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Open Mike           September/October 2000

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Open Mike is a forum for readers on a specific topic that will change every one or two months. The forum includes Your Turn, an opportunity for readers to share anecdotes and opinions related to the chosen topic. Conversely editors and writers select the most interesting entries and post them the following month In This Corner!

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Is Ideal Unreal?

Not everyone can find the perfect mate, a person that meets their expectations in every dimension: physical, cultural, personality, etc. Some of those traits are more important than others to different persons, but still, meeting the ideal partner can be difficult, especially if you want to meet them before you're too old have kids.

In our Open Mike question for September and October, we asked readers to share their views on the ideal of finding a perfect mate. Are trade-offs an inevitable part of finding a life-long mate? For those still looking, we asked if they thought they'd find the ideal person, or would be willing to compromise. For those married or committed for the long term, did they settle for less than they wanted, or did they find the perfect person? And for those who have divorced, how do they see things now?

Thanks to all those who replied. Below are several of the most intriguing answers. They all look at the issue from different angles, and though none of them disagree violently, they don't seem to agree entirely either...

From Patty,

Everyone has at least a vague idea of what they want in a partner. The thing is, people are rarely exactly as you'd like them to be. In fact, I personally have not met a single person who didn't have some flaw I could have lived without. So the thing is, you have to have priorities. Maybe your "ideal" has certain physical features, and certain specific personality traits. The thing you have to ask yourself if you're going to be realistic about finding someone to share your life with is: "What am I willing to live with and live without?" Maybe you'd love him or her to have blue eyes, but are you really going to ruin a potentially good relationship if the eyes are green? On the other hand, if they look perfect, have a great sense of humor, a nice family, make a good living, but beat you up every night, is that a sacrifice you're willing to make?

But I don't consider this sort of thing really settling. I have seen people settle and wind up divorced a year later, or worse, living miserably for the rest of their lives.

Settling to me is, "I'm never gonna find anyone anyway, so I'll just marry the first person who comes along who doesn't make me sick to my stomach, and who can tolerate me for more than five minutes." Not a good plan boys and girls!

I think what really matters is that you get a clear picture of what a true partner is. You have to examine your own values, goals, dreams, likes and dislikes, etc. And then you prioritize them in your head. It's kind of like a points system. Hopefully the fact that your partner doesn't beat you up on a nightly basis is worth more points than whether or not they have blue eyes. You get the picture.

Settling then is sacrificing the criteria that should be rated high enough that you wouldn't consider a person that didn't meet that standard. Sacrificing less important "ideals" such as the blue eyes (unless that's extremely important to you) would not be settling.

And remember, a big part of partnership is equality. You can't realistically ask for ANYTHING that you're not just as prepared to give.

From Jessica,

I have been single for two years and looking for a husband. It's scarier than I thought it was going to be.

My idea was to choose a man I am not typically attracted to and maybe it would be different...in a positive way! What I found was different...and frightening. I forgot to trust my instincts in the process and found myself thinking my last relationship was as good as it gets.

I know I'll find a husband someday, but I am going to grit my teeth and say physical attraction is very important...my number one right now!

From Tom,

Dreams change. This includes those we have about the ideal mate. Often our perception of the ideal person is based on a vague prototype. The checklist we began to assemble in our early teens will be modified by our experiences. The items on our list will become more specific as encounters help us to better understand what makes the person we think we love fun to be around or caring and considerate.

A candid assessment of our own strengths and weaknesses may modify our expectations. The person who is especially charming in social situations has a much better chance of attracting like kind. Many other examples could be given. Opposites may attract, but the energy required to keep this magnetism in place is often more than any lasting relationship can bear.

It may seem too simple, but in all human relationships you most often get what you give. If Dad gets away with being an incorrigible bastard then you may be able to act the same way and find the ideal girl who is as submissive as dear old Mom.

Most people who begin a relationship are looking for self-satisfaction. Understanding that this naturally selfish attitude exists is critical. I want to associate myself with a physically attractive person who genuinely enjoys my company. Having others approve of my choice is often important. If money issues aren't high on your Ideal List then it's time to revise your thinking. Ideally, the person you're seeking has the same attitude toward the green stuff.

Further complications can result based on how we prioritize our list of ideal characteristics. Physical appearance may be extremely important. If so, realize this and don't program yourself for unhappiness by compromising. You may not feel comfortable unless you can play the dominant role in a relationship. Ideally, we are all caring, sharing, compassionate people who are receptive to the needs of others. Baloney! Me First is often the most practical and ideal approach.

To conclude, the matter of honesty must be addressed. At the outset of any relationship, expecting the other party to be completely candid is too idealistic. Bombs of various sizes are bound to be dropped as the relationship progresses. It's very important is to be honest with yourself. If it's obvious that even a few major alterations are going to be necessary to make the relationship work then walk away.

Your conception of the ideal mate may be based on superficial criteria, but these ideals have developed over time and are often clear indications of greater needs. The person who seems obsessed with physical appearance may be demanding in other ways. Someone who is willing to overlook physical flaws in a potential mate may have a long list of more subtle requirements that make it futile to continue the relationship.

It's not unrealistic to expect the person you've fallen in love with to go out of their way to please you. Ideally, they will be duplicating your response to them.

From John,

Life is about trade-offs, but not when it is something as long-term as your mate. The problem people make, though, is their 'ideal' is unrealistic, and usually a collage of physical traits taken from glamorous stars, with a little personality thrown in for the sake of being PC.

In reality, all you should hope for is a friend. If you can look at your mate, and envision that person sick, crippled, overweight, etc., and still love them, that's the right person. Your ideal shouldn't have anything to do with the body, at least not directly. I personally believe that maintaining a healthy body is a sign of a healthy mind; but I also recognize there are diseases out there that can cause my mate to become obese or leave her unable to do exercise. I will still love her.

Perhaps the greatest test is to see how many dates you can go on without wanting sex, and not feeling bad that you aren't getting any that night. If you can lay down on the sofa and go to sleep holding each other, with no regrets, then you've found your match.

From Kristy,

I really believe that trade-offs are just a part of living. I am married and I have to say that by no means did I settle. To me settle is such a sad word. You settle for coffee instead of tea, or chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla. Can we really compare the word settle to a life long partner? I can't and would never say that I have settled for my husband. Now as far as searching out that perfect partner, I believe that it will be a search for the rest of your life. Nobody is perfect, and as much as I love my man, he is not perfect by any means, but I think that no matter how many men or women you go through you will always wonder if there is someone out there that would sweep you off your feet, you know the term the grass looks greener on the other side. Well, when you get there it's the same grass just a different person standing there. Look for love and stick with it, because life is too short with out it.

From Francesca,

I have been married for six years and I don't believe people should waste their time waiting for an ideal. What you might think is your ideal when you first meet and get together might cause you to reconsider a few years later. What does and ideal mean anyway? It usually means people are looking for perfection, and when people are looking for that and the clock is ticking, they will gladly turn a blind eye to those qualities they don't quite cherish.

From Willy,

I believe in waiting to find the right person. I am a divorced father of 2 boys. I have been divorced for two years. My ex and I grew apart because we both worked different shifts for thirteen years. We never fought because we weren't together enough to let the things that bothered us about each other to really eat at each other; we grew out of love and we were staying married for the kids. We didn't have sex for four years and we finally ended the marriage. I put my energy into the boys for the final seven years of our marriage. I did PTA, Scouts, soccer etc. My ex and I are still friends and occasionally go out (as a family). Had we argued and fought more while we were married we either would have been divorced earlier or still married. In the future I will wait and make sure I am compatible before marriage and I believe the way to do this is to not be blinded by love and have unreasonable expectation.

From Peter,

Nobody's perfect. Therefore, we all settle. It's pretty much that simple. And even if an individual DOES manage to find someone who they feel to be perfect, there's a catch, they will CHANGE and so will you. Life is not a freeze frame. The ideals that we consider to be perfect today will not be the same requirements that we have tomorrow. People are not inanimate objects like cars either. They change the day after you get them so their "perfection" can turn into something else five minutes after you acquire them as a significant other.

Logically, once an individual realizes that Prince Charming is really Prince Couch Potato and that Pamela Lee Anderson does spend countless hours picking her nose, choosing a mate becomes less of a quest for a fairy tale and more of an exercise in looking for the "best thing available to fit the best current requirements" which is a realistic and attainable goal. No, this notion is not as romantic as "Sleepless in Seattle" or "Titanic" but let's face it, being practical when it comes to love is much better than being disappointed.

From G.,

Why would you settle for someone who doesn't meet certain standards? These standards would be the ones that you set for yourself and prospective mate in a relationship. You might fall in love with someone, but don't think that love will remove differences in interests, life philosophy, grooming habits and sex drive from a relationship. Instead of enduring a relationship that gives you little satisfaction because you 'love' someone, try being more selective before you jump into a serious hook-up. Decide what you are willing to accept and not accept from a partner. Let the other person know these things if and when the relationship becomes more serious than just casual dating.

The key here is that you can't change another person. If your mate isn't what you want now, don't believe that love will change things later. You don't necessarily need to hold out for some unreachable ideal, but having a clear cut vision of what you want, and how much you are willing to give up if the other is 'worth it', is important.

From Leah,

You want to believe that your ideal mate exists and is just waiting to be discovered in one glorious moment of eye-popping revelation. And so you search. You search for a long term mate who's passion for Nascar rivals only yours. You pray nightly for a companion who also dreams of two children, a four bedroom colonial on a half-acre lot, and matching his and her SUVs. You return from every first date with a mentally completed checklist of your date's virtues and flaws, and if making the most of his 401K plan isn't one of his top five priorities there will be no date Number Two.

But where do you draw the line? Does it really matter if your potential life companion doesn't share your unabashed enthusiasm for Edward Gorey stories? Can you fail to imagine lying down next to someone every night because he insists Kurt Cobain was the most influential musician of the 20th Century? Have you crossed him off your much-cherished and ever-changing "Potential Life Mate" list because he was underwhelmed when he finally tasted your favorite restaurant's sesame- crusted seared tuna and wasabi mashed potatoes that you had been raving about (and secretly drooling over) for the past two weeks?

Get a grip!!

We all compromise when we begin a relationship. We continue to compromise throughout its life. The secret is to find a degree of compromise you're comfortable with accepting. Each of us has certain values we absolutely require a potential mate to possess- financial savvy perhaps, or a witty sense of humor. We then have a (much longer) listing of values or traits we'd ideally like to find in them- a love of fine wines, a laid back attitude, six-pack abs- but which, when we REALLY stop to think about it, aren't crucial to life-long companionship bliss. The trick is to compromise a bunch of small, relatively unimportant traits in favor of the biggies.

So the next time you find yourself inwardly screaming as he recounts, in grueling detail, the discussion he had with his father on the fifteen steps involved in replacing the kitchen sink and then insists on outlining each of the steps to you, take a deep breath and smile. And remind yourself that although your lover never embraced brevity as a virtue, he is a pretty amazing guy when it comes to home improvement skills. And with your recent purchase of what the real estate agent endearingly called a "charming fixer- upper" and your shared lifelong goal of owning a Bed and Breakfast in upstate New York, perhaps finding someone who handles power tools as though they were playdough is a pretty good compromise for a smattering of long- windedness.

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