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The Only Way to Find Love: Ditch the Rules

05/16/2013 08:24 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT
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Many single people have very firm ideas about what they want in an ideal partner. Often, that list of criteria is less about love and support and more about lifestyle fit, about a perception of a "perfect match". While attraction and compatibility are certainly important factors in successful relationships, we also know that they alone are not sufficient. You could meet somebody who checked all the boxes on your list and yet, there might be no spark. Or, you could find that shared interests are a great basis for a friendship, but not necessarily what grounds the love of your life.

For every set of rules we try to establish, there's always a relationship that disproves the hypothesis. We think love thrives on shared interests, but find so many great examples of relationships where complete opposites attract. Or we think a similar background, culture or set of family values is important -- only to find many examples of love crossing all boundaries.

I tend to think there are no rules guaranteeing success in matters of the heart. We're all such complex individuals, governed by many (sometimes conflicting) needs and wants, that it's nearly impossible to come up with a formula for romantic success. This makes dating hard in general, but it especially makes me skeptical about online dating. That's not to say it's impossible to find love online (you can find love anywhere!), but I don't think that's because of the right algorithm or formula...

I really believe that finding love is about opening your heart and mind, meeting people and throwing away the rule book:

(1) On sharing the same interests

It's easy to bond quickly over shared interests. For instance, you like doing the same things in your downtime, you enjoy eating the same food or you both love design... etc.. . But is this what really makes for a successful relationship? Sure, it can, but not necessarily.

For me, the key isn't that a partner share my interests as that he respects and cares about my interests and passions and wants me to pursue those things. If your partner loves a particular hobby or sport, it's often more important that you support them in that endeavour than that you join in. Sure, you should also have some interests and hobbies that you share (movies you enjoy watching together, places you both want to travel), but so much of what intrigues and sustains us is what we also do by ourselves, as individuals. You don't need to share it all!

(2) On sharing the same aspirations

Online dating sites in particular tend to put a lot of emphasis on compatibility based on career, status and income. It makes sense why; after all these are quantifiable things and online dating sites use equations, not emotion.They're not entirely wrong either, these things can be important to some people as a measure of compatibility.

However, I think there's another perspective on these same values: Instead of income and status, look for a match in terms of character, work ethic and life goals. Think also about the things you can achieve together as a couple, not just what you've achieved thus far. You may find that integrity is more important to you than material success. That work ethic and drive is more important than status. That likeminded life goals are more important than being in the same salary bracket.

(3) On being swept off your feet

Romance and chemistry are not the same as love. Romance is a way of expressing love, just as laughter is a way of expressing joy. But that doesn't mean that if you're not laughing, you're not happy. Movies and literature glorify the romance and passion because they're easy to display on screens and pages. But those same movies and books also at times create a false ideal about what love should look like - that it should be all passion and fireworks and grand gestures.

Now, I'm not saying that romance and passion don't play an important role (I am, after all, a complete romantic!) Indeed, the absence of these manifestations of love would be as concerning as the absence of laughter in a person who claimed to be happy. But as a culture, we tend to be obsessed with the "display" rather than with the underlying feelings. True love isn't really (or only) about gifts and grand gestures. It's also about support and kindness, sharing and respect. After that early burst of passion, these are the deeper feelings that hold a relationship together.

(4) On finding a soulmate

The idea that another person can complete you is one that dates back to ancient Greek philosophy. Plato presented the idea that we are lost souls literally wandering the Earth looking for our other half, our soulmate. It's a beautiful and romantic idea, but the truth is that it's likely there isn't just ONE person for each of us. And no person, no matter how loving and strong a partner they are, is going to complete you.

You are your own whole. Instead of thinking of a partner as your other half, think of them as another circle intersecting with yours, like a Venn diagram. You share a lot, you overlap and support each other. But you cannot complete or "fix" each other. The more you work on your own individual selves, the stronger your relationship will be and the more intertwined your circles will be. Don't rely on another for your sense of fulfillment, that's something every person should seek and create for themselves.

(5) On happily ever after

Most of us girls grow up on a staple diet of fairytales with Prince Charmings and happily ever afters. As the rhyme goes "first comes love, then comes marriage and then comes a baby in a baby carriage". With such early indoctrination, it's no surprise that we sometimes have a hard time processing the reality of love and romance.

My own life is a testament to the fact that things rarely run such a smooth and predictable course. The fact is, there isn't just one route to love and sometimes you get lucky a second time. Sometimes, people find love much later in life. Others find that the conventional relationships of those fairytale fantasies aren't what they yearn for at all.

The key is to be an AGENT in your own life. Allow yourself to make mistakes, to take risks, to try something different... Trust that the universe is guiding you along YOUR path, even if it doesn't always look like a fairytale. As long as you follow your heart and you are your most authentic self in that moment, I believe you'll find love and happiness. Above all, never stop believing -- as much as the rules and the fairytales should be taken with a grain of salt... love itself is very real!

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