I recently read an essay on character listing the wonderful characteristics that a person should look for in a life partner. It made me think of that fictitious place, Lake Woebegone, in which all the children are above average. It seems to me that Having an ideal view creates useful distinctions as aspiration. However, looking for ideals in a marriage / life partner, apart from as their aspirational view, is entirely the wrong way to go about it.
In the first instance, it would be a miracle if you found someone who fitted those ideals, and especially our individual interpretation of those ideals.
In the second instance, unless you are also perfect in your potential partner’s eyes, there’s already a significant mismatch in expectations.
In the third instance, given that you may have found that perfect person (probably through your rose coloured glasses), and they through theirs, there is little doubt that both of you will change your relationship with the ideal within the first year of being together.
There definitely can be a great benefit to the longevity of companionship, of getting to know each other’s character in a rigorous manner (getting to take off the rose coloured glasses). The first benefit is so that we can get to know ourselves, more clearly, through their eyes. Knowing ourselves, being authentic about who we are for another, is the best way to for them to see your character. Likewise, knowing how we are being as authentic and inauthentic (for the two are constantly in play) gives us access to seeing those areas in which others are authentic or inauthentic. It also subverts our desire to dominate others through judgement because our recognition of how we are when others dominate us, tends to activate an empathetic response, in itself a desirable trait in most people’s eyes. Recognition of the authentic way of being, allows us a certain conversation in inquiry of the other. Without any expectation we can explore the attitudes, commitments, and actions of the other.
The conversation around reality becomes crucial to any empowering conversation. Reality just means how it is in actual living structure, form and action. So, conversations and inquiry around what we are in action about, becomes crucial to an understanding of authenticity and integrity.
A word on authenticity. Authenticity is just saying how you are being around some circumstance rather than covering up or pretending or repressing or condoning. It is not about being right, just showing who you are, what you need, and want, regardless of what others or society might think. It is a stand in courage, for oneself.
Integrity is a function of honouring our word, either keeping our word to ourself and others, or cleaning up when we haven’t. Integrity is not a set thing that we can achieve, but a dynamic in which we are often out of integrity either because we are playing such a big game for our personal capacity or because we are playing too small a game. Much like walking is constantly falling, standing still on one leg is harder that jogging, although both will lead to falling due to fatigue. One, however, will lead to some progress being achieved, the other, not so much.
So where does that leave understanding another’s character, in terms of life partners? Within the conversation in reality, integrity and authenticity, it becomes apparent to the couple that a relationship could either have workability or not, around that each other are regularly out of integrity and inauthentic, as a way of striving for authenticity and integrity.
Does the ideal matter at all? The aspiration around an ideal can be useful in the conversation between two people. In the first instance to gauge how far apart are the aspirations in viewpoint, current achievement, and capacity. While each persons specific visions and goals will be different even when there is a general match in aspirational viewpoint, empathetic responses are less likely to be strained. Secondly, after an aspirational match, a personality-identity match is important. This match does not mean ‘same’ but more importantly, ‘fitted’. For example, an extremely frugal person and an extremely generous person may be a poor fit, while and generous person and a modestly frugal person may make a good fit, neither having to compromise far from their personal range, while their relationship now has twice or more the range of each individual. Inside of the conversation that makes use of that greater range, is an ‘person’ who is a ‘we’ not a ‘me’. And that ‘we’ models and creates a vaster ‘we’ circle of human relationships, the basis of a whole new society.