In the blush of first flirtation, your new partner almost always seems perfect. This can be especially true online, because light, superficial conversations can build the illusion of ultimate compatibility. (They’re cute, they’re charming, and they think the Evil Dead movies are superior to Army of Darkness just like you do! It’s a match made in heaven!)
Infatuation can make every shared preference or opinion seem like A Sign, but it can also make it hard to determine whether or not a relationship is worth pursuing seriously. If you’re just looking for something to do on Friday night, it may not matter so much if you’re not uber-compatible. But the truth of the matter is that most people looking for dates online are looking for a good match with long-term potential, and if you’re trying to take off the love goggles for long enough to figure out whether or not your someone can realistically be The Real Deal, these four questions can help you reality-check what may lie ahead.
Do your current lifestyles clash?
Having similar interests is one way that some couples bond, and shared hobbies certainly make spending time together easy. But you don’t have to like the same things to be compatible with someone. In the absence of shared passions, however, you DO have to have certain key lifestyle similarities to keep things running smoothly. If you’re a party girl who calls the daily trudge up her fifth-floor walkup stairs “exercise” and he’s a body-is-a-temple fitness fanatic, you’re going to struggle to find a happy medium between hitting the bar and hitting the gym.
Other areas that can cause trouble include vastly different levels of busy-ness (he does nada except work and sleep, she’s booked with extracurrics through May 2011), schedule differences (he works an overnight shift, she’s on a 9-5) or extremely different social needs (she spends four nights a week networking, he hates crowds). All of these problems can be overcome, but you should head in understanding that making it work will require both patience and extra effort. Make sure what you do have in common is worth it.
Does his/her five-year plan sync up with yours?
If he’s considering quitting his Starbucks gig to explore Machu Pichu, and you’ve already scrambled halfway up the corporate ladder, there may be trouble ahead. It’s one thing if current circumstances have caused your partner to zig when they thought they’d be zagging (maybe a layoff has given them time to travel or work on that novel, but they’re planning on getting back into a stable job as soon as they can). But if her five-year plan involves living on a houseboat and you’re methodically furnishing your condo with Ethan Allen, you need to accept the fact that you’ll both need to do LOTS of compromising if you want to make it work.
Do you respect his/her idea of what’s MOST important in life?
This has less to do with what they do with their time than how they think about life. Does he believe that an ongoing education is the cornerstone of a fulfilling life? If so, is he planning to go back to school later in life (and are you going to be cool with that?). If she’s extremely family-oriented, will you be willing to spend weekends visiting her nieces, or move near her aging parents if they get ill? If financial success is key to your partner, will you be understanding or resentful is they work long hours to bring home the bacon? These are all questions that are difficult to answer in the beginning of a relationship, but thinking about what your partner values most and asking yourself whether you’ll be able to be supportive of them pursuing it can be a very good indicator of compatibility.
Do they have any other people (or pets) in their life that you can’t imagine having in YOUR life?
A strong relationship can weather lifestyle differences with compromise or tolerance, but you still can’t pick the people (or pets!) with whom your partner spends time. If your new flame has a pet you absolutely can’t live with (a cat that causes your allergies to red-alarm, or a snake that makes you shiver every time you see it), it’s worth figuring out how important that animal is to your date. If he’d never give up Mr. Fluffy and you can’t live with him, you have a serious problem that’s not going to go away. Even more complicated than pets, however, are his human compatriots.
You can expect almost any person to have one or two friends that you don’t adore, but the company he keeps is worth considering. Do you dislike the friends in question because of basic personality incompatibilities? If so, try to grin and bear it. Your friends aren’t all like you, and your partner’s annoying friend doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on them. But if the friend’s behavior is something you wouldn’t tolerate from one of your friends (they’re racist, or violent, or malicious gossipy homewreckers), you have to accept the fact that keeping these friends around may be a sign that there are some differences between your value system and your mate’s.
If you recognized your relationship in the above list, it’s not time to freak out yet. Most couples have at least one major area of difference, so identifying the areas in which you differ from your partner can actually be a powerful step in making it work. Knowing where you can be flexible and where you draw the line is key to being able to assess the likely long-term success of any new relationship. If you have a slight preference that is opposite your partner’s (or even a strong one that you’re willing to bend a bit on), chances are good that you’ll hash out your differences. Similarly, you’re bound to have areas of inflexibility, and if your partner is willing to work around your needs in these areas, your disagreements won’t cause too much conflict.
There are lots of cases where opposites have attracted and it’s worked out smashingly, but ultimately, your ability (and your partner’s ability) to relate positively to someone who is very different has a lot to do with the success or failure of the relationship. If you can’t handle being with someone who’s not like you, you take any differences outlined in the questions above much more seriously than you should if you’re someone who thinks variety and disagreement are the spice of life. The number one rule (“know thyself”) still applies, and being realistic about how comfortable you are being very different from your mate will lead you down the path to happier, healthier relationships in the future.
Comment below: What factors do you look for when checking compatibility?