What Common Mistakes Do People Make When Choosing a Life Partner?

[Originally posted as an answer on Quora]

I think, in consideration of today’s cultural tendencies and mindsets, the biggest mistake we make when choosing a life partner is expecting someone to fit perfectly into our lives as we’ve built them out into our early and mid adulthood.

Then when we start to notice the jagged edges and areas of disconnect, we find it far too easy to walk away. “Someone else will fit, right?”

We are encouraged to build ourselves and our independent lives, ambitions and habits first. We learn to love ourselves, first. We learn to support ourselves, first. We learn to prioritize ourselves, first. This is an understanding I have shaped my own life around, prioritizing my independence and my personal understanding, in order to firmly establish my sense of self, before I settle down with someone else.

I’ve always assumed I won’t consider marriage until my late twenties or early thirties. I am 23 years old and I feel very young (as I rightfully am) and in a great place to continue chasing my career ambitions and exploring connections as I see fit. Yet, with this in mind, I also know that I am building a life that will be more difficult to fit and align seamlessly with a partner, later down the road.

As I’ve said before, when we work to fulfill other elements of our lives first (education, careers, wanderlust etc.), we are pushing back our romantic timeline. We aren’t settling down at 20–23 anymore, generally speaking. We aren’t experiencing initial trials of adulthood with a partner, as a team; instead, we are navigating them for ourselves.

This helps us to become strong, independent individuals firmly rooted in our habits, best practices, personal desires and our understanding of self. In fact, almost every date I’ve been on in recent time my companion has commented, “You have a very sure sense of self.” This is something I am proud of, and a developed trait which I admire in others.

And yet, I am aware that my choice to settle down later robs me of my chance to experience those trials of early adulthood as a bonding experience with a partner. I am not learning to build a life with and alongside another, but instead learning to build my own life. A life that I feel passionate about and which I am attached to in it’s learned value to my persona.

When it comes time to choose a life partner, I will hope to find someone who fits and compliments this life which I have so passionately created for myself. I will hope to find someone who aligns with my beliefs and habits, while bringing out the best in me and vice versa.

Here is the thing though, it may not be that simple. When the honeymoon phase ends and differences or hints of disconnect come to light (as they inevitably will), we will both navigate those conflicts knowing in the back of our mind that we have our own lives to fall back on, right?

When things fail, there are always other options. Hell, with credit to dating apps etc., there are virtually an endless rotation of options at anyones finger tips. There is always a chance for instant gratification to suit an efficient alternative and act as a perceived way out when things get tough.

It is easy to view our romantic endeavours with the mindset that, “Well, it will work out if it’s meant to.” In some cases this applies, but when we are in the thick of the trials and tribulations of love and partnership, it takes relentless work and compromise. These independent lives we’ve built for ourselves need to bend (not break) to allow for structural compromise as we learn the balance between the lives we’ve already built, and that which we create with our partner.

We need to stick to our guns and understand when relationships are unhealthy and truly incompatible with our lives and mindset, and when they are worth fighting for but we are willing to leave simply because it’s the easy way out. Despite the stressed importance of our independence, vulnerability shouldn’t be the enemy.

No one will fit perfectly into every detail and crevice of our life. This is an easy thing to say that we understand, but time and time again I see the way this truth picks away at the love two people have developed for each other until their relationship is unrecognizable.

When choosing a life partner, we need to remind ourselves of the meaning of functional love and partnership and how those ideas and desires can fit into our life in a way that isn’t perfect, but with some continued work, can survive the test of time.