In honor of February’s season of love, let’s seek to understand our partner a little bit better. Shall we?
In a perfect world, you romantic partner is your bestie, your travel buddy, your confidante and lover all folded into one ultra-compatible human. There are no trouble spots, and no conflict. You like the exact same activities, structure your schedules the same way, and typically have the same thoughts about how to spend your time, money, energy. Perfect, right, omg.
Of course, I’m kidding. How absolutely boring.
In writing my dating book, and in the years after, I’ve asked dozens of singles and couples this question: “Would you want to date yourself? Or someone quite like you?” And believe it or not, exactly no one has said yes to that question. When you think about it, and if we discuss it in-depth, everyone comes to the determination that partners who balance each other are best.
I don’t necessarily believe opposites always attract, but I do believe that there’s usually a yin to your yang out there, and often we wind up with such a person. A little bit of tension and polarity is the essence of chemistry — but it also means that you’ll have differences to navigate as you decide how to run your partnership.
In my experience, couples tend to have similar tension spots, built around the way they balance each other out. It’s the double-edged sword of many relationships, and the flip side of every happy couple. In honor of February’s season of love, let’s seek to understand our partner a little bit better. Here are some of the most common, problematic dichotomies couples encounter — and how to split the difference, or find middle ground.
Pragmatism vs. Idealism
Tension spot: Splurge for growth vs. Save for a rainy day
Tools to bring to the table: Teamwork, planning, fun.
In relationships, pragmatists are the ones who will always tell you why something “might not be a good idea,” even if it’s buying 6 avocados you may not be able to eat before they spoil. They tend to save for a rainy day and budget carefully. They want all resources to be utilized efficiently. They look for reasons why not. Idealists, on the other hand, always think it’s smart to travel and generally invest in self-expansion and growth. They are spenders. They realize, to find greatness, sometimes money must be spent. Their hearts can sometimes get ahead of their wallets. They look for reasons why.
By putting your heads together, you are the perfect team, and the best way to pull off that balance is by planning. Have the idealist write your grocery list each week with meal-prep in mind, and the pragmatist should edit it. Idealists can dream up the perfect vacation, and pragmatists can set limits that ensure you’re saving for the future while also growing in the moment. Hint, hint: Vacay-planning date nights with wine and at-home cooking are fun, fun, fun.
Intentionality vs. Spontaneity
Tension spot: Live for the moment vs. Always have an agenda
Tools to bring to the table: Understanding, scheduling, balance.
Some romantic partners are incredibly intentional about how they invest in their relationships. (If quality time or gifts is your love language, this is probably you!) Other partners really value having fun with their partner in spontaneous ways that prompt growth and novelty. Intentional types are the thoughtful, planned, structured and diligent ones, whereas spontaneous types like to live in the moment, do what feels right, and go with the flow. Let’s take the concept of scheduling sex or even planning a date down to the detail; intentionals would love that idea, to make sure it gets done consistently and well! Spontaneous partners would literally think… ‘Wow, that would take the fun right out of it.’
It’s really important to practice understanding; your partner isn’t uptight, or disrespectful of plans, but rather they simply prefer to operate differently. To make sure everyone gets their needs met, alternate month over month or week over week, and really try to embrace the other person’s mode of operation. One month, maybe the intentional partner sets date night for every single Friday, with the first Friday and the third Friday being at-home dates. The next month, the spontaneous one gets to decide which day each week you’ll have quality time.
Socializing vs. Hibernating
Tension spot: Out all night vs. In by 9pm
Tools to bring to the table: Compromise, independence, communication.
Socializers prefer spending a lot of time with others. They work well in teams, maintain a lot of fulfilling friendships, and they tend to get bored on their own. Hibernators, on the other hand, are literally never bummed chilling by themselves, and typically find their own company (with books, music, research) to be stimulating — along with a few close friends and family. What’s more? So many of these types wind up together, even though Socializers often find the sheer amount of time Hibernators spend alone to be stifling, whereas Hibernators can be overwhelmed by their partner’s number of friends.
The most important point here is to identify where you connect, and focus your quality time there. Is it movies? How about sports? Travel? Cooking? Focus on those doing activities together, and if you both really want to do something different, be okay with that. Maybe you can’t stomach a huge social party and being your partner’s plus-one to a work-related gala in one week, and need some solo time. Have open communication and be honest about each other’s individual needs, as well as your needs as a couple. Compromise is key.
This is 2020. Going it alone sometimes makes you modern — and keeps you sane.
Jenna Birch is a freelance journalist, author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life & Love, and lifestyle expert. Her weekly relationship advice column, PureWow’s ‘Between the Sheets,’ runs every Tuesday. Her work appears in Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, Bustle, Well + Good, Man Repeller, The Washington Post, and more. She is a huge personality-typing nerd, yogi and advocate for chronic pain awareness. She lives for researching and reporting on relationships, mental health, wellness, psychology and happiness, mapping how these subjects intertwine with each person’s unique story.
Model wearing the Lovers Department Embroidered Tank.