“Attractiveness, common interests and emotional health. Which two of these three things do you need in a girl?”
My friend would sometimes ask me these self-reflective questions, but this one was a doozy. I kept changing my answer for a few minutes until I realized that it was a trick question.
I said, “You can’t just choose two. You have to have all three.”
“Have you ever met anyone who has all three?”
I knew better than to debate him. I couldn’t think of anyone I dated who had all three. As soon as I thought I had someone in mind, I realized that there was something that was missing.
Sometime later I revisited the question and was puzzled that I never liked anyone who had all three traits. No wonder I had relationship problems! There was no way you could have a comfortably compatible romantic relationship without all three things.
It would be like asking, “Common interests or emotional health; which one trait do you need in a friend?” You need both!
You may be familiar with Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. If not, it basically states that consummate love requires three components: intimacy, passion and commitment. If any one of these three things are missing, you have a different love relationship.
For example, romantic love is about passion and intimacy. There is no conscious decision to stick together (commitment).
Fatuous love is about passion and commitment, but there is no intimacy. You feel strongly for someone and are determined to be together but you don’t really know who this person is, hence the word, “fatuous” or silly.
Companionate love holds room for intimacy and commitment but no room for passion. This is similar to platonic love or a great friendship.
But as you can see, they lack something that would take a romantic relationship to the ultimate destination — consummate love.
Similarly, when you believe that it is not possible for you to be with someone you are attracted to, have shared interests with and is emotionally stable, you are giving yourself a relationship that you will eventually walk away from because you know you require all three, just as you need passion, intimacy and the decision to commit.
Eventually, I stopped thinking about my past relationships and then thought about the relationships my friends were in. Some suffered from a lack of something vital, of course. Emotional health was a common one (from my friend’s model), as was intimacy (from Sternberg’s model).
But I knew friends who had romances that enjoyed the entire triangle. From my friend’s model they had a strong attraction, shared interests and were both mentally healthy. From Sternberg’s model, they were committed (despite threats to the relationship), passionate and knew each other through and through.
My friend might’ve been right about me, but he was wrong to suggest that no one enjoyed the pleasure of a complete or consummate romance.
And yet, a lot of us fail to think that we can have it all. We think that to have such an all-encompassing love is too good to be true. But as long as we think this, our romances will always feel like something is missing.
It is this belief that one cannot have a relationship where each pillar of the relationship is strong that labels the relationship as destined for failure.
The car won’t start or get very far if there is a part that isn’t working. You won’t pass the test if you are missing fundamental knowledge of the test subject. You can’t have good friendships if you lack the components of friendship. You cannot have a lasting and healthy relationship if you don’t have all the ingredients.
But you need to know that you must have all the ingredients. If you want something successful, you do not have the luxury of being with someone who is “good enough.” You’re not doing yourself or the other person any favors by shortchanging each other.
Initially it will feel good enough, but eventually the weak pillar of the relationship will cause the relationship itself to crumble.
So give yourself what you need. Wait until someone has the trifecta. No, they won’t be perfect and neither will you, but you both will be as close to perfect as possible.
A Final Word of Caution
I gave more thought to my relationships and I realized that there were a few that actually had the trifecta. But it felt as if they didn’t because I compared their weakest component with someone else who demonstrated that component in a big way.
For example, one relationship had what I thought was little to no common interests. In truth, we had more than I thought. But when I compared her to others who had that component much stronger, that component seemed weak or non-existent. So be mindful of this.
Lastly, do not think that just because you found consummate love that that is the end of that. Your relationship can end if the pillars of the relationship are not maintained. You both need to be engaged in this, and if you keep at it, you will have the rejuvenating love you’ve always wanted.