The starting point for a successful partner relationship

posted by Jeff | Friday, August 18, 2023, 8:18 PM | comments: 0

I was listening to the public Internet return of Armchair Expert, with the first episode featuring Kristen Bell. If you're unfamiliar, the podcast is hosted by Kristen's husband, Dax Shepard and their friend Monica Padman. They've always been pretty open about their relationship dynamic, parenting and such, but in this show, Monica brings up questions that some writer believes can accelerate connections between people. This leads to Kristen declaring that the best relationships work when people decide what they want to be for the other person, which is the exact opposite of convention, which suggests that you need to find someone who is what you want. Instead of looking for someone who checks all of the boxes, look for someone who will allow you to be who you want to be in the relationship.

Usually, my first instinct when I hear things like this, especially from a celebrity, is to immediately believe the opposite is true. But this hit me as something completely obvious that I've never articulated or considered. It's so profound to me that it would have completely changed the way that I see dating back to the start.

Some background... Since my autism diagnosis, that journey of reframing my life has a repetitive theme. Countless situations in my past, I felt as if there was something broken about me, because I didn't conform to the expectations of others or some arbitrary, blanket societal expectation. It also applies to relationships going all the way back to high school, whether they be friendships or romantic in nature. I was too weird, oblivious to an inferred social contract, or, to the earlier point, didn't check some boxes for what the other person wanted. I'm not saying that authenticity is inherently ideal, because if your authenticity is that you're a racist or nazi or something, you know, exhibiting that doesn't make you authentic, it makes you an asshole. But for the rest of us, we're probably being cast into a box.

Kristen Bell's perspective is not actually new, because I've seen it before. I recall talking to someone, long after she married and had children, who told me that her husband, on paper, did not check the boxes one would typically look for. But she rattled off some things that she liked to be for him, and he liked to be certain things for her. Again, this is the complete opposite of the conventional wisdom, where almost anyone will tell you, "Don't settle, make sure they are all the things that you want them to be."

But people are autonomous human beings. They all have their wants and needs, and none of us necessarily fit into boxes. People also change over time. So it seems to me that having expectations for what a partner has to be is a recipe for failure. When that partner does not meet those expectations, it's a recipe for resentment. That's a toxic situation.

This naturally causes me to reflect on my relationship with Diana. I was thinking about this a bit while we were in Europe (and enjoying a lot of beverages in Skyline). She has never, at any time, set any kind of expectations for what she expected me to be. I can't think of a single instance where she declared an expectation. But I think if you were to distill our intentions of what to be for the other, we have only decided to be supportive for each other in the pursuit of the things that we wanted to do, and who we wanted to be. I think it's really that simple. I think it works because we never set expectations for each other, but we actively try to be what we hope to be for the other.

And while she's just on the edge of the range, I claim Kristen Bell as one from our generation. She is wise.


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