How to know if someone is right for you.

We can of course come up with some reasonable criteria for choosing a mate: someone who is interesting to us,  honest,  and loving.  But reason is not usually enough. We need first and foremost to be attracted to someone,  and this attraction is hard to define. It lies in contradictory impulses: we are attracted to what is foreign, exotic, different from us,  and at the same time to the familiar.

In my own case my husband is Jewish, from the Middle West, a psychiatrist, whereas I am an Anglican, from South Africa,  and a writer. Yet we have many things in common: our schooling, our interests in literature, music and art; even our hard working habits. Whatever it comes from, this attraction — and it may be as subtle and as sensual as a smell, a way of standing, the sound of a voice, an initial physical attraction, something that draws us close, something that makes us look closely  and listen carefully,  is probably essential. 

Then we can try to use our reason to see if  this person has the necessary qualifications: if it is someone who is capable of independence, who has work, interests,  and a life of his/her own which would make it possible for him/her to love. Love comes surely when we are capable of standing on our own two feet, when we feel proud enough of our own accomplishments to enjoy and support of another’s.

I think of the scene in the series “The Crown” where Elizabeth, who is about to be crowned,  tells Phillip that if he is man enough he will kneel down before her during the coronation service. I think this is an essential part of loving, loving ourselves enough to allow us to bend or at least sway sufficiently to love someone else.

Surely in those moments when we feel proud and pleased with the work we have accomplished, whatever that may be,   we are at our best with others, pleased with the whole world around us. It is probably at those moments that we are best able to understand, to comfort , and advise another. 

So look perhaps for someone who is both different and similar to you in background, belief, interests,   or life experience, someone you find attractive in some physical way; someone who is capable of taking pleasure in his/her own work, interests,  or in some independent source of satisfaction and give them the best of yourself: your attention, your understanding,  your tolerance for his/her faults and foibles, your love. 

Sheila Kohler is the author of fourteen books including “Dreaming for Freud” and most recently a memoir, “Once we were sisters” published by Penguin.

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