robot or milquetoast), sober (but not a prohibitionist), smart (enough), sane (enough), and generally aligned to your real sexual and romantic bents (not always secretly screwing someone else in his or her fantasies while lying in bed with you). Relationships built mainly on hot bodies, all-night dancing and partying, hard drinking, etc., can be thrilling while they last but tend to get old and fall apart (or explode) unless it turns out that your partner is also good, honest, faithful, etc., at the core.
posted by pracowity at 2:33 AM on December 6, 2012 [40 favorites]

I have a feeling this is going to be totally different for everyone and not universal at all. But here are some of mine:

Things that I thought would matter, which turned out not to matter:

-I am not really interested in science/technology on more than a layman's level, so I thought it would be a bad idea to get into a relationship with someone whose profession was in those areas. Turns out, most of my major relationships have been with someone in science or tech, and it works. Just as long as they are interested in a lot of other things too.

-I thought it would be important for us to have the same views on religion. But, it's turned out to work in cases where we have had wildly different views. However, I think it might be more of a problem if both people felt strongly about it.

-For a time in my early 20's, I strongly wanted to date someone vegetarian, like me. I am now in my late 20's, and never ended up in a relationship with a vegetarian, ever. Hasn't mattered.

-I thought I would NEVER be attracted to a redheaded guy. I thought that until well into my 20's. Then I met the right one.

-I thought I wanted to end up with someone who had graduate-level education. But it wasn't important with someone who'd had an excellent undergraduate education and was a notch smarter than me.

-I met a guy and I honestly thought he was really ugly. I totally fell for him based on his personality though, and after a few weeks I thought he was gorgeous. That only happened to me once though, usually it doesn't work for me no matter how great the personality is.

-Different levels of alcohol/drug use has also turned out to not really bother me.

Things that I thought would NOT matter, which did turn out to matter and became dealbreakers:

-A significant intellectual mismatch in either direction.
-Few mutual interests/nothing to talk about/unsatisfying conversations.
-The other person having a significantly higher libido than me. This was actually the biggest problem by far of all of these, and also the one that I tried hardest to make work. But it was never going to work.
-Surprisingly, I have found that I am only attracted to a certain body type. I have tried with others and just always, always felt like something was missing.

Things that I always knew were dealbreakers, and did in fact break the deal when they came up:

-Anger issues.
-Contempt/meanness towards me, even if sporadic.

Those are some of mine.
posted by cairdeas at 2:36 AM on December 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

I totally forgot to give you my conclusion! All of the things that turned out not to matter, never mattered from the start and never came up as a problem. (Maybe with the exception of the guy I thought was ugly, but even that only lasted a few weeks).

I think if something is feeling like a problem, like a dealbreaker, or like settling, that is probably unlikely to change as time goes by.
posted by cairdeas at 2:40 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure that it's a common response to tell people that their expectations for a partner are unreasonable, unless they are. In other words, your question as written suggests that you have a pretty defined set of expectations, and that someone somewhere is telling you to compromise around them. But since we don't know what those are, you may not get the kinds of answers that might be helpful to you here, even though you've asked a more general question.

For example, I have a dear friend who is just fucking fabulous, but whose romantic life has never really been great (she is in her early 40s). She has some expectations that are unreasonable, but they don't sound unreasonable as abstract expectations, they are only unreasonable in practice. I.e., her expectations to be excited by her partner, and to have a partner who is attentive and excited to be with her, are reasonable when phrased that way, but it is unreasonable that she means that she always wants to feel like the guy she is with is super fucking exciting right now and for ever more (like so exciting he probably doesn't even have to brush his teeth), and that not calling her last Tuesday to make a date for Saturday two weeks from now indicates insufficient attentiveness. So, were she to ask a general question of this sort I would never think to say that we all settle to some extent around things like perpetual excitedness (however we define that) because our partners aren't superheroes, or that there is a difference between your partner being attentive (reasonable) and you not having enough object constancy to believe that they care about you even if they don't demonstrate that ever second of every day (unreasonable).

pracowity has a great answer above. I would expand it a little and suggest that successful settling is on things that are contingent to the person, rather than aspects of their personalities. For instance, I read quite a lot, it has made up a huge portion of my intellectual and emotional life. For a long time I was convinced I could only be happy with someone who loved books as much as I do (or music). Of course that's wrong, and although my wife doesn't read all that much (at least compared to me), she is intellectually curious, intelligent, a good talker...Reading is a contingent activity, as much as it seems essential. What's essential are the personality traits that it expresses and fosters. One can have those personality traits, as my wife does, without having the same contingent activity fulfill it.

But, an awful lot depends on what it is that you value most. I have another friend who has upended her life to get married to a man who, though intelligent and intellectual, things she values highly, is otherwise very hard to live with and uninterested in many many of the things that she is most passionate about. Her life will literally be nothing like she imagined it, and she is miserable more often than she is willing to admit. He brings her one thing that is supremely important to her, though: he needs her more than she needs him. It is that thing she values above, basically, even happiness. Some might say she was settling too much, but she clearly has other investments.
posted by OmieWise at 5:46 AM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Backhair. No, really! My boyfriend has backhair and backhair used to freak me the eff out. But with him? I really don't even notice or mind it and it oddly kind of like it because it makes him more snuggly when we're in bed. Who knew! He also has a cat that is a complete and total jerk. I swore off cats a few years ago when I tried to adopt one and things went horribly awry. Sure, he can be weird about communicating openly sometimes, but we're working on that.

I used to go for these brooding, artist types all the time. Or the dark and extremely well-groomed pretty guys (apparently I don't have a grey area). My boyfriend is neither of the two - he's a tall, freckly, hairy, a little overweight but wildly athletic sweetheart. NOT MY TYPE AT ALL. We were friends for a number of months before I just started seeing him in another light for whatever unknown reason, and unbeknownst to me he was quietly doing the same thing. It just clicked and when it clicked, it CLICKED. I'm honestly still amazed sometimes at how easy everything went and continues to go. It's pretty awesome.

Everyone has their quirks and you will never find someone who will 100% match everything you're looking for. I don't see any of this as compromising.
posted by floweredfish at 6:09 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a type. It was tall, dark, older and athletic. I married a short, blonde, younger gentleman in a wheelchair.

Yet he perfectly fits me in every way that matters, behavior, values, attitude, communication, life goals.

Turns out, the parts of your "type" or expectations that really matter are not what you first think.
posted by ninjakins at 6:11 AM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's your abstract list of "must haves" and then there's real life.

Husbunny and I met on-line, and didn't even know what each other looked like for a year. We were friends in a chat room and never felt the need to exchange photos. I fell for his on-line persona, and we arranged to meet in real life.

I had to get to know him all over again. He didn't look at all like I thought he would, his voice didn't sound like I thought it would, and he was an actual person, with faults and habits and food pickiness.

We knew we had solid, common-ground to build a relationship, but that everyday, mundane stuff, I kind of had to learn to deal with it.

375 days after our first meeting in real life, we were married.

You know what your bedrock, firm beliefs are. You can't compromise on those. No addicts, no child molesters, etc. But being mature is realizing that the superficial stuff doesn't matter.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:16 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think people are generally told to "lower their expectations" or "settle." It's more that having a rigidly defined list of qualities is absolutely the wrong way to find the person who's perfect for you.

If you are holding out for a human rights lawyer who looks like Daniel Craig and has an authentic Texan drawl it's not that your expectations are too high, it's that they are crazy. The things people think they are looking for in a partner are so rarely the things that will actually make them happy. Unless your list looks like pracowity's. Then your expectations are right on and you should absolutely not lower them.
posted by 256 at 6:18 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and to provide a specific example. I remember when I was twenty I wrote out this crazy and narcissistic list of ten promises to myself of things I would never do. One of those promises was to never get married. I was raised a devout atheist, and inviting the state into a romantic relationship seemed like such an absurd thing to do. I was certainly not going to get married just because it was the done thing.

Then I fell in love with a girl to whom marriage was important. We were wed the next year and just celebrated our fifth anniversary.
posted by 256 at 6:25 AM on December 6, 2012

Before I became romantically involved with my fiancee I had a list of traits and expectations of any future partner that they would "need" for me to be happy. Some of them were reasonable (they never swear in front of kids, are polite, use good grammar, are intelligent and can carry on intelligent conversation), but some in hindsight were kind of silly. For example I had on my list:
- Must love cats
- must be 6 feet tall or taller
- must be very health conscious and go to the gym regularly

My fiancee matches none of these. He is very allergic to cats, he is 5'6, and he went to the gym once and hated it so he never went again.

Yet he is still totally perfect for me. He matches me on all the levels that matter and that I care about. And even in stuff like my need to go to the gym regularly, he may not want to go himself but he is absolutely supportive and encouraging of me to do so. He and I share values and beliefs, we carry on great conversations and make each other laugh constantly. We both find the other totally sexy and attractive, and we have matched levels of intimacy and affection and desire for physical contant (sexual and non sexual). We share a similar vision for what our future and our life can and should look like, and we agree about how we're going to get there.

So it isn't about settling. It is about finding out what actually matters and what actually makes a difference. It's been my experience the personality, intelligence, and respect dealbrakers are often the ones that do matter.

PS: My best friend also had/has a list and one of the top things on the list has always been "Must have a good job/not live with their parents". But right now she is in a really excellent relationship with a guy who doesn't have a great job and does live with his parents. The difference is WHY he is in that situation, and whether he is okay with it (he isn't), and if he's trying to change it (he is).
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:35 AM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

As I've gotten older, I've given up on thinking this way. I used to tell myself I had these lists of characteristics I wanted in a mate for some reason.

I've slowly learned that the heart likes who it likes. You can't predict how it will all turn out and it is pointless to compare a potential mate to a checklist to try and figure out the eventual result. I think we do this to lessen the pain uncertainty brings.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:39 AM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

//It's more that having a rigidly defined list of qualities is absolutely the wrong way to find the person who's perfect for you.//

I think the idea that there is any perfect person for you is flawed in the first place. There are thousands of people out there that will make a great lifetime partner for all of us. If you get lucky you meet one at the right time and age for both of you to turn it into a lifetime relationship. If you aren't so lucky maybe you meet that person when you are 9 and never meet another. It's such a a crap shoot I don't see any benefit in narrowing the field unnecessarily up front. Then again, I met my wife at age 19 when "cute sorority girl" pretty much checked off all the boxes I was worried about at that point in my life. We've been married 21 years.
posted by COD at 6:42 AM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to think it was really important to find someone who shared a lot of interests with me. For example, like OmieWise, I love books and reading and I always thought I needed to end up with someone who was a reader like me. Then I met my partner (we've been together for seven years), who doesn't really read, is a professional musician in a genre I never heard of before meeting him, loves board games whereas I hate them, etc.

What we do have in common is our general approach to life, on both an intellectual and an emotional level, which makes it really easy and pleasurable for us to communicate and share our divergent interests with each other--and, just as important, makes it easy for us to give each other some space to do our own things when we want to. That's what makes our relationship work.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 7:26 AM on December 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I've slowly learned that the heart likes who it likes. You can't predict how it will all turn out and it is pointless to compare a potential mate to a checklist to try and figure out the eventual result. I think we do this to lessen the pain uncertainty brings.

Quoted for truth. I think this sums it up PERFECTLY.

I am single and nearly 40. I am only realising now that I threw away at least two relationships that could have worked because the person did not fit the template of who I thought I was looking for. And no, it had nothing to do with looks, money or success. I just didn't want to commit to anybody unless someone (? I have no idea who) could somehow give me a 100% ironclad guarantee that I was making the 'right' choice.

My heart knew who it liked. My head just didn't want to listen.
posted by Salamander at 8:40 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think generally, things that you might put on a dating site ("I like walks along the beach, Hungary, and pickled okra") are not good criteria. Things that you understand about a person's nature ("I care deeply about social justice, financial security is not important to me, I could never move away long-term from my home city, and I rarely keep in touch with my family") are far, far more important.

I had a rule that my next partner would be a big reader like myself (1-2 books a week). My current partner, circa nine years and counting, is not a big reader (at least, not like me, more like 15-20 books a year). It doesn't fucking matter. At all.

tl;dr - pickled okra is transient, kindness is eternal.

Another way of looking at it, which is trite, but I think kind of true, is that successful partnerships are two people facing in the same direction, not two people looking at each other. The latter tends to be built around demographic predilections, which can change.
posted by smoke at 3:35 PM on December 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

Oh hello there. Story of my life. My initial wish list included many silly things, but my absolute requirements were: "fluent in English" and (like many MeFites, apparently) "likes to read". I had decided that those were the defining characteristics of my own personality, and couldn't see it working out with anyone who didn't have those "essentials".

I am getting married next year to a Chinese engineer. Does he have scintillating wit and a bookshelf full of classic and modern literature? No. He reads manga and travel magazines at best, and sometimes has trouble with tenses and subject-verb agreement. "How can you stand this!" my friends cried, at first. Four years later, they are begrudgingly admitting that they envy my stable relationship, and those who've met him think that he is "a very nice guy". When I come across the meme "Good Guy Greg", I sometimes think, That is totally what my man would do.

He has mostly what pracowity said, on the traits to look for: he is kind-hearted, not violent, not physically or verbally abusive, not a pushover, drinks and parties in moderation, hard-working (better to look for this, rather than rich), and generally at that time of his life where he is looking for stability and a long-term relationship. Everyday through his words and actions (but more on actions, because of the language thing) I am reassured that he foresees and is working towards a lifetime of us together (I guess this would file under emotional and financial security). So it's all good. I mean, reading it now, it sounds like a dream, but there were a few bumps. We always tried to find a way that worked for both of us. He has given up a few things for me, and I have given up a few things for him. And lots of soothing kisses and hugs in between. Stuff like that.

The way he always helps me wash the dishes, diligently massages my head when I have a headache, and cooks me breakfast on weekends doesn't hurt, either. My momma always said to pick someone who loves you more than you love him, and I have to say she was right.
posted by pimli at 10:02 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not in a relationship, but your question reminds me of a promising guy I dated a few times back in the day. He was smart, model gorgeous, and a crazy good athlete. More importantly, our lifestyle values (cooking! fitness!) totally meshed.

You know what? Those were the most boring dates I have ever been on. (And dude would prob. say the same.) At the time I was bewildered, but in hindsight it's obvious--we didn't laugh together! Our conversations were of the variety you have with apartment building neighbors: born out of a sense of obligation.

So I guess my point is:
1. I do believe certain traits cannot (or should not) be compromised on. For me, "shared sense of humor" is one of them, along with "brushes his teeth" and "is kind to others." It's probably wise to keep this list of deal breakers short, though.

2. A person is more than the sum of his or her parts. It's like when you try a new recipe because it calls for some of your favorite ingredients. "Mmm, cinnamon and nutmeg." You make the cake (or whatever), and it's fabulous! Or, you know, it's not.
posted by jessca84 at 10:09 PM on December 6, 2012

The Checklist, I've found, has more to do with ourselves than with a partner. They reflect what we like about ourselves, what we hope to change, bad behaviors we want a pass on, etc. So many people look to a partner as a pancea for things they are uncomfortable with in themselves. Which is unfair to your partner, and the resulting list is an act of aggression.

I think a list is helpful if we can turn it inward rather than holding others to our personal standards. I think it's the key to knowing and loving yourself enough not to settle, but truly loving another person for him or herself, flaws and all.

My SO probably wouldn't check many boxes if I stuck to the mental list I had for many years. Certainly not physically. He's a more passive and introverted person than I ever expected to be with. But he and I have similar views on what it means to be a good partner, and more importantly, what it means to be a good person.
posted by peacrow at 9:27 AM on December 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

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