12 Commandments for the Pragmatic Romantic
The antidote to the hopeless romantic
In an era where dating complaints abound, I would like to propose the antithesis of the hopeless romantic archetype, which I call the "pragmatic romantic." Pragmatic romanticism is grounded in reality and respects the sanctity of commitment but also appreciates the beauty of human connection.
Whereas the hopeless romantic might pine after their beloved or feel dismayed when rejected by the object of their affection, the pragmatic romantic will continually find ways to better themselves so they are well equipped to experience the beauty of love when they encounter it.
While the hopeless romantic might idealize love, the pragmatic romantic doesn't participate in the web of delusions sold by Hallmark greeting cards and Hollywood rom-coms. The hopeless romantic indulges in sweet nothings, but the pragmatic romantic focuses on being a person of their word.
The pragmatic romantic knows that anyone can make vows but few will follow through to help you weather the storm. The pragmatic romantic acknowledges that illness doesn't keep regular hours and sometimes requires that you drop everything to look after a loved one. In The Art of Seduction, Robert Greene writes:
What will seduce a person is the effort we expend on their behalf, showing how much we care, how much they are worth. Leaving things to chance is a recipe for disaster, and reveals that we do not take love and romance very seriously.
The pragmatic romantic prioritizes emotional stability over spontaneity. While the hopeless romantic is a spark chaser, the pragmatic romantic is a slow burner. If you identify with this way of thinking, keeping the following in mind may be helpful as you navigate through relationships.
1. Don't confuse chemistry with compatibility
Attraction to someone's physicality, status, or mind does not guarantee emotional, moral, or spiritual compatibility.
You might appreciate the way people carry or articulate themselves or find yourself drawn to someone's thought process or pattern of speech, but these traits should be the springboard for a relationship rather than an endpoint.
Having an impressive educational background from an Ivy League, being at the top of the company ladder, or exhibiting exceptional talent in one's field of study does not mean that one is kind, compassionate, conscientious, or supportive.
In other words, we can't rely on chemistry (shared interests and hobbies) to do the heavy lifting of compatibility (shared values and outlook), which is arguably more foundational. Rifts will frequently surface if two people have fundamentally differing views on monogamy, gratitude, amnesty, personal growth, and family planning.
Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Having a shared vision and sense of purpose will make for a stable foundation. Make sure you and your partner are both on the same page about the things that matter to you. Unless two people are unified in mind, their trajectory is aimless.
2. Practice effective communication
Communication is the most vital part of interacting with anybody. Effective communication means conveying your message so that your partner understands what you mean and feels comfortable asking for further clarification.
A crucial component of effective communication is active listening. Listen with the intent to understand, not to respond. When you experience conflict, argue towards resolution. Don't be afraid to discuss both the daily aspects of your lives as well as your long-term plans:
How do we split up chores?
How will we handle the finances?
How often should we spend time together?
Do we want to have children?
What should our parenting philosophy be, and what values do we want to instill?
What is our plan for empty nesting?
During conflicts, acknowledge your partner's point of view and respect their feelings as valid. When you have misgivings, forgive through active repair - talking through your issues, reaching a mutual compromise, or showing affection. Dealing with problems in this manner allows us to grow closer to our loved ones.
Sometimes we may unintentionally gaslight our partners by sweeping conflict under the rug or dismissing it as "water under the bridge." While glossing over a spat may seem like a positive way to avoid further conflict, failure to acknowledge hurt feelings and the events that transpired usually leads to negative relationship outcomes.
Dr. Claire Jack, a therapist and anthropologist explains, "Disregarding someone else's emotional and processing needs in this way, over time, has the effect of silencing them. What point is there in discussing things with you if you deny the significance of what happened before?"
Avoidance strategies often end up condoning bad behavior and trivializing the damage caused as a result. Active repair strategies, on the other hand, involve active listening, apologizing, arriving at a compromise, and displays of affection, all of which have the potential to strengthen your bond.
3. Allow conflict to strengthen your relationship
The pragmatic romantic acknowledges that negative interactions are not only inevitable but necessary for relationship longevity. Over 30 years ago, psychologist John Gottman first set out to discover exactly where the sweet spot between positivity and negativity lay.
He specifically wanted to answer the following question: how many positive interactions to negative interactions do you have to experience with your partner during conflict in order to ensure relationship stability? According to his team of researchers,
That 'magic ratio' is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
According to Gottman, these interactions can be subtle or understated. Negative interactions may include rolling your eyes or raising your voice. Squeezing your partner's hand or using humor to defuse tension constitute positive interactions. "A smile, a head nod, even just grunting to show you're listening to your partner - those are all positive," he says.
This magic ratio of 5:1 predicted which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90% accuracy. Lower ratios indicated that the potential for punishment was too high compared to the potential for pleasure. However, relationships exceeding 11:1 positive to negative interactions were similarly doomed. Why? Too much complacency.
People need a partner who will challenge them; people prefer someone that they can contend with rather than a pushover. The capacity for disagreement and debate is necessary to fuel growth in a relationship. A reasonably healthy amount of tension can enable long-term mutual transformation.
4. Evaluate the partnership, not the person
While we should certainly seek out partners who exhibit emotional stability, kindness, and compassion, a great deal of other superfluous "requirements" such as height, race, or ethnicity only serve to restrict and limit opportunities for genuine connection.
You can draw up checklists to no end and say that your partner should have certain qualities or a specific type of pedigree, but it's substantive connection, not superficial attraction, that will weather the storm. In other words, checking the proverbial boxes won't be enough when hard times hit.
Instead, ask yourself the following:
What is our real world dynamic like? How do we work together?
How do we communicate with one another?
How do we problem solve and troubleshoot together?
How do we navigate sticky situations together?
When we have conflict, do we argue for peace?
Do we understand and respect each other?
Do we make each other better?
Your partnership is what will be tested at the end of the day. Your partnership will have to endure all the adversity that life throws your way. The question isn't so much "Is this person a good person?" but "Are we good together?"
5. Educate each other about your expectations
Find out how your partner prefers to be supported. Figure out which questions you want to ask and answer together. If your partner doesn't like to be asked a certain question, it doesn't mean they're hiding something. Rather, something about that question may trigger something uncomfortable.
For individuals with chronic illness, the seemingly innocuous question, "How are you?," can sometimes feel heavy or loaded. Other people may not like being asked about what they accomplished at work during the day. You won't know for sure what your partner prefers until you ask.
Be as specific as possible when discussing your needs and take advantage of opportunities to give your partner real-time feedback. Reward and praise your partner whenever they act in accordance with your requests, and teach them how to train you as well.
6. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth
While pop music - like the Musiq Soulchild song "Dontchange" or Ariana Grande's "Right There" - might extoll the virtues of constancy in a relationship, change is inevitable. The best laid plans often go awry.
Asking our loved ones to stay the same sets up unrealistic, unhealthy expectations. Change is a normal part of growth and development and should be celebrated rather than feared.
Change happens as we get older, take on more responsibilities, and raise families. Timelines can quickly become irrelevant in the face of certain challenges. Cultivate a sense of comfort with uncertainty because our trajectories are often unpredictable, and the only constant in life is change.
Love is sticking around through all that change and transformation - when you have less time for each other because your kids demand your attention now, when one party is dealing with chronic illness that affects their personality like depression or Alzheimer's, when the chips are down.
Love is holding your partner's hair in the bathroom when she has food poisoning. Love is standing by your man when he's been laid off. The pragmatic romantic expects life to be messy and knows there will be rain.
You can never know another person completely nor can you predict how you will grow and evolve together. The person you marry at the altar will not be the same person with whom you grow old. Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel explains,
"Most of us will have two or three marriages in our adult life - and some of us are going to do it with the same person. For me, this is my fourth marriage with my husband, and we have completely reorganized the structure of the relationship, the flavor, the complementarity."
The best we can do is embrace uncertainty as a normal part of healthy relationships - as well as life in general - and realize that love always involves a leap of faith. Be willing to rearrange your plans and redraft your blueprints as needed.
7. Make sure your actions and words are aligned
Regardless of whether acts of service are your love language, actions matter. Avoid making promises you can't keep. Don't commit to something if you have doubts about your ability to follow through.
If you ask for feedback, don't punish your partner for sharing their honest opinion. Our loved ones shouldn't experience any cognitive dissonance arise because of the disconnect between what we say and what we do.
Setting aside emergencies and other exceptions, respecting each other's time and striving to be people of integrity are paramount to healthy relationships. Show someone you're dependable through consistency.
Forgo the grand gestures for daily acts of appreciation. The pragmatic romantic is not a sweet talker but leads with actions, shows character and integrity, and genuinely cares for the well-being of others.
8. Leverage the benefits of vulnerability
While vulnerability inherently means opening ourselves up to getting hurt, it's also necessary to foster deeper bonds. Sharing our desires, dreams, and eccentricities is key to building intimacy, so ditch the censorship and inhibition for connection and gratitude.
Vulnerability means wholeheartedly investing in a relationship that may or may not work out. According to Brené Brown, vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love. Authenticity is simultaneously empowering and disarming. Allow yourself to unveil the layers of your being, and revel in the beauty of being seen for who you are.
The flip side of practicing vulnerability is withholding judgment and instead cultivating curiosity. Upon first meeting someone, avoid the psychological trappings of fundamental attribution error, the tendency by which we ascribe traits to someone based on initial impressions. For example, if someone is late to a first date, we might erroneously conclude that they are perpetually tardy.
Instead, approach new relationships as an opportunity to learn and grow. When we let go of our doubts, anxieties, insecurities, and fears of rejection, we tap into something far more powerful: flow, that highly sought after state of being in the zone. Losing our sense of self allows us to be fully present and live in the moment. Killing our egos is key to successful relationships.
9. Remember that love is a conscious choice
When most people say they're "in love," they are referring to the feeling of infatuation. But feelings can be fleeting, and emotions alone are not enough to sustain a relationship because at its core, love is a decision. Love is something you choose to do.
Love is a conscious choice and an act rather than a feeling or emotion. In other words, love isn't a mood; it's the commitment that remains even after your mood has changed.
Love involves continual, consistent effort rather than an all-consuming feeling of bliss. It's about choosing to love regardless of what you're feeling at any given moment. When you're arguing or going through difficulties, you can still choose to love.
Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.
Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and, when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.
― Louis de Bernières, Corelli's Mandolin
10. Enjoy the simple pleasures together
Once you've known someone for a sufficient amount of time, your daily routines will inevitably begin to overlap, but even "boring" activities can bring you joy. Take time to enjoy the little things in life like the first cup of coffee in the morning, reading the newspaper together, or going grocery shopping aisle by aisle.
Savor the opportunity to fix things together when household appliances break down or you need to repair the plumbing or replace a broken fixture. As a friend of mine who is now happily married once wrote,
As most people have experienced, love involves a lot of mundanity. Love isn't always flaming affection, scenic picnics and passionate physical intimacy; nor is it always rainbows and butterflies. In fact, it often looks a lot like a friendship. Real love integrates the mundane, the everyday, the chores and the obligations, the sacrifices and concessions. It takes all these things and it redeems them, giving them a new meaning, a new beauty.
Building history and familiarity with someone means accepting all the antiglamour that comes along with it. Love means bearing witness to all our moments - the sacred and the mundane, the prosaic and the profound. Enjoy the journey and all the "counter, original, spare, strange" things you encounter along the way.
11. Strive to be patient and kind
Love is slow to anger and quick to forgive. It keeps no record of wrongs. If being nice is telling people what they want to hear, kindness is telling people what they need to hear. Kindness comes from a place of genuine care and concern whereas niceness stems from a desire to avoid difficult conversations.
Set aside your pride. Reject ownership, and don't treat your relationship as something transactional. Don't succumb to negativity bias, focus on your partner's flaws, or take your relationship for granted. Think about the ways in which your partner enriches your life, and find ways to express gratitude.
Instead of feeling envious or resentful of their success, support your partner wholeheartedly. Loving someone means celebrating their triumphs rather than getting sidetracked by personal feelings of insecurity. Don't keep score with one another. Be prepared for sacrifice when necessary. Look at the big picture instead of getting distracted by temporary setbacks.
12. Adopt a growth mindset, and be descriptivist
Good things take time. You can't eat the fruit the same day you plant the seed. Love is not something you fall into but something you grow into. Arranged marriages often lack the element of familiarity but can nonetheless be successful if both parties adopt a growth mindset, the belief that skills and relationships can improve with sustained and consistent effort.
When there are problems, someone with a growth mindset is more likely to want to work through challenges compared to someone with a fixed mindset who may believe that conflict is indicative of incompatibility.
Linguistics provides another way to conceptualize this contrast. The personas of fixed and growth mindsets can be compared to prescriptivists and descriptivists, respectively. Prescriptivists try to prescribe and believe that linguists should make rules about language for people to follow.
Descriptivists attempt to describe and believe that people adapt language to suit their specific needs. This second group believes that language is malleable and flexible. Ebonics would infuriate a prescriptivist but intrigue a descriptivist.
In the context of relationships, a prescriptivist may believe that a partner has to possess certain qualities in order for a relationship to be successful. Prescriptivists may be demanding, unrealistic, high maintenance, or have an extensive list of dealbreakers.
A descriptivist, on the other hand, would ask questions when clarification is needed and approach relationships with the goal of mutual understanding. When troubleshooting problems, a descriptivist wouldn't presume to know best but would focus on finding new solutions together.
Thanks for reading; hope you found this concept helpful!