More than once during my tenure as a dating blogger, I've been at a dinner party or cocktail gathering where someone has said: "Modern-day Americans want too much. They have these unrealistic notions of what a romantic partner should be — a sexual dynamo, a confidante, and a soul mate all wrapped up in one. It's too much to expect from any single individual. And it helps to explain why people are taking longer than ever to get married, and why they divorce so often too." (And doesn't Lori Gottlieb touch on all this in her book about "Mr. Good Enough?")
The implication is that we should lower our expectations — and be more accepting, for example, of a person who might be a good provider, a reliable communicator, and a sane man, even if he's not intellectually stimulating, or creative, or particularly funny.
So ... is it silly to yearn for someone with whom you can have great conversations … or someone who makes you laugh all the time … or someone who consistently fascinates you with his observations, or his stories about life's little details? Should you look for a guy you can stand who is financially and emotionally stable, and be done with it?
Nope — not according to a recent New York Times piece by writer Tara Parker-Pope, who presents a good argument about why those seemingly ancillary personality details (like creativity, intelligence, and humor) are so important.
"For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself," she writes. "But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting. Caryl Rusbult, a researcher at Vrije University in Amsterdam … called it the 'Michelangelo effect,' referring to the manner in which close partners 'sculpt' each other in ways that help each of them attain valued goals."
Or, as Gary W. Lewandowski Jr., a professor at Monmouth University in New Jersey, tells Parker-Pope: "People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person. If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship." Research by Lewandowski and others shows that the more a relationship helps a person to accumulate knowledge and experiences, the more committed and satisfied she feels. And those kinds of experiences include vacations, expanding your social network, or even talking about the news or an interesting movie. Similarly, people who are creative or funny or intellectually sharp can help us become a bit more mindful, ourselves, to opportunities to see the creative possibilities when, say, decorating a dinner table or to see the humor in a situation or to think through the different sides of a political debate.
I was glad to read the article, because I feel strongly that the most satisfying partners are the ones who help me expand my understanding of the world. Also, Parker-Pope has given me fodder for the next time someone says, "Oh, why is it so important to meet someone who's brilliant? Why do we so value good talkers, or funny people, or deep thinkers? Isn't it enough to meet someone who pays the bills on time, and doesn't drive us crazy?" To which I will say, "Not quite."
But what do you folks think? Are you with me — or do you feel like we do put an unnecessary emphasis on finding a partner who will help us grow and change, and see the world in new ways? Do you think it should be enough to simply find someone we get along with well enough — someone we don't want to kick out of bed, literally or figuratively?
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
Selena Gomez Isn’t Stressed About Being Single This Holiday Season—Or Ever
“She is just focusing on what’s best for her right now.”
By Rachel Burchfield
Will There Be a ‘Barbie 2’? Here’s What Margot Robbie Has to Say About It
By Rachel Burchfield
The Princess of Wales and Meghan Markle Haven’t Spoken Since 2019, New Book Claims—and Yes, That Includes at Joint Appearances
The “silence was palpable” as Kate and Meghan rode in a car together to Windsor Castle for a walkabout after Queen Elizabeth’s death.
By Rachel Burchfield
30 Female-Friendly Porn Websites for Any Mood
All the best websites, right this way.
By Kayleigh Roberts
The 82 Best Cheap Date Ideas for Couples on a Budget
"Love don't cost a thing." —J.Lo
By The Editors
Diary of a Non-Monogamist
Rachel Krantz, author of the new book 'Open,' shares the ups and downs of her journey into the world of open relationships.
By Abigail Pesta
COVID Forced My Polyamorous Marriage to Become Monogamous
For Melanie LaForce, pandemic-induced social distancing guidelines meant she could no longer see men outside of her marriage. But monogamy didn't just change her relationship with her husband—it changed her relationship with herself.
By Melanie LaForce
How the pandemic has mutated our most personal disunions.
By Gretchen Voss
16 At-Home Date Ideas When You're Stuck Indoors
Staying in doesn't have to be boring.
By Katherine J. Igoe
Long Distance Relationship Gift Ideas for Couples Who've Made It This Far
Alexa, play "A Thousand Miles."
By Jaimie Potters
15 Couples on How 2020 Rocked Their Relationship
Couples confessed to Marie Claire how this year's many multi-stressors tested the limits of their love.
By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW