I was talking with my friends recently about what what it takes for a marriage to succeed. As the conversation went on, it become clear that the same principles that make a marriage work are what makes any healthy relationship work. Given that your ideal life partner should also be a best friend, the reasons you chose them should be the same reasons you choose your friends, your housemates, and anybody else you choose to spend time with.
We all have friends that we could never live with, and housemates that we would never even be interested in marrying, even if we get along with them just fine. In each of these relationships, the involved parties require certain criteria to be met, but what you look for in a friend obviously isn’t exactly what you look for in a wife.
Speaking personally, I choose my friends based of our personal chemistry and the interests we share. Then we can spend time together indulging in said interests, to the benefit of all. True, sometimes the interest supersedes the chemistry (for instance, I’ve had sports teammates who I wouldn’t ever see outside of practice, and nerdy video game partners who I only ever saw while next to a screen), but an ideal friend would have just as much fun doing both with me, because they’re things we’d do regardless.
That said, I’m not a total mercenary with my activity partners. Hanging out with someone just to fill out a sports team is lame, and if our chemistry is completely at odds then both are better off avoiding each other. Just as with marriage or cohabitation, friendships require certain fundamental agreements.
I call these Dealmakers and Dealbreakers – a list of must-haves and must-not-haves for any relationship. The list becomes more stringent as you move up the ladder of commitment: I’ll be more picky choosing my wife than a girlfriend, than a roommate, than a drinking partner. But each relationship has its own prerequisites, built on top of the criteria below it. Your list will differ from mine, but as an example, here’s a slipshod version of my own list (I haven’t ever written it down, but it doesn’t require much thought):
- Dealmakers: Jovial, curious, and playful
- Dealbreakers: Emotionally unstable, untrustworthy, deceptive.
- Other: Outside of this list, we can differ all over the board (all the better, for diversity and new experiences), but if they don’t fit these rules we’re unlikely to enjoy each others company.
- Dealmakers: Okay with my living space being messy, don’t mind me hosting friends for dinner or drinks
- Dealbreakers: Steal my possessions, make me feel unsafe in my own house.
- Other: I don’t care if the sink is always full – as long as I can find a dish that’s moot. Yet some housemates require their kitchens to be fastidiously clean, in which case I can wash my stuff along with the best of them. Since it’s not on my dealbreaker/dealmaker list, I can be flexible around the lists of my partners.
Spouse (under construction)
- Dealmakers: Spunky, confident, ambitious (if I subscribe to GoodGuySwag’s Wife List, there’s a lot more)
- Dealbreakers: Needy, acts like a princess.
- Other: This is based off of the romantic relationships I’ve had so far – they’ve all ended because one of us eventually found a dealbreaker in the other. As frustrating as it was at the time, now they’re great examples that have taught each of us what we will and will not put up with. (Related: WaitButWhy on Picking a Life Partner)
Every friend, housemate, and significant other you have refines your Dealmaker/Dealbreaker list. It’s an iterative process, culminating in a perfectly accurate list that lets you impeccably sort out the makers from the breaker.
Everything not on either participants’ list is moot. They’re not relevant to your compatibility – just extras that spice up the game. They may be drastic differences of opinion or lifestyle, but as long as they’re not on either person’s list, you’re good. I’ve had great friends with completely disparate cultures, religions, beliefs, and lifestyle choices from my own, who’ve all taught me great stuff. Since we didn’t differ on any dealbreakers, the differences only served to make the relationship more interesting. We learned from each other.
If you don’t know what your list entails, (hopefully you do by now) then you run the risk of the relationships falling apart due to something the other person does that you can’t stand, or you ending it because they lack something you’ve decided you need.
What’s on your Dealmaker/Dealbreaker list?
PS: My mother notes that as relationship goes on, a new aspect comes into play – shared history. She’s been with Dad for decades, and raised kids with him, which becomes a powerful force for staying together as the shared memories multiply. She may have found new annoyances in his manner with age (I’ve seen a few of them myself), but even if they border on dealbreaker territory, there’s the entire life of shared history to keep things going. They know each other too well.
That doesn’t come into play at the start of a new relationship, but it certainly does with time, and is something to consider alongside the DM/DB list. Is this someone I want to have shared memories with? It’s the past tense version of the decision you’re about to make – is this someone who I want to spend time with? If they have the makers without the breakers, I’ll bet it is.