The Perfect Lover

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Mandy Catron’s New York Times article entitled “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” went viral at the beginning of 2015. The piece presents a relatively simple system for falling in love with anyone. While the article unearthed some fascinating nuggets on love, intimacy and vulnerability, it’s perhaps unrealistic that you can connect and fall in love with just about anyone by answering a set of 36 questions and staring into their eyes for four minutes. And do you really want to fall in love with just anyone? Wouldn’t it be better to find the “perfect” lover?

I suppose that most single people (and even some who aren’t single, I’d wager) dream of finding the perfect lover. When the topic comes up, many people jump in and say that only in Jesus or God will we find this perfect lover. And of course they are right. But we are not going to focus on that kind of perfect lover here.

Rather, let’s focus on a human-being-with-some-imperfections type of perfect lover (acknowledging that this undermines the “perfect” part of “perfect lover”). Let’s think about the characteristics of the perfect lover “for me.” This perfect lover will of course have some human flaws within a certain range of acceptability. What would be the necessary character traits of a perfect lover? What would this person look like? Or better yet, what would this person love like?

“Someone who will love me.” In a recent poll about what people were looking for in a romantic relationship, the majority essentially replied: “someone who will love me.” While this is hardly unexpected, isn’t it curious that few said “someone I can love.” Our idea of the perfect lover can be somewhat self-focused. But for a relationship to work, it has to be a two-way street. If everyone wants to be loved, but no one is willing to do the loving, the math just doesn’t come out right. Ultimately, I am challenged to be a good lover myself vis-à-vis my perfect lover. And this leads to a second point.

Being the right one. Before she was married, the wife of a friend had an interesting revelation about dating. She noticed that when she stopped looking for the right one and started working on being the right one everything changed. She stopped focusing on herself and started to focus on the other person’s point of view. If you think about it, her decision was very wise. She began looking at herself as though she were standing in the other person’s shoes. She probably became a lot more loving. She probably became someone that a man would want to date and marry. And in fact, soon after that, she was married.

Attentiveness.  I once met a married couple who I would consider to be perfect lovers. They were so in love with each other and had been for years. The most striking thing about them was how attentive each one was to the needs of the other. This attentiveness was made manifest in a profound mutual respect and an intimate love. Their constant communication was unspoken. They preemptively cared for the needs of the other without the other even having to ask. Their love seemed to border upon something divine. I would do anything to find this kind of love. Wouldn’t you?

Research confirms what we know intuitively. Emily Esafahani Smith’s article “Masters of Love” examines how good relationships ultimately boil down to two things: kindness and generosity. A scientific study shows that spouses are constantly making “bids” for their partner’s attention and affirmation. If these bids are acknowledged in a positive, healthy manner (attentiveness),  the relationship will flourish. If these “bids” are ignored and unacknowledged, the relationship will wither and die. Attentiveness requires that we go out of ourselves to focus on the other. Attentiveness requires effort.

Intimacy The power in the method mentioned by Mandy Catron in her article “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” is that it actually gives us tools for cultivating emotional intimacy with another person. While physical intimacy is generally easy, emotional intimacy requires vulnerability, which can be scary. Perfect lovers have the ability to be emotionally intimate because they have the ability to be vulnerable. The perfect lover knows the weaknesses, flaws and shortcomings of the other and still loves that person. In fact, those human elements are sometimes the very thing that makes them so lovable.

Gender roles. Although it’s hardly politically correct to mention gender roles, I am increasingly convinced that confusion in this area is one of the greatest obstacles to finding a perfect lover. While 20th century feminism has been a gift in underlining the dignity of women, it has also created issues for both women and men, leading to a type of gender insecurity and confusion.

For the past decade, I’ve been watching this play out in the lives of two of my female friends. Attractive but strong-willed, they jump from relationship to relationship. They choose men who let them have their way and enjoy the power they have in the relationship. All is well in the beginning. But they eventually grow weary of the men who won’t stand up to them. Because deep down, women want men to be men. They want a strong decisive man with some testosterone. Not someone unreasonable or unloving, but someone not quite able to be tamed (cf. Henry Cloud, How to Get a Date Worth Keeping). Women also hope for someone who can ultimately be a provider – a husband.

Men, on the other hand, like feminine women. I’ve been at certain mixed events where that rare woman arrives wearing a dress. She most definitely has the men’s attention. Like it or not, men are visually-oriented and a little lipstick and hairspray can go a long way. Smiling helps too. Men are attracted to women who are joyful, kind and feminine – someone they can hold in a certain esteem. While speaking in a crass or vulgar manner could attract a man’s attention in the beginning, it’s likely not successful in the long run. Most men who desire a serious, long-term relationship are looking for a woman who would be a good wife and mother. Many relationships aren’t working these days because deep down, men are looking for someone to fill the role of a wife, not that of a husband.

Love. In general, women have a strong psychological need to feel loved and cherished in a relationship (cf. Emerson Eggerichs, Love and Respect).  They want attentiveness and communication. Of course, this should go both ways. Still, this is something that most men need to work on. Men should do their best to remember things that are important to women – like birthdays and anniversaries. Consistency is important as well. Oftentimes, I think men say things they don’t quite believe but think a woman wants to hear. Men must work on greater authenticity and accountability in what they say and do. I’ve seen marriages that don’t work because the husband says all the right things, but isn’t convinced of them in his heart. He may promise to change things that he doesn’t intend to change. It becomes a kind of game. But real love isn’t a game. Real love desires to change for the better.

Respect. Men have a psychological need to feel respected. This is so important in the male psyche. Of course, women need and deserve respect as well. Respect is demonstrated in actions, words, and especially the tone of voice used to speak those words. I have seen so many relationships in which a spouse (often the wife) verbally abuses the other spouse. Communication breaks down and the relationship begins to disintegrate. Equally as bad is when spouses squabble like children. One spouse might sit and take it for the sake of peace in the family. But this can only last so long. Spouses that respect each other are kind in their speech, even when they have something difficult or unpleasant to say.

Compatibility. It often happens that a person finds the perfect lover. Unfortunately, the person found is not the perfect lover for them, but rather for someone else. Compatibility or “chemistry” between perfect lovers is important. I’ve seen plenty of incompatible people make relationships work through an abundance of kindness, generosity, love and respect. Still, I have rarely considered the partners in these marriages to be perfect lovers. Things work far better when a couple is truly compatible. Sometimes a temperament compatibility test can help to see if two people are compatible. Often, it is just evident when two people “really hit it off.”

The old expression “opposites attract” has been lately expanded to “opposites attract and then they fight.” You’ll be spending quite a bit of time with your perfect lover. So shared interests are an important component in compatibility and long-term relationship satisfaction.

We live in an imperfect world and all relationships will have their challenges. A willingness to overlook the small stuff and forgive the other is vital in any human relationship. But there are things that we can do to improve communication and decrease friction. However, all of these things require EFFORT. They require us to make choices that are other-focused and involve sacrifices of time and energy. It can take a good deal of effort until you develop the virtues or character required to be a perfect lover. Fortunately, these choices will ultimately flow spontaneously from our hearts. In the meantime, it will require some energy. But it is all worth it. Because by really working on being the perfect lover, a person will get a lot further along the road of finding the perfect lover.