Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Relationship Chameleons & Kissing Frogs

I know this guy in the building where I live. He considers himself suave, debonair, witty and great-looking; even by his own admission he is egotistical. I consider him a friend (even with his false pride; I have my faults, too after all), and he's a pretty good guy if you can get past all the subterfuge: a former Marine, likes hunting, dogs and the simple life. However, I have warned him of his Chameleon-like way of thinking when it comes to winning over females. He has yet to learn to be himself, which may be the reason why he is thrice divorced.

He's met a new lady and because of her passing comment of how great he looked clean shaven in his Marine uniform, he has shaved off his beard, got a haircut and wears slacks. Okay. Great. Maybe he did need a little cleaning up a bit. But still I have to wonder: this was only a passing remark from someone he's only known for less than a month, therefore, is it right thinking to start changing himself on a whim in order to seal the deal, as he puts it? Is being a Chameleon (someone who adapts themselves to their social surroundings or relationship scenario) really being honest with yourself, let alone the person you are interested in pursuing? I think not.

Granted, we all have things we should consider changing about ourselves. Maybe we are too harsh with others (or too much of a door mat), maybe we should get in better shape, or iron our shirts better, or it could be as simple as trimming our fingernails. But to put it down to basic fundamentals, if a female told me she liked a certain car, I wouldn't go out and buy one just to drive her around in it and to impress her. That's silly, shallow and superficial. Not to mention just plain stupid. (Walter's 4 "S's" of life). She's got to accept me for me as much as I have to accept her for her - no changes, additions, or off-the-wall modifications. It's acceptance without settling. It takes discernment, prayer and, I think good judgement. Yes, I typed judgement.

It isn't easy. The old adage is true, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince - or princess. Hopefully, of course, you find out what frogs they are before you start kissing too many of them.

Everyone is looking for their shining consort, the Prince or Princess Charming with whom to spend their happily ever after. But so few people know what to look for in a partner that they end up completely disillusioned and broken hearted. Happiness in marriage becomes a myth or a Utopian ideal that no one really expects to achieve.

But it is within reach. It is very possible to find your soul's mate and enjoy a lifelong romance with him or her. You just have to know some fundamental truths about love, and about yourself, before you start.

The first thing you must know is that the only way you'll ever be happy with someone, for more than a couple of weeks, is if you both share the same core values. If you know that your partner sees life the way you do, if you know that their genuine, unshakable beliefs are compatible with your own, and if you know they are committed to upholding their values throughout their life and won't up and change overnight into someone you don't know, there's a very good chance your romance will last a lifetime, regardless of the ups and downs, or minor conflicts of opinion that will inevitably arise.

If there is a "safe" person to surrender your heart to, if there is anything close to a guarantee in love, it must be with someone who you not only know, but are capable of knowing, intimately, because they have been open and honest with you about themselves, and prove they have every intention of being so in the future.

There are many relationship chameleons out there, people who will be different things to different lovers and have no real convictions or beliefs of their own. There are many people who will alter their beliefs to please their partner, without ever questioning whether integrity might be a quality far more valuable than falsely going along with someone to keep a relationship going. These are the people you should be cautious about giving your heart to, since they're likely to let their pretenses fall once they've tired of playing at being something they're not.

But how do you find a good person? Don't we all think we've fallen for Mister/Miss. Wonderful only to find him prancing around in ladies underwear or her taking a lover in the shower one day when we come home?

No, not all of us. Some of us fall for Mister/Miss Wonderful and marry him/her, because we establish even before we meet him/her the values and attributes we must have in a mate. Accordingly get what we deserve.

Aside from core beliefs like rationality, honesty, integrity, and the willingness to think, for example, I maintain that there are some objective standards by which a person can be judged, some criteria that good people meet and bad risks fail at when it comes to marriage. People can change, of course, but I don't believe that the following values change easily, or without serious introspection and hard work.

Marry a person who likes the opposite sex.

This is obvious, right? Not so fast. Never mistake sexual preference or physical attraction with genuine respect and admiration for the opposite sex. There are a great many men and women who actively dislike, distrust and disrespect the opposite sex, but engage in relationships with them because they are heterosexual and enjoy having sex. It doesn't mean that their attitudes change once the sun comes up - in some cases, having spent the night with someone only reinforces their animosity towards them. If they despise themselves for being seduced by your charms, they aren't far from despising you. I grew up with four sisters. I had a great relationship with all of them growing up and it's stronger now that I am older. I was taught R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Besides, with fours sisters, a smart guy knows when he is not just out-gunned, but out-manned (or is that out-womaned?). And mom would have kicked my butt into next week and beat me like a Salvation Army drum.

Nonetheless, find a person who enjoys the qualities and characteristics that the opposite sex brings to their lives. Find a man who admires women's nurturing natures, their kindness and wisdom, their beauty and their sexuality. Look for a woman who feels flattered by your sexual attraction to her, who admires your strength and straightforwardness. Find someone who notices the myriad differences - the tiny, subtle things that set us apart, like the way a woman's back gently curves into hips, or a man's broad shoulders, the way a woman tosses her hair when she laughs or the way a man's hand almost engulfs his child's when they're walking down the street. Men and women are gloriously different yet complementary in so many ways. Find someone who has noticed this, and who knows how to appreciate it.

Marry someone who understands and likes marriage.

This is not the same as marrying someone who likes weddings. Don't be fooled into thinking that someone who wants to orchestrate an enormous spectacle of a wedding is a romantic. Marry someone who would elope with you tomorrow and get married at City Hall if you asked, not someone who would insist on the lavish wedding in front of five hundred guests two years from now.

"Frogs only turn into princes & princesses in fairy tales. In real life, they just stay frogs. If you know what you're looking for and what you, personally, must avoid to be happy, you can find your royal consort without ever having to go near the swamp again."

By the same token, if you marry someone you have to drag down the aisle, who tries to wriggle out of it any way he or she can, who thinks marriage is "just a piece of paper" but a piece of paper that scares the hell out of them nonetheless, you can't expect your marriage to be a happy one. Generally, people who shudder at the thought of marriage or who have serious misgivings about it beforehand are often the ones who jeopardize the marriage later on, or end it completely through infidelity or alienation of affection. People can't be goaded into marriage and be made happy husbands and wives because of it; they must appreciate what a value it is before they go into it, or are asked to go into it, if they are ever to find joy in it.

Find someone who understands that marriage is a joyful expression of love, not the end of romance. Marry someone who likes the idea of getting married, or is at least willing to put aside their fears.

Marry someone you love, and who loves you, for more than physical appearance.

Many people make the mistake of marrying only for looks, whatever they may be. Marriages based on physicality alone rarely last. Physicality says little about character, unfortunately, and doesn't make up for basic incompatibility or conflicting values when it comes to a lifelong marriage.

It should be obvious, of course, to the men who lost a girlfriend as soon as they lost their hair or to the women who gained weight after having children and lost their husbands to a thinner girl. Your hold on your mate is precarious at best if it depends solely on their physical attraction to you. There's always someone younger, someone thinner, someone with more hair and less of a spare tire than you. What a minefield you live in if your marriage is based on looks alone, since the whole dynamic of your marriage changes if your mate's, or your, appearance changes.

It doesn't mean you can't appreciate the physical attributes of you partner. Good looks, or the kind of look you like, can be a pleasant addition to your romance. I simply maintain that you shouldn't mistake looks for character, or assume that if your spouse has the look you like you will be happy with them for the rest of your life. Time will show you that you likely won't. Not unless their character is as valuable to you as their appearance, and their values mirror your own.

Marry someone whose purpose and passion in life are compatible with your own.

Philosopher Nathaniel Branden once said "Never marry a person who isn't a friend of your excitement."

He understood that for a marriage to be successful, both people have to have some compelling interest, some career that drives their creativity and makes their life meaningful. He also understood that it's crucial for each partner to respect the other's passion, to be "friend" of it, and support the wholehearted pursuit of it. It's not surprising that vulcanologists tend to marry each other, or that actors and doctors, musicians, athletes and the like often do as well. They share a common interest, and respect each other's passion for it, too.

If you love creative writing and hope to write a novel some day, but your mate hasn't read a book since high school and thinks your dreams are a frivolous fantasy, you can't expect to develop a deep rapport with each other. Your mate doesn't have to be a novelist, but he or she does at least have to respect your desire to be one. Nothing erodes a love relationship faster than the belief that your partner in life regards the thing you love most with contempt or scorn. And nothing strengthens it more than knowing that your husband or wife will be your greatest supporter, cheering from the sidelines as you pursue your dreams.

This list is not exhaustive. Each person has their own standards, their own core beliefs about what makes a person a potential partner. Success in love lies in identifying those standards and expectations before you enter into relationships or set out to find romance. Add whatever criteria you like to your own list; your relationship will be so much the better for it.

Frogs only turn into princes and princesses in fairy tales. In real life, they just stay frogs. If you know what you're looking for, and know what you, personally, must avoid to be happy, you can find your royal consort without ever having to go near the swamp again.


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