Why Choosing a Partner Is Overrated

Lasting love depends just as much on on what you do as who you’ve chosen.

Choosing a partner-overrated


photo courtesy of Phil Chester

filed under Advice, Couples

“Stop writing about finding a relationship,” he told me. “That’s the easy part. Write about how to keep one.”

My friend John was a 40-year-old serial monogamist. He couldn’t make a relationship last even though he aspired to find a woman he could “have sex with until he was 85.” Yet he was on his 15th girlfriend, unsure of her long-term viability.

Most people say they would cut off their left arm for lasting love. Yet, they’re also scared shitless. After all, even Sheryl Sandberg said that choosing a spouse is our most important life decision. According to her, the “right” spouse will enable career success, family happiness, and even our own self-worth.

It reminds me of the search for the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

“You must choose, but choose wisely,” the immortal knight tells Indiana Jones in a treasure room full of cups, one of which will grant eternal life.

An impatient enemy darts in front of Indiana, grabs a beautiful jeweled cup, sure it’s “the one,” and guzzles. Unfortunately, his long swallow doesn’t bring immortality. His hairs sprout into white gristles, his skin peels off in decaying lumps, his eyes come out of the sockets and he dies.

“He chose … unwisely,” says the knight.

This fear of choosing unwisely makes us repeatedly swipe left on Tinder and constantly question the relationship we are in, even after we have chosen. Whether you’re swiping or settling, you can view the holy grail of love in two ways:

  1. Hunt until you find the the perfect cup, even if it takes your entire life to find it.
  2. Choose to drink from the same imperfect cup every day, and perhaps allow it to become perfect for you.

Over the past few weeks I’ve gone to a lot of weddings and interviewed a lot of married couples—gay and straight, young and old, happy and miserable. Some merely co-habitate, barely speaking, and others still sleep on top of each other. According to the happily married ones, choosing the “right” person isn’t the tricky part of lasting love. Love is more like a road trip than a teleport machine. It has much less to do with the passenger you pick and much more to do with how you choose to navigate the journey.

For instance, take my parents. After 40 years together, overcoming family deaths, cross-country moves, and child-rearing, they’re still in love. It was just a few years ago that I had to drag them out of a San Francisco bar because they started making out in a corner, embarrassing their daughter who, at the time, wasn’t kissing anyone. What’s their secret?

“Initial chemistry is a small part of it,” said my mother who is, ironically, a biochemist. “But it takes a lot of work to produce a lasting bond and the right reactions.”

Work or not, I didn’t want my parent’s kind of love to skip a generation. I also was eager to give the chronically single John advice from other happy couples. I gathered inspirational tidbits from couples that had both been together for more ten years and still claimed to have crazy jungle sex. (Or at least they blushed when I asked, so I assume it’s true.)

Most said that if you cannot make your relationship last, it is because you are not fertilizing it with the right things. And the right things are not what you may think. Here are seven nuggets of advice I gathered from my recent wedding blitz:

  • “Looks? Brains? Money? Nah. Just pick someone you like doing nothing with. Because as you get older, there is a whole lotta doing nothing.”  —my dad, married 40 years (Note: He later edited himself to say my mom still had looks and brains, too).
  • Love is a daily choice. We made a vow to wake up and love each other every day for the rest of our lives, no matter what.” —Danielle, in a long-term relationship for 12 years
  • “It doesn’t matter if you do everything together, but it does matter that you want the same things in life and can co-create a dream. For us it was a mountain cabin. This dream carried us through the rough patches.” —Steve, married 18 years
  • “In every long marriage there are hurts that are ‘unforgivable.’ The trick is to be able to find a way to forgive and come back together. Once something is forgiven, it needs to be released. If you hold onto it, it festers and poisons the relationship. If you release it, it won’t hold emotional power over you.” —my mom, married 40 years
  • “In new love, you invite their family into your life, but at 10 years their family is totally intertwined in your life. Marriage is not just about two people. It takes a village to support a long marriage.” —Sean, married 10 years
  • “You have to retain yourself as an individual with your own self-worth. You must be able to simultaneously grow your own self while also growing your relationship.  A person should never be your crutch; they should be your partner.” —Shelly, married 22 years

Lastly, from my dad: “We make romance out of mundane things. If we go to the movies we push the seat arm up so that we can hold hands without that darn seat divider in the way.”

“It’s called skin hunger,” said Mom. “That desire to always be close.”

“Hey, don’t let her know about that,” said Dad, smirking. “That’s our thing.”

Too late. The secret is out. And that’s not a bad thing if it encourages more couples to last 40 years.

Even if it starts with a swipe, love needs to be grown and nurtured. And like any good thing, we appreciate more if we have to work for it. We may never find the holy grail, but we can roll up our sleeves and handcraft it ourselves.

Heidi Isern is a self-proclaimed writer, thinker, and whiskey drinker based in San Francisco. When not writing, she directs business development at the design firm IDEO. Follow her on Twitter and Medium.

  • Richard Homawoo
    Posted at 11:05h, 21 September Reply

    Hello Erik,

    I have only gotten to know about your work in the last two months. It started with the podcast Part II of Andrea and Ryan that I got by email. I was immediately hooked. You are doing something exceptional in a style that meshes humor and truth…and so inspiring. I just finished reading “Don’t Analyze This” and can’t stop laughing…toward the end. I myself have a long story to share after 25 years of a heated marriage. But finally we are in love again. How did that happen? It’s the subject of the book I am writing (smiles)…I must say “it’s all good”.

    Keep up the GREAT work!

    • Erik Newton
      Posted at 15:35h, 21 September Reply

      Thank you for saying so, Richard! I would love to hear more about your story. When will your book be available?

      • Richard Homawoo
        Posted at 16:59h, 21 September Reply

        Thank you Erik for your response. Oh my story, what a story! I am glad we are able to talk about it today without feeling much hurt. The first day I listened to you having, I would rather say, that conversation with Andrea and Ryan, I knew I was going to share my story with you. ONE DAY. So yes I would love to. The book is projected for release a week before Thanksgiving. I have just finished the first draft and working on the first of two revisions before submitting it for editing.

        In fact I was going to contact you first for a different reason. I cited the work you are doing, your website and a couple of strong points you raised in one or two articles. So I was going to submit a request for permission, which I will plan to do more officially by using the contact feature rather the comment’s. Again I find your mission very noble. We need to hear more of these positives instead of all the negatives on the shelves of the media. Thank you for doing what you are DOING.

        Thank you.


        • Erik Newton
          Posted at 14:05h, 22 September Reply

          Well this is all very exciting. Send me an email at host@together.guide, and let’s talk about an interview.

  • Richard Homawoo
    Posted at 11:07h, 21 September Reply

    A quick correction. It was rather the article “Why choosing a partner is overrated. Will be reading next “don’t analyze this”

  • Richard Homawoo
    Posted at 05:06h, 23 September Reply

    Thank you very much Erik. I will send you an email by the end of the day.

    Thank you for the opportunity.

    My profoundest gratitude.

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