1. Dating is sales. You are your product and you must be able to sell yourself. This may sound cynical, but here's what I mean by it: you've got to believe that you have something to offer to someone else and you have to be able to demonstrate that to them. A few years ago, my mom was trying to convince me to start dating online. I'd been in a perpetual job hunt for two and a half years, temping, subbing, and being unemployed in the meantime. I told her I needed to wait until I had a job. I wanted to appear successful, yes, but more than that, I needed it for my own self-esteem. By the time I did join Match, I'd been in a job I loved for six months. I'd gotten a good haircut and some new clothes. I wasn't happy about my weight, but I was doing something about it, which made me feel good about myself overall. The first thing I remember Raj telling me he liked about me was that I was passionate about things. My job, my upcoming trip out west, my plan to skydive for my birthday, even letting him see my excitement about riding rollercoasters at Sea World made me more interesting. I know it's not always possible to have a job that excites you (believe me, I know), but you've got to have something that lights you up. A hobby, volunteer work, travel, gardening, exercise, something. If you haven't found it yet, I'd recommend that you put your time and effort into doing that now, then work on dating later when you've got this interesting life that a person would hope to be invited into. Note: I am not saying that you should try to cultivate interests that you think would make men (or women) in general or a specific person like you more. Pretending to like baseball might get you a date, but talking about your actual love of zumba (or whatever) shows that you're a person with your own interests, living your own life (that you like!) while you date.
2. Have your basic philosophies in common. On paper, Raj and I couldn't be a lot more different. Our college majors, political science and mechanical engineering, are pretty much the definition of subjective vs. objective. In water and in life, he dives in head first while I prefer to dangle my feet and move forward as I feel comfortable. I like to socialize in small groups and he's the more the merrier. I'm keep it simple and he's go big or go home. He's Crossfit and I'm book club. I'm music and he's NPR. He's uniforms with creases and pins placed with the aid of a ruler. I'm "do you think I can get away with flip flops for work?"
And yet, not only do we get along, we never fight. I don't mean that we don't have miscommunications, hurt feelings, and disagreements that we need to talk through, but ours is not a very contentious relationship. Partly, this has to do with both of us being incredibly laid back. Things other people might fight about just don't bother us that much.
But I think it has more to do with having some important things in common. They say married couples most often fight about money, sex, and kids. Let's put the last two aside because we're still newlyweds and don't have kids. So, money. I think in large part, we don't fight about money because our priorities are mostly the same. We're not spenders, except for travel and dining out. We didn't get into financial specifics early on, but I know we talked about preferring to spend money on experiences rather than things. Coming into marriage compatible on this has made it a lot easier for us. Note: I realize that it's easy to say we don't fight about money when we have enough of it. Believe me, I know that not having enough is stressful and could cause fights, no matter how similar your philosophies are. My point is that no matter how much you have, if you have very different ideas about it, that's going to make life difficult.
Both of our families placed premiums on education, ethics, and manners, so these are important to both of us as well. We both feel strongly about service and doing good for the world. We both think it's important to be politically aware, environmentally friendly, and physically active. These are the kinds of things that matter far more than the differences listed above. Many of those are actually helpful since they mean we stretch each other, have separate interests, and that someone will be able to help the kids with spelling and math homework. But to disagree on the more fundamental things would be a lot more challenging.
3. Say thank you. We aren't perfect, nor do I think we've learned everything there is about relationships over the past four years. But here's something we've always done right: we say thank you frequently. And not just in a "please pass the salt...thank you" kind of way. Right now, Raj would be justified in taking it for granted that I do all of the housework since he's the only one working, but it makes a big difference that he notices specific things and thanks me for doing them. I thank him for taking out the trash, even though it's his job. Just because he's expected to do it doesn't mean I'm not grateful that he does. He thanks me for cooking dinner and I thank him for doing the dishes. When we go out, I still thank him for dinner, even though the money comes from the same place no matter who pays, and he still thanks me for going, even though it's not as if I'm turning down other dates to be there. It honestly does make a difference. When you're thanked for doing something, it makes you a lot more willing and happy to do it the next time, even if that's folding piles of clean boot socks and green undershirts or hacking through the wilderness that is our neighbors' yard to get to the trash can. Note: it is not cheating to say, "Please notice how clean the bathtub is." especially if your bathtub is so stained that it never looks clean, thus giving your partner no way of knowing that you've scrubbed it.
4. Say I'm sorry. (And mean it.) I'm most often saying I'm sorry for forgetting to do something I told Raj I'd do, being late to meet him, or snapping at him when I'm tired, hungry, or suffering from premenstrual syndrome. It's obvious that a person should apologize in these situations. What's harder is when what you've done or said seems reasonable and/or right to you, and yet your partner (or other loved one) is upset. Wouldn't apologizing make it sound like you're admitting you're wrong even when you weren't? Here's what I have to say about that: so what? You love this person. You've hurt him or her with your words or actions. You can be sorry for that, even if you're not sorry for the original action. This bit is directed at me as much as at anyone. I looooooove to be right. But I love Raj more. It's just, sometimes I forget that. Note: anything that begins, "I'm sorry, but..." is not an apology. No, it is not. Explain yourself if you need to, but don't excuse yourself. Notice how "I'm sorry I snapped at you. I was hungry." sounds different from, "I'm sorry I snapped at you, but I was hungry." The second one sounds like I'm saying it wasn't really my fault. Yes, I get grouchy when I'm hungry, but I'm an adult who is capable of and responsible for not taking that grouchiness out on the nearest person.
5. When in doubt, choose to believe you're not being wronged. What I think you've got to do is always go with the assumption that your partner (or other loved one) really doesn't have evil motives. (It helps a lot here if you choose a partner and friends who are genuinely not evil.) Raj finds my shedded hair in the shower super disgusting. I try to clean out the drain cover, but I frequently forget. He could choose to see this as me being inconsiderate and get upset with me, or he can assume it really is that I'm forgetful. If he says something that can be interpreted in a way that I find hurtful, I have to remind myself that he's not a guy who sets out to hurt me and I should give him the benefit of assuming that he meant it in the way that isn't hurtful. We'll still talk about these things, but when we're coming from a place of assuming the other person didn't set out to upset us, nobody needs to get defensive and it's an easier and more productive conversation.
6. If you don't have a major objection, then just go with it. I read a thing online where a guy was talking about how they fight about making the bed because his wife wants it done and he thinks it's completely pointless and who even cares if the bed is made? Well, friend, you already answered your own question: your wife cares. Raj likes the bed made. I've never seen the point of making the bed, except now the point of making the bed is that we share it and it matters to him. I like to get to the airport unreasonably early. Raj thinks I'm a bit of a lunatic about it, but when we travel together, he asks me when I want to leave and then we go at that time. I am not advising you to be a doormat and do everything your partner's way all the time. Just if something really only matters to one of you, why fight about it?
7. Learn what makes both of you feel loved. The idea of love langauges may sound like a lot of stupid psychobabble, but give me a minute to explain. It comes from a book by Gary Chapman that, quite honestly, I have not read. The concept though is quite helpful. The idea is that we all have a preferred means of giving and receiving love. The five love languages Chapman identifies are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Understanding this about yourself and your partner helps a lot. Knowing that Raj's primary love language is acts of service not only lets me know that I can best show my love by doing things for him, but to understand that when he does things for me, he's demonstrating his love. Knowing that mine is quality time means he knows that coming home from work early when he can really is one of the most meaningful things he can do for me. And he knows that when he's stressed about being behind at work and I tell him that it's ok if he needs to go in on the weekend, I'm giving him something that matters to me. If you don't know what yours is, you can take an online quiz here (it's free, but you do have to enter your email address). Or you could probably just take some time to think about it.
What's been more specifically helpful is asking each other three questions every Sunday night (when we remember) that are adapted from a list on Today's Letters. 1. How did you feel loved this week? 2. What does your upcoming week look like? 3. How can I support you this week? The first one helps us understand what specifically stands out for each other as having shown our love so we can do more of the same. The second one helps us plan and the third gives us an opportunity to ask for what we need or want from each other. One of us (*cough* not Raj) has a problem with getting upset when her expectations aren't met despite not having ever shared these expectations out loud. It's completely unfair to him and I'm working on it. Having reasonable expectations and telling him what those are sets him up for success.
8. Choose someone you have fun with. Then have fun with that person. When I was in college, I was dating a guy and knew it needed to end when I kept thinking how I had a much better time with my roommate, Amy. Why would I give up living with a fun roommate for a less fun husband? Fortunately, I didn't. We have a great time. Except sometimes we get too wrapped up in the business of life and doing our separate stuff to remember to have fun together. It's not like it takes a lot of time or money, just making a choice.
Basically, I guess that's my advice overall. Make good choices. Make choices that make you a good partner both before and after you meet someone. Choose a partner who is compatible with you on the really important stuff, no matter how different you may be in other ways. Choose someone who is nice to you and choose to be nice back. All of this probably sounds way oversimplified because it is. Life is hard and a lot of it is outside our control, but making the best choices available to you is the power you have to make it better in your relationships and everything else.
Now it's your turn, Internet. I'm clearly no expert, beyond knowing what works for us. Maybe you think I'm wrong about some of this stuff. Definitely I've missed some important things. Do share, for all of our benefit.