Philosophy of Life

Category: Uncategorized

Constraints on Romantic Partners

Time to read: 2 minutes

It may have happened to you, or to a friend, but the chances are you have experienced it. In a romantic relationship, one person doesn’t like something their partner does, most commonly spending time with a particular person. It could be an ex-romantic partner, or a friend, but that relationship makes them uncomfortable. Depending on the self-awareness of the uncomfortable person, their response could be to demand their partner not see them, or just to say they don’t like it – with the implicit assumption that their partner will do something about it.

Let’s use names to make this easier:

Sam – In a romantic relationship with Lucy

Lucy – In a romantic relationship with Sam, and friends with Jeff

Jeff – Friends with Lucy

The names imply gender, but are not the key part of the example, which is non-romantic relationships of people in romantic relationships.

Sam is insecure (this needs to be correct for the rest to follow), and doesn’t like Lucy spending time with Jeff. He worries about what they are doing together, if Lucy likes Jeff more than him at times, and if she finds him attractive. As a result, Sam tells Lucy that he’s not comfortable with her spending time with Jeff.

As a compassionate partner, Lucy wants Sam to be happy, and may give into the demand/request for well-intentioned reasons. The trouble is, the root cause of the problem is not Lucy or Jeff, but Sam’s insecurity. By giving in to it, Lucy is allowing Sam to externalize an internal issue, making Sam’s issue into Lucy’s, and pretending that it’s Jeff who’s the problem rather than Sam. As a result, the internal issue remains unresolved, and is likely to cause more problems later. The troubles arising from insecurity in a relationship are many: controlling behaviour, their work, hobbies, lack of trust, constant need for reassurance, feelings of distance, and excessive sensitivity.

While in the short-term giving into the demand is easier, in the long-term it undermines the relationship, and misses the opportunity for self-development for Sam. If the more difficult path is taken, the result will be an improvement in the foundations of the relationship that make it more likely to last, and be happier for both.

This internal focus is not limited to Sam. Lucy should also consider why she spends time with Jeff, and if there’s any good reason for Sam’s reaction. If Lucy is romantically interested in Jeff, the situation becomes more complex. At the same time, romantic partners don’t need to get everything from each other. In fact, the dependence on one person for too much can put an unnecessary level of pressure and expectation on a relationship. If for example, there is an intellectual connection between Lucy and Jeff, and they enjoy exploring topics together, that isn’t bad. But it should be acknowledged and made explicit, to avoid misinterpretation by Sam.

Not all requests for changes in behavior are about the person requesting them. For example, if Sam asked Lucy to stop walking through a rough neighbourhood alone at night, the driver of his request is likely concern for her safety, rather than his insecurity. While that doesn’t mean Lucy has to agree, the request is not disguising a problem of Sam’s, so can be taken at face-value.

Polarization

Time to read: 3 minutes

Too often when we meet new people, our subconscious objective is to fit in, nod, and agree. Consciously, we want to be liked, because it feels good, and we think that not upsetting people will get them to like us. This applies at social gatherings, dates, and interviews. On the latter two at least, I suggest this is a mistake. 

People who blend in with the rest may not be singled out for harsh treatment, but they also aren’t anyone’s top pick. They are forgettable. This is a form of loss aversion, where we feel the negative emotions of being rejected, are worse than the positive emotions of being adored. It can also lead to a sense of being alone in the crowd, as those around you don’t see who you really are, just the dull facade you present to them.

An alternative is to present your authentic self, and that is the entirety of your goal. Some will love you, others will dislike you, and a few may be indifferent, but largely you will polarize those who meet you into one of the first two groups. That allows you to make strong connections in social situations, get the second date you wanted because you made an impression and get the job you wanted because you stood out.

Being your authentic self means sharing your genuine opinions, ideas, beliefs,  likes and dislikes (preferably with reasons), and stories, rather than adopting those of those around you, or expressing no opinions at all. You don’t need to start with your most unusual views; give the person you are speaking with time to warm up. If your views and opinions are on common topics, and in line with mainstream thinking, you are less likely to polarise others, and you may wish to expand your interests. This isn’t a binary choice, you can be more or less revealing depending on the situation, your rapport with the person you are talking with, and what you want from the interaction.

When interviewing for competitive positions you don’t just need to tick the boxes, but to make people feel there’s something special about you. That can only be achieved if you show them who you are. It feels risky, and not the done thing, but the very act of sharing part of yourself helps differentiate you. If the interviewer doesn’t like what they see, the chances are you were a bad match for the organization anyway, and the quicker you find that out the better.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, and most fit the same molds. A few however stand out, and they always showed me who they were as part of that. The most recent example was a woman who had to make half her team redundant. The CEO wanted to give one month of severance pay, and no COBRA coverage (benefits including health care that apply after the end of your employment for non-US readers), during the COVID-19 outbreak. The candidate, while appreciating that the company was cutting staff because of financial need, did not think this was the right thing to do. As a result, she was persistent with the CEO, wearing out his patience with her, to secure more severance pay and two months of COBRA coverage. After convincing  several senior executives to side with her, she was successful. Some might not share such an example for fear of being seen as difficult. For me, this was a fantastic example of integrity, and doing the right thing potentially at cost to her career prospects at the company.

Fear is often what holds people back from taking such an approach. Fear that you will be rejected, or criticized, which can lead to shame, one of our strongest emotions. But if your objective is simply to share who you are, then irrespective of the reaction, you achieve your goal.