The last time I was going through a “rough patch” in a relationship, I stopped to think about what I was really looking for in a relationship? I broke it down into three buckets and explained to my partner that my buckets were so full when I was with him. There is no person that will tick off all the boxes you have in your mind—sexy, good dresser, funny, driven, strong, climber, foodie, all the criteria we often look for in a partner. But this composition of a perfect person does not a relationship make. What I am looking for is a person to fill the following three buckets: intellectual stimulation, emotional support, and physical attraction. I want someone to fill all these buckets, a person to keep me satisfied in my mind, body, and soul. It sounds extremely cheesy when you break it down this way but honestly if you go to your partner and say “hey which bucket needs some water?” “How can we fill this aspect of our life?” The solution seems to become clearer when you look at things through a three-pronged lens rather than attacking a person with a plethora of attributes that are impossible to attain, predict, and control. The person you thought was funny might change their sense of humor, might go through a period of depression and sadness but do they still do their best to make you smile, or ask for you to make them laugh in turn? This is the emotional support bucket, it shifts, it fills, it drains and then we ask why? Can we raise it back up together or has it evaporated?
A relationship is a collection of feelings we combine with someone else, it is not shared hobbies and habits. Consensual activities can make a strong friendship while sentiment is the governing power in a romantic relationship. I want to rip your clothes off when you are sweaty and dust-covered is passion—that is a feeling, I want to see you dressed in leather pants, ankle boots, and a sporting a crew cut is vanity—this has a minuscule amount of emotional depth. Wanting a person for how they make you feel and the response they elicit in your psyche is so different from an arbitrary set of rules you may have put in place for a partner. It is absolutely reasonable to desire your partner to say have a job, do the same sport as you, listen to similar music but have you tried spending a lot of time with someone exactly like you? There is a reason we don’t date ourselves.
A real relationship is a very abstract picture. Think Rothko and Kandinski rather than Degas. Yes, there is always beauty but the real relationship is layers of color with underlying mutual support. When loving someone, the love does not solely come from the experiences you share—children, adventures, house remodels, inside jokes. It comes from how you talked about these experiences, what you felt when you did them, the spark that gave you the idea to give that activity a try. Do not be so practical when it comes to romance, there is nothing practical about it. Pragmatism would dictate us to mate and move on, it appears that most of us have evolved past this simplified arc. Instead, think about the three buckets: intellectual stimulation, emotional support, and physical attraction. These are the names for my troughs. You can come up with your own but keep them geared towards the same immaterial concepts that are of highest priority to you. Falling in love is one of the most stupid things we can do, so you might as well try to do it for the right reasons.