Recently I came back from a stay in Europe, where several of my friends were generous enough to host me. As an extra perk of these visits, I got to know these friends a lot better.
After hearing the stories of their romantic woes, I realized that to have a fulfilling love life, there are two body parts that you need to be sure to keep open. No, it’s not the right leg and left leg, although those are important, too. It’s your eyes and your heart.
What do I mean by keeping your eyes open? It means that you exercise discernment. You’re looking closely to see if this person would make a good match for you. Is she sweet? Is he gainfully employed? Educated? Good family? Mentally stable? In good health? If you’re interested in a long-term match, these factors really matter when selecting a partner.
At the same time, you want to keep your heart open. The open heart is like the OPEN sign in a store window. It means you are receptive to having an intimate connection in your life. Are you willing to share your time, your home, your bed with someone? Do you have the space to allow someone else in your life decisions, major and minor? If your heart’s not open, it’s like a CLOSED sign. Eligible partners will come, see the sign, and walk away with head hanging low.
With two variables (eyes and hearts) and two possible settings of open and closed, there are four possibilities. If both your eyes and heart are closed, I’m going to assume you’re not interested in a relationship, so we won’t discuss that. That leaves three possibilities:
1) Eyes open, heart closed. You have criteria in mind for what you want, but you’re not really available for intimacy. Sometimes you’re so caught up in your own world – work, projects, kids, something, everything – that you’re not even conscious that your heart’s not open. And you have this checklist in hand, against which you compare candidates. Strangely enough, almost none of them pass muster. And every once in a while, when a good candidate does come along, he or she loses interest very quickly. Annoying! So you tighten your criteria up even further, making it even harder for anyone to be eligible, yet feeling justified that the stringency of the checklist is essential in keeping you from getting hurt.
There are two problems with this approach. First is that you’re turning people into products. Granted, it’s important to know what your dealbreaking criteria are, as I’ve mentioned before. But checklists are for buying stereos or cars, not picking a partner. The problem really arises when you find one who seems to fit your checklist. Why? Because people aren’t products, and no person is going to match that projection you’ve created of him or her. Disappointment is inevitable.
The second problem is that keeping the heart closed is usually just a hedge against getting hurt. So you’re basically not allowing yourself to be vulnerable – “Oh, I’ll be vulnerable once I’m in the relationship with the right person.” It’s true that you should only make yourself vulnerable to those whom you already trust. However, unless you demonstrate some vulnerability during the courtship process, you won’t radiate any emotional appeal to anyone. It’s like a CLOSED window sign. So even the best match for you could come to your doorstep – and then keep walking by.
2) Eyes closed, heart open. You are emotionally open to having an intimate relationship. In fact, it’s the thing you want most in the world. In fact, you want it so bad that you forget to read the list of ingredients of the people you meet: nuts, fruits and flakes all over the place. You forget that the purpose of connecting with someone is not just to forestall loneliness, have a date for parties or to keep warm in bed, but also to experience mutual growth and enrichment.
This is when hunger outstrips rationality, and your decision-making suffers as a result. As Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet: “Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.” Yes, the sign on the door says OPEN, and that’s great. However, you’re letting in pickpockets and shoplifters, and that’s bad for business. Which business? The business of your long-term happiness and fulfillment, that’s what.
3) Eyes open, heart open. Clearly, this is the optimal setting. And it has a bit of a Taoist flavor, since it’s all about balance. Somewhere between eliminating all candidates and letting everyone in resides a happy medium.
You arrive at that happy medium not by getting rid of your checklist entirely, but by having a highly abbreviated version containing two things: absolute dealbreakers, and qualities you’d like to experience in a relationship. Not going to date a smoker or drug user? Put it in there. Same thing with someone who’s married, unemployed, or has kids from another relationship, if those are dealbreakers for you.
But instead of saying “must have a college degree”, you may want to think about what’s important to you about that college degree. Is it the quality of conversation you’d have together? Or is it intellectual curiosity you’d like to share? [Note: Leonardo da Vinci had no college degree.] Or maybe it’s more about income potential. Whatever criterion you have written down, ask yourself, “Self – what’s important about this? What does having this criterion allow me to experience?” Then go for that – the actual food instead of the menu.
Now with your discerning eyes open and doing their work, you can afford to keep your heart open a little wider to let some unexpectedly fabulous people into your life. With the eyes closed, you could end up marrying the wrong person or worse. With your heart closed, you won’t be able to experience any real joy or connection. For maximum fun, keep ’em both open, and report back on how that goes.