Today is part two of How Not to Get Chumped Again. Yesterday we discussed reciprocity, today we’re going to examine compatibility. I have to give my husband credit for this nugget o’ insight. He noticed the expression coming up again and again “Well, he looked good on paper…”
People fall into this trap all the time! he said. (Uh.. he fell for it, as he’ll tell you.) Chumps do a kind of mental shorthand that leads to drawing greater conclusions about someone’s character and compatibility. When really, what they look like “on paper” is just a list of random attributes that don’t say anything about how this person will treat you or if you can tolerate spending five minutes with them in a taxi queue.
For example, on paper my ex looked like someone you would want to date. I drew conclusions from his resume that were completely false. He worked 20 years for the government (stable! boring! financially secure! The truth? drama! chaos! debt-ridden!) He was well traveled. (He must be curious about life! Truth? He was a crashing bore.) He owned a lot of sporting equipment. (He must be outdoorsy! Truth? It collected dust in the garage.) He subscribed to the New Yorker. (He likes to read! He’s verbal and literary! Truth? Maybe it was a gift from an OW or a decoy to lure “arty chicks.” I never saw him read one, ever.)
But see, all these “clues” led me to construct this viable, wonderful partner for myself. He looks like the sort of person I see myself with. There is a vanity in this thinking that’s embarrassing to admit. The “paper” him looks enviable. And narcissists are very good at projecting holographic images of who you want them to be. They sparkle! They think they’re fabulous! Don’t you feel very lucky to be with them? Because, as they convey constantly, to feed such a personage ego kibbles is a privilege! You’re in the cool kids club!
The lesson here is:
Pay attention to who they really are. NOT what they look like “on paper.” Yes, this is just another way of saying, listen to their actions, and not the image they present.
The flip side of this is — know who YOU are and what kind of person you really jive with. Some self knowledge is required to choose well and EDIT well.
There are all sorts of people in this world we think we should be compatible with by virtue of shared history or interests, that we really don’t have jack shit in common with. I think this is a mistake we make especially when we’re younger. It doesn’t take much for someone to be our friend. We lived in the same dorm room with them. Our kids go to the same elementary school. Our cubicles are adjoined. For whatever reason, you think there is a bond there, when it’s just geography.
You spend enough time with someone, your spouse say, and you’ve invested in that history AND they “look good on paper” — it’s hard to back off and say to yourself “I can’t stand them.” But… you’re SUPPOSED to love them! Look at how much you have in common (on paper)! So many people would love to be YOU — married to the doctor/lawyer/trustafarian/chick with big tits. What’s WRONG with you?
Truth is — they suck. If they cheated on you, hey, they suck. You clearly don’t share the same values with this person. Bad fit. Don’t mistake accomplishments for good character. Good character is shown over time, through kindness and reciprocity and has nothing to do with SAT scores or how many unread New Yorkers are sitting on top of the toilet tank.
Chumps? You ARE the cool kid. And not everyone can be in your club. Be choosy. You’re worth it.
This column ran previously.