Note that the following question was answered in greater detail on the embedded podcast episode above. For more in-depth discussions to questions like the below and more on the topics of relationships, sexuality, roommates, workplace, health, culture, politics, and everything in between, subscribe to Hannah and Matt Know It All on iTunes.
Listener Gestalt Asked:
I am realizing that my idea of "The One" is someone who shares my same boundaries (as defined by this article from Esther Perel, “Why successful couples have boundaries”) but I'm learning that it's not uncommon for couples to negotiate. What are your thoughts? Any tips/advice on how to go about discussing/defining boundaries with a partner (casual or serious)?
The Know It Alls Answered:
The article in question here is about boundaries, and espouses how important they are, especially at the outset of a new relationship. Perel discusses how relationships are forged on boundaries from day one, giving examples of the negotiation of what is in and what is out: who you spend time with and how and when, what is shared and what isn’t, whether the couple goes to bed at the same time, whether finances are combined, who the holidays are spent with, etc.
This is an interesting listener question because those boundaries—how your lives mesh with each other—are the foundational make-or-break things in a relationship. The goal of setting boundaries should be to make sure that nobody has to compromise on anything that would result in making them extremely unhappy. Compromise is okay in some places and not in others, and everybody’s “no compromise” issues are different.
Why OkCupid Works So Well for Setting Boundaries—Online and Offline
One of the things we love about the dating website OkCupid is the ability to answer questions about your boundaries and preferences and how important they are to you; it’s such an amazing time saver to be able to look at the answers other users have given on those questions most important to you and then filter out people whom you can’t see yourself having in a relationship with for the long-term.
But even in the convenient world of online dating, it’s beneficial to take the time to think about and even write down these kinds of questions for yourself, even going the extra mile of rating their importance to you. Questions like:
Do you need to have a partner who wants or doesn’t want kids?
Who practices a particular religion?
Who is a vegetarian?
Who is a morning person?
Who is willing to move for you to pursue your career goals?
As polyamorous people, we (perhaps unsurprisingly) don’t really ascribe to the idea of “The One.” There are billions of people on the planet, so there are likely many people with whom you could potentially have a successful relationship and life. Because it’s really unlikely that someone is going to 100% fit the picture you painted yourself of your perfect partner, you’re going to end up compromising on different things with different people. However, it IS important to try to find a partner who can make you the happiest you, which means it’s important to know what your deal breakers are.
What Are Your Relationship Deal Breakers?
While most things are negotiable to some extent, there are a few things that are pretty black and white with no real space for compromise, and there will likely be some that aren’t negotiable just because they are really and truly that important to you. Some of the more weighty considerations:
Wanting to have kids, for instance, is not something that is really negotiable. Either you want children or you don’t; you can’t KIND OF have kids.
The role that faith plays in your life can also often fall into the non-negotiable space, especially if one partner is deeply observant and wants a partner who will share those core beliefs with them.
Where a person is happy living is an issue that can be a deal breaker—if one partner wants to live out in the country and one wants to live in the middle of the city, the suburbs aren’t a compromise; they’re a solution that will make everyone involved miserable.
It is, however, often possible to compromise on things like family holidays (where you can spend half with one family and half with the other and alternate years or pick based on family values)—the solutions may not be perfect for both of you, but some compromise 15 days a year is probably worth 350 other days of enjoying each other’s company. Issues like going to bed at the same time or merging finances are definitely things where a conversation can and should be had to find something that works for both partners. It’s important to look for red flags, such as unwillingness to compromise or lack of transparency, but it’s much easier to do that when having open conversations.
In terms of “The One”: as you realize what your absolute needs are and what your “nice to have but negotiable” things are, you’ll start to see a lot more potential “The Ones.” In HGTV speak, know your “must haves” and your “nice to haves,” and be really honest with yourself about which things belong on which lists.
While it’s nice to have partners who like the same things as you, having a partner who also practices yoga or like the same TV shows as you do is not necessarily essential to a successful relationship. How frequently you want to have sex, however, could be a deal breaker—if one of you wants to have sex every day, and one would be fine with twice a year, one of you is likely to end up really unhappy.
What your deal breakers are might be different when you’re looking at serious versus casual dating, but it’s good to be aware that casual dating can often turn into serious dating whether you want it to or not, so things that don’t seem like deal breakers up front might actually cause problems later on—so be honest with yourself about those possibilities.
Setting Boundaries Is so Important, It’s Non-Negotiable
Ultimately, err on the side of discussion and disclosure. Anything that is a definite deal breaker is worth bringing up on the first date if you’re looking for more than a casual sexual connection. It might not be super romantic, but, honestly, if someone’s reaction to talking about things that are important to you is “whoa, this is too much,” they probably aren’t looking for anything serious anyway—otherwise they have as much of a stake in making sure that you’re compatible as you do.
“Nice to haves” are probably easier to discuss on an as-they-come-up basis; you don’t need to negotiate every detail of your prospective lives together up front. If you’re doing (or planning on doing) something that a reasonable person might be bothered by—like getting lunch with an ex—it’s always a good idea to check in with your partner first to avoid unnecessary conflict, but that’s about it in terms of due diligence.
The main takeaway is that you shouldn’t put yourself in a position where you’re likely to get your heart broken or have someone force you into compromising your values because you weren’t on the same page from day one. There are way, way too many other fish in the sea (as they say), so don’t waste your time on someone who won’t make you happy!