It’s not love or money, after all

February 15, 2011

The nature of relationships has changed.

In fact, seems obvious that the nature of our relationships is cultural.
It’s something that changes with and adapts to our changing society.

And our society constantly changes.
Just a few in my lifetime, alone:

Our ability to manage reproduction.
The prevalence of and need for working mothers.
The openness of committed gay couples, many of whom adopt children.
The increasing societal acceptance of house-husbands.

These things didn’t exist in my grandmother’s day–they would certainly confuse her– and if I had grandchildren, I’m certain that when they got to my age,
relationships would have evolved further into something that I wouldn’t recognize.

So what are people now looking for in a relationship?

A recent New York Times article highlighted a study that found that people are primarily seeking partners who make their lives more interesting.

A researcher in Amsterdam called it the Michelangelo Effect;
it refers to how close partners actually “sculpt” one another.

A couple of other researchers, at Monmouth University in New Jersey, have studied how relationships are used to accumulate knowledge and experience, a process they call self-expansion. They found that the more self-expansion in a relationship, the more committed and satisfied individuals are.

This rings true to me, at least in part. I had a very long-term relationship in which my partner introduced me to specialty coffee drinks, the joys of hiking and adult bicycling (as well as the entire northern California outdoors), European travel and other things I still enjoy.
In some ways, he DID “sculpt” me.

But as much as I enjoyed our closeness and those shared new activities, for me the relationship lacked that spark that turned it from a friendship to romance.
So new, interesting activities just weren’t enough to sustain the relationship over the long run.

Still, I’ve always said that a relationship is most interesting and satisfying
when my partner brings his own energy and experiences to it.
That being attached at the hip all the time is not a healthy way to be a couple.
What is there to talk about if you’re always together and have no independent interests?

And it goes both ways. For example, I see my girlfriends, have platonic male friends, take spa and writing weekends alone, write, attend book group and in general do things that do not involve my partner. Some women go to knitting groups, take classes –even an afternoon at the beauty salon can be an entertaining independent activity.

If we’re lucky, our male partners play golf or tennis with buddies, attend poker nights, go to sporting events together. Maybe they write or play music.

Of course, in my grandmother’s day, she and my grandfather were
concerned with survival and raising a family.
Entertainment involved Sunday pasta dinners ala famiglia and not much more.
Leisure wasn’t a concept for this immigrant couple in the 1920s and 1930s.
Survival was.

But society has changed and that’s not the case today.

I’ve long believed that bringing the energy from independent outside activities back to the relationship makes it a happier and more interesting one.

And if some researchers are right, a longer-lasting one.

What do you think?

One comment on “It’s not love or money, after all
  1. Kathy says:

    Call me old fashioned, but for a relationship to last there must be a foundation of love, respect and mutual tolerance (a/k/a compromise). Both people have to feel better or enhanced by the relationship for it to endure. Far too many people look to physical attributes and finances as a prerequisite for investing emotional energy, neither of which is indicative of a persons character, values,passions,etc.

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