Do You Want to Be Appreciated — or Understood?

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During the wedding that I was at over Labor Day weekend — where so many of the couples seemed to have fallen in love fast — a lively conversation erupted during the first night of festivities. The topic of discussion...

What do you value more: finding a romantic partner who understands you or one who appreciates you?

The man who posed the question acknowledged that the two things weren't mutually exclusive — that it's not as if the world were divided into two kinds of romantic hopefuls, the understanders and the appreciators. But he also said that he raised the issue simply because he thought it was a useful and interesting thing for single people and couples to think about. I have to agree. I've certainly turned it over in my head quite a few times since he mentioned it.

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One of the couples in our little group said they thought they appreciated and understood each other in equal measure, and I got the feeling that they did. After a few moments of bemusement, another woman said, "I don't think my boyfriend understands me as well as other men in the past have — but I think he respects certain things about me a lot more than they did, like some of my lifestyle choices or some of the big decisions I've made. He's less similar to me than most other guys I've dated — but I feel like that dissimilarity might be a good thing, surprisingly enough. It allows for a certain level of awe. It makes me kind of 'exotic' to him, which helps keep the romance fresh."

I chewed on that for a while, and surprised myself by thinking that she had a good point. I've always been interested in finding someone who really "gets" me — and if you ask me to define what I mean by "gets" I'd probably respond quickly with, "Understands. Comprehends. Empathizes. You know." But I think what I want more than that is someone who simply appreciates certain ways I see the world, and respects certain choices I've made — like my attempt to write a novel — even if he doesn't completely understand how my mind works. In fact, now that I think about it, the guys with whom I've had the least in common — or who didn't seem to entirely understand where I was coming from — did seem to treat me better and to be more into me than the guys with whom I felt a big kinship.

Also, I think it's fairly easy for me to find people who are "on my wavelength" now that I live in wonderful New York City. What's harder is finding true admiration. I've started to think that the difference between understanding and appreciation is almost like the difference between friendship and love.

I'd like to reiterate that I don't think there are right or wrong answers to the understanding-versus-appreciation question; I don't even think there are right and wrong ways to go about discussing it. It is just an interesting vector to consider when contemplating relationships and romance.

But what do you guys think about all this?

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