Anyone who knows anything about diamond jewelry understands the four Cs used to describe a diamond’s quality — color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. Although color and carat weight are prominent factors, no woman dreams of a large yellow diamond or a colorless stone the size of a gnat’s head. And while cut and clarity play a role as well, we need all four characteristics to describe a quality stone. The trick is finding the right balance, or compromise, between the four characteristics. In a similar vein, a different set of four Cs governs the quality of our romantic relationships. But before we delve into the four Cs and the notion of ‘lasting romance,’ let’s spend a minute on ‘meaningful.’ After all, what good is a lasting relationship if one or both partners find themselves in limbo between unhappy and miserable?
Couples who brag, “We’ve been married for thirty years” or “We’ve been together since grade school” demonstrate commitment and maybe compromise. But are these relationships meaningful? Maybe. Maybe not. Some believe the quantity of time spent together outweighs the quality. For others, it’s the opposite. But what if you could have both, in terms of emotional quality and emotional quantity? Who says the honeymoon phase has to end? Why do some couples make it look so easy while others become the poster children for dysfunctional behavior?
With people working longer hours and the ever-increasing demands at home, it can be hard to establish a meaningful relationship. Add the constant temptations from cell phone texting, instant messaging, online dating, Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., and it seems, at times, more difficult than ever to commit to a meaningful and lasting romantic relationship. Although a positive attitude and a six month subscription to your favorite online meat market can go a long way toward finding your next date, chances are you will not enjoy a meaningful and lasting romantic relationship without acknowledging the four ‘Cs.’ What are these, and why should you care? That’s what I’m about to explain.
Let’s start with chemistry. Like magnets that either repel or attract, chemistry either brings us together or pushes us apart. How do you define chemistry? That depends on who you ask. A person’s outward appearance? Their tone of voice? Their smell? Their air of confidence? Their aurora? A combination of a few factors or all of the above? In any case, the definition of chemistry is not nearly as important as recognizing whether or not we feel it in our romantic relationships.
Sometimes chemistry is subtle. Sometimes it’s palpable. And sometimes we find chemistry with someone we least expect — someone with the wrong height, wrong weight, wrong age, wrong hair, etc. Yet somehow we can’t fight the urge to get close to this person despite our intellect telling us they don’t fit our preconceived mold of how a perfect partner should look. That’s because chemistry knows no boundaries. It isn’t solely dependent on someone’s height or weight. Or by the color of their skin or the type of car they drive. And it isn’t driven by logic or reason. Unlike some aspects of romantic relationships, chemistry can’t be faked.
Often, people choose their partner based on a list of personal preferences or preconceived notions of who they think a perfect match should be while ignoring the absence of chemistry. At times, partners fail to acknowledge the lack of chemistry and wonder why their relationship never felt right in the first place. In the absence of chemistry, the romance will fizzle sooner or later.
Remember, chemistry ignites the fire, but it also keeps the fire burning. Unfortunately chemistry isn’t something you can work on. It’s either present or not. This partly explains why many promising relationships fail despite their best intentions. The chemistry we feel or don’t feel is part of being human. It’s engrained in our DNA and just as complicated to understand. People often confuse chemistry with love. Love can develop over time, but chemistry is more intrinsic. You might not feel it instantly, but you should feel it early on in a relationship. Without chemistry, you’re missing a key ingredient. When the right chemistry is there, it’s usually there in a big way. Chemistry also helps facilitate ‘C’ number two: communication.
So now you’ve met that special someone and you’re feeling the vibe from one another. Don’t run off the tracks by failing to communicate. Chemistry signals the desire to want to be with someone. Honest, open communication provides the foundation from which all else is built. Without good communication, your relationship is doomed. Every time.
Unlike chemistry, however, we can control our communication habits. In this age of text messaging, we tend to forgo a simple conversation in favor of a sterile, two dimensional set of alphanumeric characters transmitted like a fast telegram. You can spend time texting or emailing someone from your favorite dating site, but you will learn more about each other in a one minute phone call than you will after weeks of electronic communication. Afraid of the phone? Get over it. Buy a disposable phone, call from a payphone, or use one of those secure and anonymous lines from a reputable dating site. Better yet, get off the PC and explore the real dating world. You never know who you’ll find unless you take a few minutes to look around.
The human voice is a powerful tool. In many ways it conveys a lot about you. It hints at your personality. Quiet or extroverted. Loud or soft-spoken. Articulate or tongue-tied. Friendly or abrasive. Sensual or rude. Our brains are wired to filter memories, good and bad, from past relationships or casual encounters with people you’d rather forget. For some people, verbal communication is easy. For others, it takes practice. Typically, the more you get to know someone, the easier it is to open up and communicate freely on different levels. No deep thoughts here. Just common sense.
Men are stereotyped as poor communicators and many fulfill that expectation. Though in today’s electronic communication world, many women hide their feelings behind text messaging as well. For either sex, sending messages in a cone of silence is like trying to start a fire in the rain. Although the importance of verbal communication cannot be stressed enough, it only represents one side of the coin. As humans, we often speak with our eyes, our facial gestures, and our body language. Hence the importance of face-to-face communication. Direct eye contact, firm handshakes, warm hugs, big smiles, and soft touches provide positive reinforcement. We’ve all heard the cliché, “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” And how you say it has as much to do with your non-verbal cues as it does with your tone of voice.
Unlike chemistry, which is either present or not, communication can be improved over time. All it takes is the desire to do so. Every person is unique. Every communication comfort zone is different. Some women gab constantly. Some men talk incessantly about themselves. So let her chat. Let him rant. Share your thoughts, share your feelings, share a joke you just learned — but share something. Keep the lines of communication open. Compliments are a beautiful thing. Hold hands, make eye contact, and be receptive to your partner’s communication style. Now you’re on the path to more intimate communication and ‘C’ number three: commitment.
Commitment runs in series with chemistry and communication. First you feel the chemistry. Then hopefully you open up more and exercise your communication skills. If you’re serious about a lasting relationship, you commit. If you can’t commit to a relationship, you have no hope of sustaining one. That’s assuming you’re not part of a swinger’s club, and even they have ground rules.
Commitment implies more than a grin-and-bear-it attitude. If the chemistry is there and the lines of communication are open, then commitment should be something you want, not something you run away from. If you can’t commit, you should ask yourself what your true motives are. Fear of commitment is common and isn’t necessarily a bad thing if both you and your partner are in agreement with the terms of your relationship (i.e., one night stand, fling, friends with benefits, etc.). Commitment implies a willingness to stick with your partner through the good times and the not so good times. I’m not talking about marriage, necessarily, but a common desire to sustain a monogamous relationship versus testing the pool of candidates.
Sometimes partners begin with a strong commitment to one another, then over time, the commitment wanes. Why? Lots of reasons. Lack of communication for one. Lack of real chemistry for another. If your romantic relationship doesn’t sizzle early on, chances are the commitment from one or both partners will eventually fade. This often results from a dearth of common interests. In a Stepford world, every couple would enjoy the same hobbies, the same tastes, the same music, and find common ground on every topic or new adventure. In reality, romantic couples share a subset of common interests, desires, beliefs, and so forth. Commitment does not imply you have to abandon who you are fundamentally. It simply means you’re willing to bridge the gap between a casual affair and a more meaningful relationship. And while commitment itself is important, it also hinges on our ability to address ‘C’ number four: compromise.
Mick Jagger said it best when he first crooned, “You can’t always get what you want.” The act of compromise involves a give and take. You don’t always win, but you don’t always lose either.
Compromise functions best at a 50/50 ratio. If your idea of a compromise ratio looks something more like 60/40, 70/30, or 80/20, then you’re not compromising — you’re either officious or you’re giving in. For some couples, compromise is a four letter word; for others it’s inherent. Anytime you can turn a win/lose situation into a win/win, you’re improving your relationship. Compromise is about letting go of control. It’s about understanding your partner’s desires and staying cognizant of their needs. If you’re committed to an open, honest relationship with great chemistry, then compromise should be something you welcome, not something you shun.
Sometimes romantic relationships arrive at an 80/20 ratio, or thereabouts, where one partner gets 80% of what they want while the other partner settles for the remaining 20%. This happens for many reasons linked to strong or weak personalities, fear of losing a soul mate, or for many, a simple desire to please their partner. In this example, the “80% partner” enjoys the freedom to pursue what they want, when they want it, whether it’s choosing the movie, planning every outing, owning the DVR, dictating the weekend events, etc. In contrast, the “20% partner” goes along for the ride, afraid to challenge their partner’s wishes. In the beginning of a new romantic relationship, this disparity can be workable, for awhile. Eventually, however, the “20% partner” will start to feel slighted. The chemistry might persist, but the excitement from the new relationship wears thin when the “20% partner” begins to resent the absence or suppression of their own interests, hobbies, beliefs, or personal routines they enjoy. Some individuals feel controlled or manipulated by their partner who insists on having everything their way. Eventually, when the see-saw doesn’t balance, it breaks.
Good compromise provides good balance in a romantic relationship. When two people care for one another and share a mutual respect for one another, they learn to compromise with one another. The notion of a 50/50 compromise implies a utopian state. No relationship maintains a perfect balance all the time, but couples who work at maintaining an even keel, by learning to give in from time to time or reciprocating one pleasure for another, tend to thrive.
Compromise isn’t always easy. It involves effort and commitment. But compromise doesn’t have to be arduous either. If you practice open, honest communication, you can find a mutually beneficial approach to almost anything. Be perceptive to your partner’s needs and try to see things from their perspective. The more you understand and appreciate one another, the easier compromise becomes.
So where does this leave you? That depends on where you are in your romantic relationship and where you’re trying to go. Obviously, the four Cs I’ve described are not the only components of a lasting and meaningful romantic relationship. Our lives are governed by many variables, including our stage in life, state of physical and emotional health, children, former spouses, friends, family, and other influences. Timing, geographics, and logistics also add to the mix. Romantic relationships are also dynamic, evolving, and seldom propelled by logic or reason. If you don’t feel the right chemistry, move on or accept a platonic partner. If you can’t communicate, try harder. Your ability to commit and compromise depends on it. The four Cs are not absolute, but rather, a quartet of common sense guidelines most people are familiar with — yet often fail to act upon. If you remember nothing else, remember to keep smiling and maintain a positive attitude about life in general. Look inward and decide for yourself what is most important to you. Our lives are what we make of them. The same can be said for a meaningful and lasting romantic relationship.