Dear Chump Lady,
So after reading so much about dysfunctional relationships, and having lived through one for 30 years, I’m not sure I’d recognize a good partnership if it came up and bit me in the ass. What makes a good partner? How will I know if I’m looking at one?
Would you please write about this? Maybe suggest some books?
Well your first clue when a good partner bites you on the ass (uh metaphorically speaking, unless that is your kink or something) is that it feels good. Not a super sparkly SWOON! and then creeping doubt, and icky gut feeling. Not good and then poof! Where’d you go? Not good and then not-so-good, and then good again, then pits of despair, then high-as-a-kite ELATION, then hypervigiliance, then gloom…
Good character tends to be consistent. Good people are solid. They do the things they say they’re going to do, versus setting expectations and then feigning bewilderment that they ever promised anything. They own their selfhood, versus mimicking some trendy personality of the month. (Today I’m Gwyneth!) They act on their values, versus pretending to have values, and have shitloads of opinions, but never gets off their ass and does anything.
Good people aren’t all razzle dazzle. I’m not saying they don’t have certain charms or romantic abilities, but there is an absence of that narkle charm offensive. I WILL MAKE YOU LOVE ME, DON’T YOU LOVE ME? TELL ME AGAIN HOW YOU LOVE ME! YOU’RE THE BEST! Good people are straight forward in their interest, they don’t love bomb. Nor do they deliberately keep you off balance, comparing you to other people, goading you into the pick me dance.
But the number one sign you’re in a good relationship is reciprocity. If you do for a good person, they want to do for you. They get pleasure in pleasing you. Chumps have to allow that. Oh, that’s a hard problem? I’d love that problem! you’re thinking. No, seriously, chumps have to learn to take. We prefer the driver’s seat on the giving thing (perhaps co-dependently thinking we can control others through our service and prove our worth) and narcs just adore that dynamic. “Give me more, oh hey I suppose that will do (sigh), but you missed a spot.” No, a good person is all “Thank you! That’s so thoughtful! And next time, my treat, okay?” And then they FOLLOW THROUGH. Next time really IS their treat.
The reciprocity thing is the key. When things are mutual, copacetic and reciprocal, no one is chasing. Wooing? Sure. I mean chasing, as in the narc is love bombing you or being a withholding ass (which goads you into chasing them). A good relationship evolves organically, feels good, and gets better over time. It doesn’t feel difficult.
I’m sorry, that’s so frustrating. By God if it required huge amounts of effort and research, we chumps would be experts at finding good mates! We could earn them with gold stickers and extra credit points. But alas, they’re just gifts out there, and hopefully we’ll stumble across a gem, and know it when we see it.
But how do you find a good person? (Or improve your odds?) Wherever your best self is. I don’t think that’s online dating, because no one’s best self is there, just a PR attempt at a best self. I think you need to go where you’re happy, whether that’s a comicon, or a hiking meet up, or a political campaign, or a church, or an art class — wherever you’re doing your groovy, happy thing. Be friends first. Good people like the same things you like about you. You don’t like you? Don’t think you have a best self? Work on that.
As anyone who reads here knows, I’m married to a good guy. After years in the trenches with bad marriages. It’s so, so, SO different. Part of my evangelical zeal to get you the hell out of bad relationships is so you can experience the joy of a good one. (And if you don’t want another relationship, that’s fine. Skip today’s post.) It’s like seeing the world in Technicolor after thinking it was black and white. Same for my husband (same bad trench). We’re super appreciative, and I think we’d just take each other for granted if we didn’t know how sucktacular it could be, so chumpdom can be a gift.
A good relationship isn’t devoid of conflict, but you work it out. You admit fault. You talk things through. You see the bigger picture. You try to understand that he doesn’t collect bad oil paintings of Texas landscapes just to antagonize you. That some people really do appreciate tumbleweed and want to honor barren wasteland by depicting it in home decor.
A good relationship is seeing him sprawled on the sofa after dinner, flipping through inane TV channels and he says “I’d like some fruit” and the only thing you have in house is a pineapple, but you go core a fresh pineapple for him, and bring it to him on the sofa and he beams.
It’s the little things. No one is going to post pineapple on their Facebook page. It’s not a Caribbean cruise. Nobody is envying our domestic pineapple consumption. It’s those small acts that say “I’m listening to you, you had a hard day, let me do something nice for you.” He does the same for me.
Finally, a tip from my husband for you ladies and gay men — he says the secret to making men happy is “The Three Effs” — food, flattery, and fucking. You do those things well, you’re golden. He should write a book.
Chumps happily on the other side — any advice? Book recommendations? What does a good relationship look like to you?