Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Relationship Corner: Being Ready for a Relationship

My wife complained that for a blog about writing, I talk too much about pop culture.  So today, I thought I would take a look at one of my other passions, relationships.  I talk a lot about relationships of all kinds in my communications classes, but mostly romantic relationships, and I enjoy passing on my meager wisdom in these Dr. Phil moments. 

To be fair, I hardly know everything about relationships. I'm still figuring them out myself, and I make just as many mistakes as anyone else (as my wife will attest.) However, I'd like to think that I do have something to offer regarding relationships. And if you happen to be someone like me, an introvert, geek, gamer, owner of the Technical Manual for the USS Enterprise NCC 1701-D, then hopefully I can help you out with what I know.

Today's topic is you. Before you can even think about getting into a long-term romantic relationship, you first need to look at yourself. You need to make sure that you're ready for a relationship, because unless you get yourself ready, it's going to be very, very difficult to find someone, let alone maintain a relationship.

I've met plenty of people who have the idea that the only thing holding them back in relationships is the fact that they haven't met Mister/Miss Right. That the only reason that they aren't in that wonderful lifelong romance is the other person. It's his fault. It's her fault. Because it sure can't be my fault.

I'm going to give you the most important equation you may ever need. I know you weren't expecting any math, but this equation is easy:

Profits = Rewards - Costs

We judge whether a relationship is profitable by looking at the rewards we get out of it versus the costs of being in them. When we date, we look for the most profitable partner. Once we find someone profitable, then that's someone we invest in. We're looking for the highest yield.

Now, I know that this isn't the most romantic perspective. I assure you, romance is important, and good relationships have romance, but we need to understand that romance is just style. We need substance first. Just as a good movie has a solid script in place before planning the special effect shots (you see how I connected this to pop culture?) a good long-term relationship needs a solid foundation of compatibility and profitability.  If you have someone reading over your shoulder who thinks the equation seems cold and lacks passion, keep in mind it is a metaphor.  A geek-friendly metaphor simplifying the concepts of shared intimacy and emotional growth.    

While many of you might read this as making sure the other person is profitable, what I want you to do first is look at yourself. What makes YOU a profitable investment? And a more honest, but difficult, question to ask yourself is whether you are, in fact, profitable at all. If you are having trouble finding people willing to make a long-term investment in you, then perhaps you need to look at the rewards and costs of a relationship with you.

That's the first step for being ready: Make yourself as profitable as possible. This might take some doing, some introspection, some time and effort working on yourself. If you have the attitude that "I shouldn't have to change for anyone" then that's an indicator, at least to me, that you aren't a good relational investment. Good investments are people willing to improve themselves and address their flaws.

What are rewards? They are the positive benefits of being in a relationship: your companionship, sense of humor, reliability, self-sufficiency, ability to cope, supportiveness, honor, commitment to your faith, desire for kids, and all the other positives from being in a relationship with you. That's the question you need to ask about yourself. What are the specific positives that I offer? Why is it worth knowing me? If you realize that you aren't offering much, then it's time for you to work on yourself, because we all have rewards we can offer. We must choose to cultivate them.

What about the costs? These are the negatives of being in a relationship. Costs are time, money, commitment, accepting personality flaws, dealing with weird friends and family, and having to prioritize your partner over other relationships and commitments. This doesn't include the specific costs that are particular to you, and yes, you have costs. We all have them, and we are dishonest with ourselves and others if we can't or won't admit it.

As per the equation, we judge a relationship positively when we see the rewards outweighing the costs. Conversely, we evaluate the relationship negatively when costs are greater. We all have our own opinion of costs and whether they are greater than the rewards, and we all have some costs that we aren't willing to bear in exchange for the rewards. (We'll talk more about this in a later post.)

That's part one, looking at whether you are profitable. The second part is then looking at who you will invest in. Are they going to be profitable? Will they give you a good return on investment? After all, you will be investing your time, money, and energy into this relationship. You need to make sure that this person is going to be a long-term investment who pays dividends. This is why you need to be profitable yourself, because when you are highly profitable, you will attract equally profitable potential mates. This is relationship reciprocity. You need to make sure that your partner is getting about the same amount of profit from a relationship as you are.

So that's the second part. After making yourself profitable, you need to invest in a profitable relationship. Obviously, this just scratches the surface, and I plan to explore more on the idea of rewards and costs, especially costs that are and aren't relationship deal-breakers. I hope this helps those of you who are out there trying to find Mister or Miss Right, and I look forward to addressing more relationship matters soon.

And thank you to my Mrs. Right for editing this post and offering some great suggestions. After all, if I'm going to base this on my relationship with her, she's going to make sure I get it right.

I can do more than talk relationships. Check out the book I wrote.

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