Single but Coupled

I read with interest Isabelle Tessier’s article entitled I Want To Be Single – But With You  in HuffPost recently.

Essentially, it’s an expression of desire of people who don’t want to lose themselves the moment they get into a relationship, and to approach them with the mindset of still being one’s true self rather than becoming complete only with a partner.

She wants something that is the best of both single and coupled worlds. To have all the comforts of a relationship, but to excise the negative, awkward parts, I think is attainable with the model she’s suggesting.

She doesn’t eschew relationships, and nor do I, just that a special relationship that she describes is one that is absolutely realistic and worth seeking out, despite online criticisms that it is too idealistic.

My  beliefs for long term happiness – core, personality, freedoms:

Strong Core

A joint set of beliefs that are near-immutable, or at least change slowly over time, but should always be compatible. These are things most couples would argue over:

  • Love (expression of affections, mutual support – what kind and how much – always holding hands, or is there just an occasional need to feel connected?)
  • Money attitudes (separate accounts vs. joint, investment and spending strategies)
  • Values (respect, attitude towards societal values, rights, culture, conservatism, liberalism, etc.)
  • Religion (either both are, or one is supportive of the other)

Cores should be as lightweight as possible, but strong. The Core should provide a basis of predicting how one’s partner would behave under different circumstances and should offer few surprises.

Compatible Personality Traits

Beyond core beliefs, we get into the complex land of personalities. I won’t dive into detail into personality types or models like Myers-Briggs or Big 5, but I believe there is benefit in understanding personality types.

Dealing with this in terms of not one type being better than another, but how they interact within a relationship, is the key.

The personality types between two people can be viewed as being on a spectrum between completely identical through complete mirror images, with everything in between.

At one end of the spectrum, identical or extremely similar personality types can make it easier to get along at different levels, but may not provide a longer-term challenge or personal growth potential, so relationships between similar personalities may require external factors to create the stimulation required to last. An alternative is for one of the partners to become the lead; i.e. the more extroverted partner in a pair of extroverts may become more extroverted in order to create that idealized balance.

At the other end, totally incompatible types could cause occasional friction, but could provide ways for the individual couple members to achieve great personal growth if they are open to discussing them.

Compatible non-matching personality traits

Some non-matching personality traits can be viewed as a plus, where both partners

  • Spontaneous / Laid back – One’s laid back and the other isn’t – the “A” type personality could learn to relax a little; the other could learn to get a little more organized
  • Introvert / extrovert – a more extroverted person could pry open the world a little for the introvert
  • Risk-taker / risk-averse – again, opening worlds a little for one, perhaps encouraging taking a pause to consider options for the risk taker
  • Observing / Intuiting – taking the world as it is versus dreaming about how it could be. Not a bad combination either.

This is a lot like “marry your opposite” sort of advice – basically that may be fine of opposite traits can balance, but there may be a limit to how many of these personality traits one may be able to put up with before two people declare themselves out of balance and incompatible.

One partner’s group of traits may come off as more overbearing, superior, or forceful than the other, or unhealthy dependencies or opportunities for strong personalities to butt heads often may arise.

In fact, having a complete opposite in terms of Myers-Briggs types is in one theory the worst and least compatible option for anyone, leading to conflicts where partners know how to inflict maximum pain on each other’s weak spots because there are no shared strengths.

Also, the “opposite” argument does not apply to the Core, which is where you want to “marry your equal”.

It’s not even like the clichéd “you complete me”. I will complete myself, thank you very much. But I’ll definitely appreciate your help.

Incompatible Non-matching personality Traits

While any two well-sorted individuals can work things out, there are some trait matchups that can be tougher.

Thinkers vs. Feelers:  The thinker in a relationship is often a facts-based, less emotionally driven person, and able to take constructive criticism. This can conflict easily with a feeling partner who is more sensitive to conflict and criticism. The Feeler may require more assurances and visible appreciation, and would need to communicate this properly to their partner.

Two thinkers together may have a more harmonious relationship, but then they may have this mutual blind spot with regards to interacting with other Feeling people.

Freedom

This would be the freedom to pursue one’s goals for growth, to do whatever you want, when you want, to be in the company of whomever you want. These are conflated with single person’s freedoms only because they imply a single person has fewer responsibilities than someone in a relationship, which is false, but makes for quick understanding of the point that’s being made about being single, but in a couple.

It’s about being able to do things without being controlled by others, or to feel like you have to follow certain rules. The way to do that is either through singlehood, or by finding the right kind of partner who thinks the same way.

Article, Redux

Here is my man’s take on Tessier’s article with a more personal spin on it:

I want to be single with you.

I want you to go have drinks with your friends without me. I would probably feel like a third wheel anyway, but we are both more interesting to each other when we are not always joined at the hip. I want you to be completely relaxed, not worry about whether or not someone else is having fun, and enjoy every moment. Of course I want you to come home safely and I’ll be there to drive you all home if you need it.

I want you to tell me about the guy who chatted and flirted with you. I know that makes you happy, and it makes you more desirable to me. Just as you would point out an attractive woman to me that I may not have noticed. We feel happy and secure in being able to do that.

I want to spend time together, but apart mentally. We can be in the same room, you on your book, me on my iPad, lost in our own worlds, not needing to say anything, but content that this is OK and we still have an unspoken, unbreakable connection.

When we are at parties together, we circulate among different groups of people, covering more ground to talk about later. Once in a while you’ll glance over and catch my eye and with a glint in your eye or a quick smile, we touch base over this remote connection, “Hey, I love you, just wanted to let you know that”. Or, if we have a chance, I may just touch you gently on your arm in passing. And that’s all we need. I don’t need to hover around you unless there’s a good conversation happening or you need me to come rescue you from a boring one.

Because we’re both introverts, I know your energy level dealing with social situations is not great, and neither is mine, so we know that we can subtly signal each other to leave the party. When we get home, we may quietly retreat to our own physical or mind space, and that’s OK, because that’s how we recharge after these situations.

I want to plan, but not too much. To be in Paris and have a place to stay, but not to have every day planned like a military operation. Only as much structure as needed with freedom to roam – that’s the nature of our relationship.

I want you to have your freedom. To go far away on your own for weeks to go to places or things you love. I struggle sometimes because you’ll be away from me, of course, but I know that you would encourage the same of me and be wholly supportive. I want to be that ideal person, and the more I do it, the closer I become to being him.

I want you to be strong. I will help you become stronger. I want to take away your self-doubts, your insecurities, and all the things that keep you from fulfilling your potential. I need you do the same for me; it is always easier to help someone else than yourself. There will be times you will be strong and I will be weak, and vice-versa.

I want to help you grow in the ways that I am stronger in, just as you are strong in ways that I am not. I will encourage, cajole, nag, and do things I feel will be good for you because I love you and I know you, deep down, want to do them and can do them, except for the fears I am helping you break down.

I want you to have your own job or passions. I do not want you to ever look back with regret on a road not taken, and if I have to give you up so you can pursue your passions, I would be willing to do so. I want to stoke that competitive fire and passion, not extinguish it, because I see in your eyes how excited you are, and how alive you are, when you have a cause you care about.

I want you to challenge me mentally. I want to hear your opinions, and I want them sometimes to be different from mine, just in case mine are wrong, and I want to keep my mind open to all things in the universe.

I want you to be honest with me as I will be with you. Brutal honesty is my only way. I cannot live a lie, and I cannot tell them. Even white lies I struggle with. I would be hard-pressed to be a political surrogate. As David Foster Wallace wrote, “the truth will set you free. But not until it’s finished with you.” Sugar-coating is definitely not my best skill and I know it can hurt.

You get indignant over the words and actions of people, and rightly so. You will be treated badly by others. As a man, I recognize I have blinders on and may not always notice the sexist world we live in, but I am trying, and my eyes are opening. I will always try to see things from your perspective, and I will always unconditionally defend you and back you.

I want to have fun and be silly with you. I know you’ll be aghast at my dance “moves” or jokes, but I am trying to impress you as well as lower my self-censoring and self-deprecating behaviour. I want to make you laugh, because I want you to be happy and because that in turn makes me happy.

I will give you space. You may need time and space to recharge or gather your thoughts just like I do. Even though it may be agonizing silence in the meantime, I acknowledge you may need to do this as a defensive mechanism even though you know I am always here for you. I only ask the same of you. I am never far, just involved in my thoughts and I appreciate your efforts to check in on me.

I don’t need lavish gifts or celebrations of the “Hallmark” holidays. A random thoughtful favourite chocolate bar is what I need, or something small I may have mentioned in passing, which says you were listening to me. Just an occasional reminder that we have a special connection is all I need to thrive. But I want to celebrate the meaningful days of our life – birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, graduations.

I want to have things we do together. While it is important to grow individually and be “single but together”, we don’t lose sight that there are benefits to sharing and having fun together. Maybe we’ll run and workout together, go on a kayaking expedition, take up a cooking class, or simply cuddle up while binge watching Netflix.

We will find each other.

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