AS I’ve now stomped past 30 and still find myself quite comfortably single, but ever so slightly increasingly inclined to look for a more serious partner, I find myself discussing love, relationships, and expectations regularly with friends. These musings come hand-in-hand with watching many friends engage in key parts of the cycle. Some are already transitioning into their second marriage. Others are having their long-term relationships implode either resulting in breakups or divorce, while yet others are engaged in deeply happy relationships and starting to raise their families. Oh—of course, then there are the other misfits like myself—still searching and enjoying the process.
Often the topic of finding the right fit comes up and my high expectations and selective approach to compromise is often a point of disagreement with friends. Ultimately, I’ve narrowed in on two basic questions that help clarify my needs, while better understanding how these differ (or align) with others. I think far too often we approach relationships with the assumption that they’re all somewhat standardized and that our needs are marginally different but structurally the same. Something I find to be fundamentally inaccurate and misleading.
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Do I Need a Companion or Do I Need a Partner?
This is a subtle difference. It’s also a critical one. As I increasingly talk to more people, I’ve come to realize that while we might often speak about seeking a partner, what many people are comfortable looking for is a companion. The companion is someone who seeks information from you, who relies on you in fundamental ways, and who offers nurturing and validation in a more pronounced way. The power dynamic varies widely, but ultimately, it is usually fairly disproportionate. These are also the more traditional relationships we often see and, in no small part, what makes it so difficult for highly driven and successful women to find men willing to date them This dynamic is often referenced as the student and the teacher or the provider and the nurturer.
The other approach is individuals seeking a partner. For me, this is essential and a fundamental requirement for a more serious relationship. While I’ll casually date in a companion-style, I can almost always tell from the get-go that there is a disparity there—often tied to the spheres of a curiosity dynamic which I’ll discuss in a moment. This fundamentally dooms any chance of it transitioning or being a more serious and committed relationship for me. The partner, versus the companion, is an individual that may have somewhat different interests and areas of focus or expertise, but who comes to the table in a more equal power distribution. This is an individual that offers some nurturing and validation, but who also brings a very heavy intellectual component to the relationship in the form of sourcing new knowledge, maintaining lively curiosity, holding opposing opinions, and harboring a strong internal drive that revolves around a give and take dynamic.