Summary: How to Choose a Partner By Susan Quilliam
Summary: How to Choose a Partner By Susan Quilliam

Summary: How to Choose a Partner By Susan Quilliam

  1. Understanding

Choosing a romantic partner is one of contemporary life’s biggest adventures. Embark on the quest and we may meet fascinating people as well as some who make us crazy; we may rise to emotional heights as well as sinking into fury, fear and depression; we may lose direction completely before at last we find our way to love.

The real challenge is that we grow. Partner choice is a self-development journey, driving us to learn more about ourselves, about other people, about life and the way we want to live it. Take all that on board and we start to realize just how big an adventure choosing a partner is.

How to Choose a Partner is a guide to finding the right partner for you – though be warned, it’s not a map, not a tip-list, not an action manual. Instead, it is a series of reflections drawing on psychology, philosophy, culture and ordinary human experience. The book’s wisdom is the wisdom not only of the many professionals who have considered the decisions that we make about love, but also of the class participants the authors taught and the coaching clients they worked with.


  1. Being Ready

It’s very tempting to rush into love. It’s very tempting to think we’re ready to love because we want to – and there’s nothing wrong with that wanting. But readiness to even look for a partner, let alone choose one, can be more complicated than it seems. Which is why this second chapter is something of an amber traffic light.

The first amber question to ask is this. Is now the right time to be seeking a committed relationship? There are many life situations, temporary transitions and extended periods where being single is essential. Perhaps our focus currently needs to flow inwards to ourselves because our energy needs to flow outwards – maybe to a demanding job, a sick parent (or child), a sudden life crisis. If so, though we may want the support of a relationship because we threaten to collapse without it, choosing a partner may actually be the last thing in the world we should be attempting. And not just because partnership’s arguably the second hardest challenge of a lifetime – the first is parenting, if you’re wondering – so it shouldn’t be undertaken while vulnerable. But also because, vulnerable, we may choose a mate simply as a crutch; crisis over, life healed, that crutch may be superfluous. Unfair to both parties.

There are also many life phases when being single is enough – not because we are running on empty but because we are fulfilled. It can be a hugely enlightening exercise to list the people close to you then list the things they give to you, the things that enhance your life. Company, conversation, common history – or that simplest of support, a hug. Do this exercise and it may gradually dawn on you that most if not all of your needs are being met at the moment. If so, you may opt to put partner choice on hold – or choose a mate who fills the current gap even if they don’t offer the traditional 24/7 comprehensive companionship.


  1. Looking Back

When we actively search for a long-term partner, most of us tend to think ahead. We map out goals. We create aims. And the more serious a partnership we want, the further ahead we tend to think – not just to meeting a new date, but to moving in, to getting wed, to which gender our first child will be. There’s wisdom in that. To choose well we have to gauge what the long-term will deliver.

But there’s wisdom too – as Confucius says – in first putting attention back to the past. How has it made us who we are? What does that mean for who we choose? It’s not only that our past partnerships have been preparation for this moment, giving us both ability and vulnerability around loving. It’s also that every event in our past – from the moment we were born, let alone from the moment we began to date – has taught us messages about partnership and partnership choice. Whom we choose may be our decision alone, but why we choose will be influenced by a whole lifetime’s cast of characters and scenes.


  1. Not Choosing

I believe marriages would in general be as happy, and often more so, if they were all made by the Lord Chancellor, upon a due consideration of characters and circumstances, without the parties having any choice in the matter. (ATTRIBUTED TO SAMUEL JOHNSON, BOSWELL, THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON)

If you agree with Samuel Johnson, you’re in a minority. Most people deeply believe that the best life outcomes are created by active and informed decisions. More, that if we ourselves don’t make those decisions, we give up the chance of those best outcomes; we surrender control, cede responsibility and in so doing resign ourselves to compromise – as well as tacitly admitting that we’re not up to the task of managing our own lives.

Maybe Johnson is right, and letting go of choice is a good idea. It’s not just that love is one of the few areas in modern society where we may still cling to romantic notions of fate determining our future. But also, by handing over control to others, we might avoid repeating past mistakes or making new and future ones. When dealing with ‘winged Cupid painted blind’, as Shakespeare put it, taking our own blind prejudices out of the equation may be no bad thing.


  1. Focussing

Focus is about saying No. (STEVE JOBS)

Surely the more options we have, the more chance we have for love. Especially if we blame previous romantic disappointments on a lack of alternatives, then richness and variety of choice seem the obvious keys to success. Which is why the first question we may be asking about our love-search is how to find ‘more’ possibilities.

This is a great question if we’re short on options, if our circle of single contacts has dwindled to nil; if we live in a town – or country – where we know no one; if we’re not meeting any potential partners either at work or at play. It’s an especially useful enquiry if we are in a majority gender for our life-stage: research suggests that men in their twenties have only half as many partner possibilities as women do, but that in the forties the balance begins to reverse. If we can’t find a partner in these situations, the main problem is certainly the numbers. We’re a seller in a buyers’ market and the solution is to find more buyers. The way forward is to steer clear of babbling brooks, avoid stagnant pools and find slow rivers. Stripped of the metaphors, what

mean is this: stay away from gatherings with no chance of ‘get-to-know-you’ conversations, or where meeting up again is unlikely. Don’t get trapped in a social life where you see the same people over and over again. Instead, put your energy into groups which offer a steady and regular through-flow of different individuals, in situations where there’s opportunity to mingle, meet, chat and bond. That’s a slow river, and so long as it contains people with a similar background, outlook, values – it will deliver partner possibilities. Just as importantly, it will also deliver a fulfilled and fascinating existence as a base camp from which to embark on the partnership climb.


  1. Connecting

Let’s start with the simple fact of meeting. Once upon a time, we knew we were smitten because our eyes met across a crowded room (or at the village well, or as we were tilling the fields). The natural, biologically driven ritual of partner choice is founded on real-life contact.

Yes, some historical courtships were pursued at a distance. Europe in the Middle Ages was awash with ambassadors journeying from royal court to royal court while bearing portraits of beautiful princesses in the hope of arranging advantageous marriages. But without meeting, such long-distance strategies often went horribly wrong: King Henry VIII of England failed to even consummate his marriage to fourth wife Anne of Cleves because when she arrived for the wedding, he realized that ‘she is nothing as fair as she hath been reported’.

To really connect with – and make a decision on – a partner, we need to see, to hear, to literally feel them. It was anthropologist David Givens who in 1978 mapped out for us the instinctive process of natural attraction. We glimpse a potential partner from afar, then engage by eye contact, then by talking, then touch, eventually getting close enough to smell, taste and, if the stars align, be sexual. At each stage we parallel our conscious appraisal by unconsciously rating the other’s physical appearance, the way they move and speak, their hormonal invitations. At this early stage, closer and closer contact filters partners, not only because of what they say and do, but also because of the way they say it and do it. (Those who make the cut are likely not only to attract us but to be attracted to us; if face-to-face connection leads to a ‘yes’, it’s likely to become a virtuous, circular reinforcing ‘yes’.)


  1. Being in Love

In evolutionary terms, this rush of wonderful emotion was originally designed not to help us choose a compatible match, but to help us stand by a partner with whom we were making babies. Lust was there to get us rolling in the hay, being ‘in love’ was there to make us willing to push the pram alongside the one we’d originally sneaked off to the barn with. The ‘in love’ flurry of the hormones known as ‘monoamines’ exists to focus us on partnership through those early years when offspring need us to stay close, to the exclusion of all else. So much so that research at the University of Pisa has found key similarities between the monoamine levels of new partners and those who suffer obsessive–compulsive disorder. When we fall for someone we become literally fixated on them – as David Copperfield describes it, ‘a captive and a slave’.

There’s a less evolutionary, more psychological and – in this age of family planning – less offspring-focussed set of reasons why ‘in love’ is so compelling. It’s that when we fall in love, we’re following an emotional dream of being the centre of the world. While very small, unless our childhood was damaged, those around us did their best to keep us absolutely safe, warm, cared for, loved. We leave that behind as we grow to adulthood, but we’ll always be looking for it again, always be wanting to recreate the security and the validation that was ours in the early years. ‘In love’ holds out the promise that our beloved will make us the centre of their world, and for ever. No wonder it’s an obsessive compulsion.


  1. Knowing

as the old saying goes, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.’ So if we normally rush in, then, without playing ‘treat ’em mean and keep ’em keen’, we could maybe try holding back on that first kiss, that first sexual encounter, that first meeting with parents, until we know precisely what we’re dealing with. Conversely, if we typically tend to hesitate, then, without playing ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, we could maybe ‘lean in’ to suggesting that date, supplying that extra front-door key, declaring those intentions – even before it feels completely comfortable. Altering approach is, as always, a challenge. But perhaps if you do what you’ve never done, you might get what you’ve never before got.

One of the nicest, as well as one of the most effective, ways to make a partnership decision – which involves taking time to explore but doesn’t drag things out – was suggested by Dr Charley Ferrer. Its approach is based not so much on information-gathering or timing as on attitude. For ninety days, Dr Ferrer advises, we should commit completely. We shouldn’t hold back for fear of being taken for granted, shouldn’t cling on for fear of being rejected. Instead, for a full three months, we should offer full engagement in giving and taking, full emotional responsiveness, full trust that the partnership will continue. In other words, we should behave as if we already ‘know’ and have already chosen. If after that time we have no hesitations, then we know enough to say a completely wholehearted ‘yes’. If at the end of the ninety days we are still hesitating, we have gained more than enough knowledge to justify a ‘no’.