The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2.3: Defining Needs and Desires

Bliss

We could all use a little more bliss in our lives. We sure don’t need any more taxes or longer hours on the job. Happiness, harmony, and enjoyment of life should be our goal. If bliss is not an interpersonal need of yours, make it one. Starting now. If you look closely, you can find bliss in the simple things in life. Some people find it in a hot bath or a cold beer. Others find it in a child’s laugh or tending a flower garden. One of my sons always found it at the end of a torrential rain. I would complain about forgetting the umbrella when I dropped him off at Kindergarten, and he would blissfully announce, “Don’t worry Dad, a rainbow always comes out when the rain stops!”

You can find bliss in your romantic relationship as well, but don’t be dependent on your relationship to provide it. Your need for bliss should start with you. The famous singer, John Denver, had bliss in abundance in his life. He saw it, felt it, and experienced it in the nature surrounding him. We can hear it in his music. Through the ups and downs in his early career, he followed his heart and maintained his passion for writing songs. Whether you’re chasing your dream or the girl next door, make bliss a high priority need in your life.

Sex

Women tend to think men are only interested in sex. While that may be true…

Seriously, some men are only interested in sex. Others, not so much. But a desire for sexual relations is not a bad thing. Great sex in a committed, monogamous relationship can strengthen the relationship. According to Dr. John Gray, a certified family therapist and author of Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, women have a tendency to underestimate the importance of sex for men. As Dr. Gray explains it, sex allows a man to feel his need for love, whereas women are receptive to love as a way to help drive their desire for sex. The interpersonal need for sex exists, to some extent, in all of us. It’s part of our DNA. Some men and women require more frequent sexual activity than others, depending on where their need for sex fits into their hierarchy of needs and desires.

Unfortunately, there are many times when life’s distractions, either real or imagined, preclude us from enjoying a normal healthy sex life, as work, health issues, personal commitments, and so forth diminish our appetite for sex. To counteract this, we must learn to connect with one another at our most intimate level. In the following chapter, I expand on the path to more fulfilling sex and discuss the significance of trust, intimacy, vulnerability, and how romance feeds our sexual desires.

Faith

How far can we get in life without faith? For most of us, not very far. Faith implies a spiritual connotation—a connection with God, if you will. In Joel Osteen’s book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, he writes, “It’s vital that you accept yourself and learn to be happy with who God made you to be. If you want to truly enjoy your life, you must be at peace with yourself.” His book goes on to describe how positive attitudes help determine how we’re going to live our lives. I would take this a step further and surmise these same positive attitudes will help us to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance. But we don’t have to subscribe to the evangelical Christian philosophy to accept the importance of faith in our lives. Whether we believe in God or not, faith represents an interpersonal need defined not only by our belief in a higher power, but by belief in ourselves. With all the craziness we endure in our day to day lives, with all the mass media garbage we’re exposed to, with all the senseless politics at work and in our own government, with all the random acts of violence and devastating acts of mother nature, it can be easy at times to surrender our hope in humanity. Faith can overpower these negative influences in our lives and help us achieve stronger intimacy, better health, less stress, and more bliss. Without faith, we lose hope. Without hope, we lose everything.

The Peril of Unmet Needs

If our desires go unmet, our romantic relationships may stall a bit; however, if our needs go unmet, the relationship will suffer. As individuals, we recognize when our own needs and desires are not met, but how do we know if our partner’s needs and desires are being met? If you receive the death stare from your beloved every time you enter the room, chances are, some need, desire, or both is not being met. Communication is king. Talk about your feelings. Share your opinions. Vent your frustrations. But most importantly, use what works in your relationship to communicate effectively to understand each other’s needs. Sometimes relationship issues are symptoms of larger problems, where the root cause links to unfulfilled needs. If our needs go unmet, our core values suffer. And if our core values suffer, our romantic relationship will falter.

If our need for intimacy goes unfulfilled, we start to question our partner’s commitment to the relationship. If our need for independence goes unfulfilled, we resent the loss of freedom, autonomy, or solitude. If our need for empathy goes unmet, we resent our partner’s lack of compassion or misinterpret what we perceive to be their lack of compassion. This hampers the level of trust in our romantic relationship.

The bottom line: the more needs left unmet, the more problems our romantic relationships must endure. But sometimes our needs are not completely unmet so much as not quite fulfilled. If too many needs go unmet for a significant period of time, then chances are the person we’re with may not be capable of fulfilling our needs. For to do so may require him or her to change who they are fundamentally. In this case, we should take a hard look at our relationship and accept that this person might not be the right one for us. If, on the other hand, our needs are partially met but not completely fulfilled, then there’s room to work. Communication plays a large role. So does compromise and commitment. It takes work and patience, but if both individuals maintain a need to be involved in a meaningful and lasting romance, and if the right chemistry exists, they stand a chance of finding common ground and working through their relationship issues.

Summary of Needs and Desires

In my single, adult years, I’ve had the privilege of dating many wonderful women, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I chose to end my relationships in short order. At times, I blamed my misfortune on a fear of commitment, or convinced myself I simply met the wrong person. But more often than not, I attributed the problem to my needs not being met. Not necessarily my primary relationship needs, but broader needs instilled in my life but not acknowledged or completely understood until I took a step back and thought about them. For me, spending time with my children, devoting time to my career to provide for my family, and maintaining a strict exercise regiment were all high priority needs. Over time, I discovered how these needs directly influenced my secondary needs, which included time to enjoy my favorite recreational activities.

Upon further reflection, I realized I did—and still do—have a strong desire to be involved in a romantic relationship with the right person, but my primary needs—and most of my secondary ones as well—have to come first. In the past, my higher priority needs often overshadowed my desire for romantic involvement. And only when my needs were met, could I give myself fully to a romantic relationship. To put this another way, I came to understand how a romantic relationship for me had to evolve beyond a desire and become a fundamental need. A balancing act at times, especially for a very independent person.

I’ve shared my personal story as a way to conclude this chapter on needs and desires. Now I encourage you to conduct your own self analysis and think hard about your highest priority needs and desires. Some will be obvious, and some will not. If you’re twenty-two years old, never been married, and don’t have children, your primary needs will be much different than those of a single parent in their forties. If you’re currently involved in a romantic relationship, one you’re happy with or not, ask yourself if both you and your partner’s needs are being met.

The concept of defining and fully understanding our needs and desires resonates throughout this book. Even something as random and difficult to quantify as chemistry, correlates to our personal needs and desires. Discovering our deeper needs requires time and patience for personal reflection. Even in the most intimate and loving of relationships, we must remain aware of and respect our own needs and desires to identify the most significant ones and to challenge our own assertions. Sometimes certain needs turn out to be less important than we thought. And sometimes we turn away from things we don’t understand. But with an open mind and an open heart, the pieces eventually fall into place. Now that you’re equipped with a better understanding of core values and the significance of defining your relationship needs and desires, the first of 4Cs to a meaningful and lasting romance awaits.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2.2: Defining Needs and Desires

Exploring Our Needs and Desires

Now let’s move beyond my personal examples for a moment and focus on your own needs and desires. Don’t over-think it. You know yourself better than anyone. Remember, your needs are steadfast. They are non-negotiable, and for the most part, they do not change. They also tend to be more objective and less subjective than desires. Specific needs are tailored to individuals who share certain beliefs about the type of qualities they seek in a romantic partner. But in general, there are basic relationship needs the vast majority of us would require from our romantic partner. Some of these might include:

  • Well groomed
  • Compassionate
  • Drug free
  • Clean record
  • Single and not secretly married
  • Even tempered

In these above examples of needs, your partner either uses drugs or not. He or she has either been convicted or not. Pretty basic stuff. On the flip side, if you indulge in a fine cigar now and then, you might prefer a partner who does the same. I’m not judging people’s personal preferences or lifestyle choices. I’m merely trying to convey the importance of discerning between the qualities you need someone to have and those you merely desire.

Now here are some examples of more subjective needs that border more closely toward desires and include qualities and characteristics someone might prefer. Again, the key word is subjective. This list might comprise high priority needs for some of us and not even register for others.

  • Nice hair
  • Sharp dresser
  • Patient
  • Sensual
  • Creative
  • Reliable

These last few examples describe subjective needs some of us might qualify as desires. Your personal preferences will vary. And in a similar fashion to defining needs, you should define your own desires, which might include some, all, or none of the following from your romantic partner:

  • Attractive
  • Intelligent
  • Sense of humor
  • Good listener
  • Enjoys an active lifestyle
  • Drives a nice car
  • Makes lots of money
  • Likes to cook

In these examples of desires—which could easily be defined as needs if you feel strongly enough about their importance in your romantic relationship—I’ve cited attributes you might wish your partner to possess. They are negotiable to a certain extent, and they comprise characteristics, values, or material goods you deem important, but not essential, to your romantic relationship. Unlike your list of needs, your list of desires can be highly subjective. You might desire to be with someone who is both attractive and intelligent but settle for someone with more of one quality than the other. A sense of humor might describe someone who likes to laugh but tells bad jokes or someone who brings the house down with their razor sharp wit and perpetual one-liners. You might decide an active lifestyle includes an average partner who enjoys tennis or golf. Or you might decide you need someone who trains seven days a week. The point is, you should allow your desires to be flexible. Some desires will be stronger than others. Good kisser might be high on the top of your priority list while the desire for someone who knows how to cook might not.

Of course there’s always the case where you don’t know what you’re looking for until you’ve found it. That’s why it’s important to date different people before making an exclusive commitment. I’m not condoning promiscuity or promoting poor judgment by acting in a manner of false intentions. I’m simply saying you can learn a lot about your own needs and desires by understanding what works for you and what doesn’t. Eventually, you will come to terms not only with identifying your highest priority needs, but with learning to decide which needs hold greater value for you than others. Think about it. Does your need for companionship outweigh your need to spend more time at work? Does your need for sexual gratification outweigh your need for stimulating conversation? Is your need for personal space greater than your need to spend significant time together? Does your need for someone of strong faith outweigh your need for someone who bestows you with copious amounts of kindness and affection?

Years ago, I met a lovely woman through an online dating site. Her profile indicated she worked as an engineer and shared a variety of common interests with me. After several email exchanges and a few phone calls to one another, we met for coffee. I found her as equally attractive in person as I did on paper. She seemed to meet my basic needs and several of my higher priority desires—as I’d defined both my needs and desires at that time. After talking with her for an hour or so, I found her intellect to be her most attractive feature. Of course I found her physically attractive as well, but more than her pretty smile and soft brown eyes, I found myself drawn to her intelligence. As one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met, she defined a need I never realized I had—the need to be with someone with a strong intellectual capacity. I don’t mean smart versus dumb. I mean someone who can think at a deep level on a variety of topics. Until that date, I’d never realized the significance of intellectual stimulation. Unknowingly at first, I’d uncovered a high priority need.

Remember, your needs and desires can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. But rather than turn your pursuit of romantic bliss into a dissertation on every physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual need and desire you can think of, start with first defining your highest priority needs and desires and then step away and ponder them for awhile. Maybe dip your toe into the dating pool and make some new friends. Experience what you believe you need and desire as well as what you didn’t realize you need and desire. You might be surprised at what you learn.

A Look at Interpersonal Needs

Some of our highest priority needs have nothing to do with the qualities or characteristics we seek from a potential romantic partner. Instead, these high priority needs come from within. I call these our interpersonal needs. Your list might be slightly different, but I think you’d agree the following interpersonal needs are ones which most of us cannot live well without:

  • Intimacy
  • Health
  • Time
  • Independence
  • Hope
  • Bliss
  • Sex
  • Faith

Intimacy

In the words of Mathew Kelly, author of The Seven Levels of Intimacy, “You can survive without intimacy, but you cannot thrive without it.” Kelly’s book goes on to explain the various levels of intimacy and how happiness and intimacy are intertwined. For the most part, I agree with his philosophy. I also agree that intimacy has a much broader definition than sex. In the words of Hara Estroff, Editor at Large for Psychology Today, “Sex is easy, intimacy is difficult. It requires honesty, openness, self-disclosure, confiding concerns, fears, sadness as well as hopes and dreams.”

From my personal viewpoint, intimacy is essential. Like the air we breathe, intimacy helps nurture our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. Intimacy implies closeness, belonging, and trust. It represents a fundamental need we all share, and one our romantic relationships demand.

Health

Without good physical and mental health, we have nothing. Compromise elsewhere in your relationship but don’t sacrifice your health. Make exercise a priority in your life. Quit smoking. Get off the fast food wagon. If you value your life, you should value your health. Don’t sacrifice sufficient rest to please your partner’s desire to stay up all night. Decide for yourself which schedule works best for you to ensure a good night’s sleep. A healthy body helps promote a healthy mind.

Our health can be easy to undervalue and hard to reclaim when it’s diminished. Genetic dispositions aside, we are the masters of our own domain, free to weigh the pros and cons of a healthy lifestyle. The only absolute certainty in life is death. And the longer we can postpone our final days, the longer we have to enjoy the time in between.

Don’t make the mistake of equating physical fitness with arduous workouts, as not everyone enjoys the same activities. If you hate running, then don’t run. Not a swimmer? Then skip the expensive gym with the indoor pool. Walk the neighborhood. Ride a bike. Rollerblade. Play tennis. Shoot hoops. Try Jazzercise, Zumba, Pilates, or any aerobics class set to music. Buy a workout video or try boxing on the Wii. Dance the Tango, the Salsa, or whatever peeks your interest. In other words, make fitness fun. If you don’t, you won’t commit to it.

Need extra motivation? Spend ninety-nine dollars on a Fitbit, an electronic wristband-type device used to help you monitor your daily fitness activities by tracking your movements, literally, in terms of distance walked, stairs climbed, and calories burned—think fancy digital pedometer that actually works, not one of those clunky, inconsistent, belt-worn devices of yesteryear. With the Fitbit, you track your progress by syncing your exercise data to your computer or smartphone. Simple graphics make it easy to view your fitness statistics and show how you’re progressing toward your goals. The Fitbit aside, I use an old-school approach by manually recording time and distance data from my bicycle rides to a logbook that tracks my progress on a weekly, monthly, and yearly scale.

The action of monitoring our progress and recording the results to provide ourselves with instant feedback has been used successfully by amateur and professional athletes for decades. Scientists define this concept as a “feedback loop” comprised of four parts: evidence—defined as progress recorded, relevance—comparing our actual fitness activities to our fitness goals, consequence—from failing to meet our stated fitness goals, and action—facing the cold hard facts about our recorded progress and making the required adjustments to our fitness routine to help us meet our stated goals. It’s more than just a passing fad. Researchers from Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford, and Children’s National Medical Center are melding feedback loops with modern technology to help effect positive change in human behavior.

Who knows? With enough research and cooperation between academia and industry, smartphones might evolve to smart scales, where we step on the plate to check out our weight and find the digital readout replaced with a synthesized voice declaring, “Put the ice cream back!” Either way, make a healthy lifestyle a high priority need in your life.

Time

Time represents the world’s most valuable commodity. You can’t go back, and you can’t fast forward. You can’t beg, barter, or buy more time. Time wasted is time lost, forever. Make time management a high priority need. Learning to manage your time wisely will help you achieve a healthy work-life balance. We all have to budget time to accommodate our jobs, our families, our friends, and of course our romantic relationships. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accommodate everything and everyone in our lives. It’s okay to ask your romantic partner, “Do you have time for me?” The answer will depend, in part, on the expectations you both set forth. Some people require lots of time together to be happy in a relationship while others not so much. Some people require lots of time to themselves for personal reflection and their independent pursuit of happiness through interests or activities they prefer to enjoy alone. Best-selling author and world-renowned time management expert, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, claims, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” In other words, decide what’s most important to you in your life and make sure you focus on those priorities first. If you think about it, the time is yours to allocate as you wish. Don’t waste it on meaningless, unfulfilling tasks. Make time for yourself and the necessary chores in life, but make sure you pencil in some time for your romantic relationship as well.

Independence

We touched on independence earlier in Chapter I, where I described the concept of core values. In a sense, our core values mirror our interpersonal needs. In this case, the amount of independence required varies from one person to another. Our need for independence is important because it helps us to define who we are as individuals. It keeps us grounded. It empowers us. It also helps us satisfy our biological, physiological, and safety needs as described by Maslow. The capacity to think and act for ourselves provides a powerful tool, and one often overlooked in our romantic relationships, where it’s easy to be swept off our feet by the euphoria of love. I’m not disputing the value of love or the sense of togetherness a romantic relationship can provide. I’m saying it’s important to acknowledge your need for independence, whether minimal or substantial, and make time for yourself to ensure your interpersonal needs are met.

Hope

We all need hope in our lives. Hope for sustained good health. Hope for a better future for our children and ourselves. Hope for a cleaner planet. Hope for a healthier economy. And of course, hope for a meaningful and lasting romance. Hope in itself won’t sustain you, but hope combined with a positive attitude and a strong belief in your core values will keep you on the path to success in your personal life and in your romantic relationship.

A few years back I hurt my right shoulder to the point where I could barely lift my arm above my head without significant pain. I found this extremely disconcerting for two reasons: first, I pride myself on health and fitness through regular exercise involving a variety of cardiovascular, flexibility, and strength training routines which help prevent things like silly shoulder injuries; second, I had no idea how I hurt my shoulder in the first place. I literally had no recollection of anything bad happening to cause the injury. All I knew was that I couldn’t wash the roof of my car, swing a tennis racket, or throw a football more than a few feet without enduring a stabbing pain in the vicinity of my rotator cuff. After months of nursing the mysterious injury by avoiding any movement that provoked it, and after several sports massages, special vitamin supplements, inconclusive x-rays, and bouts of physical therapy, I started losing hope. But instead of accepting defeat and the loss of normal use of my right arm, I started incorporating meditation and large doses of positive thinking. Instead of losing hope, I gained hope through my own devices. Then, gradually, and I mean painstakingly slowly, my shoulder finally returned to normal. In reality, my recovery from the mysterious shoulder injury most likely had more to do with a strict regiment of physical therapy routines at home and avoiding unnecessary movements to exacerbate the problem. On the other hand, I believe the power of positive thinking and hope factored into the equation as well.

I also believe this philosophy can work to our detriment if we dwell on the negative side of things. A specific example comes to mind, where a few years back I’d experienced a succession of flat tires on my road bike in the span of less than two weeks. At that time, I’d been frustrated by a number of negative influences in my life, my bum shoulder being one of many. Uncharacteristically, I’d brought my negative emotions along for the ride during my normal bike routine, where I’d pedal twenty miles or so over the same path to avoid unnecessary traffic and minimize the probability of collision with inattentive drivers who cruise through stop signs or fail to share the road. I found myself riding with a lot of anger and frustration, and one day, after almost precisely ten miles into my ride, the rear tire went flat. This happened not twice, but three times within a two-week period, each time with a new inner tube and no indication of any tire damage when I left my house. Had my negative energy and toxic attitude on these rides rung the karma bell and generated my own fallout three times in succession? Perhaps.

As it turned out, the bike shop finally fessed up to the batch of defective inner tubes their supplier had shipped them. The shop described how the faulty valve stems were prone to leaking—a more likely diagnoses of my uncanny flat tire problem than a flood of negative emotions. Nonetheless, a change of attitude was in order, and sure enough, once I abandoned my gloomy attitude for one of positive energy and hope for better days to come, the flat tire problem ceased. Believe what you will. I believe we have a way of shaping our destiny, for better or worse, and only ourselves to blame when we pursue a course of bad intent.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2.1: Defining Needs and Desires

Our core values are an integral part of our needs and desires. Core values represent things we live by. They describe our credo, doctrine, or fundamental belief or practice. To a large extent, our core values drive our needs and desires, which comprise vital and necessary things we strive to attain for ourselves and for our relationships.

Beyond our core values, we all have basic needs we must fulfill and basic desires we would like to fulfill. In our romantic relationships, we define needs as our “must haves,” or “deal breakers,” or “things we can’t live without.” Some examples might include the need to share our lives with someone honest and trustworthy; someone who doesn’t drink excessively, doesn’t use drugs or excessive profanity, and shares our core values. In general, our basic relationship needs are static and do not fluctuate very much over time. They define specific criteria a potential romantic partner must satisfy in order for our romantic relationship to flourish. Our needs can be defined as physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Our highest priority needs are nonnegotiable, regardless of how blue his eyes appear in person or how voluptuous she looks in the plunging neckline of her silky black dress.

In contrast to defining our relationship needs, our desires constitute preferences or “nice to haves.” Unlike our needs, our desires can change and often do as we learn more about ourselves, acquire more life experience, and gain a better understanding of what we want in our romantic relationships. Our desires point to attributes we seek from our romantic partner but don’t necessarily have to have for the relationship to work. For example, a gentleman who is tall, dark and handsome or a lady with long hair and a button nose. We might desire these physical qualities, but if the person we meet doesn’t fit them, we make a judgment call and decide if their other virtues outweigh their perceived shortcomings. The same logic applies to emotional, intellectual, and spiritual qualities as well.

What one person defines as a need, another person might define as a desire and vice versa. In general, however, we all have basic needs we must fulfill in order to function in life. The late psychologist, Abraham Maslow, introduced a Hierarchy of Needs model. In Maslow’s book, Motivation and Personality, he describes his Hierarchy of Needs model in detail. To paraphrase the essence of Maslow’s work, we are each motivated by basic human needs. Maslow describes how we are motivated by these needs and how we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the most fundamental—see bottom of Figure 1, which deals with the biological and physiological aspects of our lives. Our subsequent needs build upon our foundation of biological and physiological needs for air, food, water, etc. When these basic human needs are met, we can then look to meeting our higher level needs for safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and lastly, what Maslow labels, self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs not only describes the categories of needs and the general content of these needs but also the order of importance in which our needs should be addressed. To paraphrase Maslow’s work, we must first satisfy our lower order needs—biological and physiological—before we can effectively concern ourselves with our higher order needs of personal development. In layman’s terms, if you’re starving, you’re focused on the need for sustenance and not your need for safety, belongingness and love. Taking this a step further, if you’re not able to satisfy your need for belongingness, and love, you can’t satisfy your higher level need for self-actualization, defined as a person’s constant effort to grow and develop his or her inherent talents and capabilities.

Borrowing from Maslow’s concept, I believe we follow a similar hierarchy with our needs and desires for our romantic relationships in such a way that if our “nice to have” desires are fulfilled but our fundamental needs are not, the pyramid will collapse, metaphorically speaking. And with it, so shall our meaningful and lasting romance. I expand on this concept by way of example.

First consider Figure 2, drawn to represent a hierarchy of relationship needs and desires I had defined for myself several years ago to describe the type of romantic relationship partner I wanted in my life.

Figure 2: My Initial Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

Obviously, Figure 2 looks similar to Maslow’s, as it should, because I assert that our desires should be built upon our relationship needs in a similar manner to Maslow’s model of building higher order needs on top of lower order needs. After much thought over several failed relationships, I came to realize how little free time I have, and how a lack of face time with someone, especially in the early stages of a new relationship, plays a critical role in getting to know someone on a deeper level. Therefore, I deemed the geographic distance between myself and my potential partner to be a higher priority desire than dating someone who fits my ideal physical image.

In my model of needs and desires, we cannot satisfy our desires without first addressing our mandatory needs. Remember, I’m talking about personal and relationship needs and desires, unlike Maslow who focused on basic human needs. I start with the assumption that your basic biological, physiological, and safety needs, as Maslow defines them, are already fulfilled. If they are not, then you should be focused less on striving for a meaningful and lasting romance and more on your basic human needs for food, shelter, security, etc.

Your personal model might only contain two primary steps, one for high priority needs and one for high priority desires. Or your model might have several steps like mine. If you have too many levels of needs, then you might be describing desires more than needs because the higher up you go in my model of needs and desires described in Figure 2, the lower the priority of your needs. Think highest priority need at the bottom with lower priority needs and desires near the top. Conversely, you might have several layers of desires ranging from things you would like to have to things you absolutely must have. In which case, a high priority desire might actually be a need in disguise.

Remember, our needs describe qualities we must fulfill in our romantic relationships—someone kind, funny, intelligent, handsome, etc.—whereas our desires describe our preferences for qualities we would like to fulfill—brown hair, good dancer, sharp dresser, etc. Recognize these are broad brush examples. Your personal needs and desires can encompass physical, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, and spiritual traits. To put it another way, you might desire a ruggedly handsome man, but need someone who listens well or someone with a caring disposition. Or you might decide you need or desire both from your romantic partner.

To some extent, everyone defines their own needs and desires differently. What one person considers a need, another person might label a desire. Furthermore, our needs and desires models are dynamic and subject to change over time as we learn more about ourselves and our relationship partners. While our strongest needs will stay static for the most part, our desires may change. Our priority of desires may change as well. Keep in mind, the picture itself is not important. There doesn’t need to be perfect symmetry between the number of needs and the number of desires on our list. Some of us have simple needs; others, more complex.

Figure 3 is another personal example of a revised needs and desires model.

Figure 3: My Revised Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

If you compare my initial hierarchy of needs and desires from Figure 2 with my revised hierarchy of need and desires from Figure 3, you will notice my highest priority relationship needs did not change over time. Namely, my need for someone who doesn’t smoke, drink excessively, or use drugs. On the other hand, as I dated more and thought about my needs and desires, I decided to add a high priority need for someone who does not want to start a new family. These needs are deemed most important to me. Of course I’ve omitted other equally, or even more important needs, for the sake of brevity and privacy. My point is, our highest priority needs should form the foundation at the base of our own needs model. For many of us, our highest priority needs are obvious and derive from our own values, beliefs, morals, and personal preferences.

As we move up the ladder, so to speak, our next level of needs might not be as obvious. This is due, in part, to the thin line between our lowest priority needs and our highest priority desires. For example, in Figure 3, I state my partner must not want to have more children. For a period of time, it was my high priority desire to not father more children. I very much love the children I have, and in the right circumstance, I could see myself adoring a stepchild as one of my own; however, at this stage in my life, I don’t feel the need to father a newborn child. Therefore, I have a relationship need for my partner to mirror the same sentiment toward not wanting more children. Over time, my desire for not wanting more children shifted from something I might be willing to reconsider—as desires afford us this latitude—to something I would not be willing to reconsider. I no longer had a preference to not father more children—I had a need to not do so.

Putting theory into practice, I can tell you my low priority desire for common interests in music, movies, etc.—from Figure 3—would be meaningless without satisfying my highest priority relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke or use drugs. In other words, a romantic relationship with a woman who satisfies every single one of my stated desires would fail miserably if she enjoyed smoking crack. Granted, that’s an extreme example. In reality, I would never date a crack addict, and by definition, I would not be able to satisfy my relationship desires without having first satisfied the relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke and doesn’t use drugs. Unwritten in my model of needs and desires is the notion of needing someone who shares the same core values, as I will never again involve myself with someone I deem untrustworthy or mean spirited.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 1.3 (Core Values)

Self Discipline

Self discipline serves a great purpose in our lives and especially in our romantic relationships. Self discipline acts like a forcing function to keep our other core values in check. Think of self discipline as the skeleton in our bodies. Without it, we would be nothing more than a blob of tissue and muscle mass. From a psychological perspective, self discipline drives us to set higher standards for ourselves, to achieve our goals, to overcome addictions or other negative influences, to persevere in times of need, and to thrive in times of comfort. Without self discipline, we shed our inner strength, our confidence, and esteem; we see problems and not solutions. Instead of rising toward success, we fall upon failure.

Self discipline represents one of the most powerful tools we have in our cache of core values and plays an integral role in maintaining a meaningful and lasting romance. Self discipline helps us get out of bed; eat healthy—or as close to healthy as we can; stay fit; do our chores; maintain a budget; control our temper; avoid temptations; become better parents; provide for our spiritual growth and self-improvement; and in general, overcome the momentary failures and inevitable setbacks life throws our way. Self discipline helped me pay my way through college, earn a master’s degree, pursue a thriving career, author numerous books, maintain a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle, and become a better father.

Self discipline equates to persistence and perseverance. The persistence to finish a task we start—no matter how trivial or significant—and the perseverance to endure the trials and tribulations along the way. It takes self discipline to train for a race or to write a book, and it takes self discipline to remain attentive to our partners’ needs and desires. Self discipline also helps foster better communication and stronger commitment, topics covered in detail in Chapters IV and VI respectively.

Growing up, I recall my father telling me, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” This was usually meant in jest when he proudly displayed his uncanny ability to find a front row parking space at a popular restaurant or some other impossible-to-get-to destination that required the Hubble telescope to find an open spot. I also remember him rebuilding various components from several cars we’d owned over the years, performing never-been-done before repairs with perfection.

On many occasions, I’d find him on a plywood creeper with his hands above his head, blindly fidgeting in the chassis as he calmly explained the nature of his task while his fingers worked their magic like a surgeon. Sometimes bolts wouldn’t turn, parts wouldn’t fit, a component was too long, his reach was too short, or nothing seemed to go together as expected. But in the end, and I mean always in the end, through some act of genius or the will of God, he’d find a way to make it work. Every time. Without fail. No matter how bleak the initial prognosis, I’d hear him say with a smile, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” Looking back on those days, his success at fixing cars, home appliances, computers, vacuum cleaners, guns, or anything else manmade, had less to do with luck and more to do with his tremendous self discipline. My father’s willingness to exercise patience, sound judgment, keen intellect, and a positive attitude derived largely from his aptitude for self discipline—the same self discipline that has helped my parents enjoy a meaningful and lasting romance for more than thirty years, raising five beautiful children and me along the way.

Self discipline doesn’t happen by accident. It takes time. It takes practice. Some people are seemingly born with it; others work hard to obtain it. If you’ve got it, hold onto it. If you lack self discipline, take baby steps to learn it. Get up on time. Make proper diet and exercise a priority in your life. Compliment your partner. Write a love note to him or her and hide it somewhere you know they’ll find it. Save what money you can for a rainy day. Even if it’s nothing more than spare change, the act of making a conscious decision to save money, no matter how minimal at first, will have a positive affect on you. The same holds for saving time. A little self discipline in the time management department goes a long way toward reducing stress in your life and in your romantic relationship.

To turn my dad’s phrase around, I’d rather be good than lucky. Unless we’re talking about the lottery, where being good has nothing to do with winning, it’s important to practice self discipline. If we strive to achieve self discipline for ourselves, we’ll achieve it in our romantic relationships. The late Jim Rohn, an American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” Let self discipline help guide you to your next achievement. You don’t have to be the smartest or the fastest or the most well-off. You simply have to be the most determined.

Some key points to remember about the core value of self discipline:

  1. Self discipline can’t be learned in a classroom. Much like learning to speak a new language, you have to exercise your mental muscles until your newfound skill becomes second nature.
  • Strive to be virtuous and stoic in your core values, as these represent the glue in your romantic relationship. Think of self discipline as the clamp that allows this glue to cure and tightly bond your relationship together.
  • A strong romantic relationship can survive a momentary lapse in trust, respect, honesty, or accountability—but only if you have the self discipline to overcome it.
  • Self discipline is what makes the impossible, possible.

Appreciation

People often fall in love and bask in the glory of happily ever after. But at times, even with the best intentions at heart, we fall victim to complacency and begin to lose sight of what we have, and in the process, neglect the critical core value of appreciation. It’s always easy to admire someone we just met and with whom we feel a strong chemistry. For some of us, this initial intensity of a new romance persists for an extended period of time. But for others, we start to take our partner for granted. We don’t talk as often. We don’t listen like we used to. We don’t compliment as often. We sacrifice quality time together to pursue less important activities. This doesn’t mean we necessarily lose respect or admiration for our partners. We simply refrain from making the conscious effort to appreciate what we have and to frequently convey our appreciation. Not surprisingly, authors Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks cite lack of appreciation as one of five issues tied to the erosion of long-term romantic relationships. In their book, Lasting Love, the authors stress the importance of maintaining the flow of appreciation between partners as their relationship evolves. They also cite commitment among their five issues of concern—a topic I address at length in Chapter VI.

It’s not enough to assume love will conquer all simply because we feel love in our heart for someone. We have to show we appreciate one another through our words and our actions. This can be a tough lesson to learn and partially explains why good partners slip away despite everything we feel we’ve done right in our relationship. The concept is simple, yet so easy to get wrong.

We all have a need to feel appreciated and wanted. Over several years I’ve dated women who lack the core value of appreciation. Despite all their positive qualities, they reciprocated my kindness and generosity with all the honesty and respect of a rock—a paradox worthy of further consideration but beyond the scope of this book. More importantly, those negative experiences reinforced for me, the tremendous value of appreciation. When we lose appreciation for the kindhearted, genuine, attractive individuals in our lives, we fail ourselves and our romantic relationships by not acknowledging the value of the person in our lives. As the French philosopher, Voltaire, proclaimed, “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

We owe it to our partners to not only appreciate their presence in our lives, but to demonstrate our appreciation at recurring intervals. Sometimes it’s not enough to say, “I love you.” Show your partner how much you love him or her through good deeds and selfless acts. Become an active listener. Learn to empathize. Identify the priorities in your life and make sure your romantic relationship stays near the top of the list where it belongs.

Some key points to remember about the core value of appreciation:

  1. Appreciation is a cornerstone of romance.
  • If you can’t appreciate what you have in your romantic relationship, it might be time to reevaluate your needs and desires.
  • Appreciation doesn’t come with a price tag, so give generously.
  • Doubt and insecurity lurk in the absence of appreciation. When you fail to appreciate your partner, you erode the foundation of trust, respect, and honesty you’ve built over time.
  • It doesn’t take a genius intellect or a wild imagination to show appreciation; sometimes the smallest gestures echo loudest in the valley of true love.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness, the last core value I will mention in this book, defines a value many people struggle to incorporate in their day-to-day lives. Tolstoy said, “Let us forgive each other—only then will we live in peace.” Mark Twain quipped, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” And in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”

Forgiveness can’t be something we choose from time to time. Selective forgiveness, in my opinion, doesn’t work. Furthermore, in forgiveness lies hope. For without forgiveness, we are doomed to languish in our own despair.

Let’s face it, most of us at one time or another have endured bad relationships, whether they involved a short term fling we later regretted, a planned engagement that fell through, or like many couples, a marriage that ended badly. Forgiveness helps us leave the past behind and get on with our lives. A lot of personal factors determine our willingness to forgive, including our faith, our personality, lessons learned from our previous relationships, and our upbringing.

When a romantic relationship fails, the choice to forgive a wrongdoing inflicted by one partner on another may or may not save the relationship once the music stops for good. But small acts of forgiveness while a relationship remains healthy, or even when it’s in need of repair, can be tremendously beneficial.

Does your boyfriend or husband leave the toilet seat up? If yes, then tell him not to. If he persists, then explain your concerns with a more compelling approach. Assuming you get through to him and the toilet seat stays down, then give him some slack if he forgets on occasion. In other words, forgive the behavior. Resist the temptation to hold a grudge about it or to incite a hurtful argument. The same attitude applies to men. If your girlfriend or wife does something to irritate you—hypothetically speaking, of course, since women never do things to drive men crazy—calmly explain your position and help her understand why the behavior has a negative affect on you. When an occasional lapse in judgment ensues, forgive the behavior and move on. Often, the little stuff evolves into bigger problems if ignored. But don’t confuse forgiveness with complacency or appeasement. If something bothers you, speak up! And if you find yourself in the position of having to forgive someone’s constant indiscretions, then perhaps your partner’s core values don’t align with yours. In addition, there’s a good chance certain high priority relationship needs are not being met.

If your girlfriend forgot to set the DVR to Sports Channel, forgive her. If your boyfriend forgot to call you at work, forgive him. If your wife forgot to grab your favorite beer at the store, forgive her. If your husband forgot your anniversary, again—well…it was nice knowing him.

Some key points to remember about the core value of forgiveness:

  1. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily imply reconciliation.
  • Forgive the little things to help your romantic relationship grow.
  • Better to forgive and carry on with a conscience in good faith than carry the crushing weight of a grudge.

Core Values in Summary

The core values of trust, respect, honesty, reassurance, humor, independence, accountability, self discipline, appreciation, and forgiveness provide the foundation upon which we build a meaningful and lasting romance. These core values as I’ve defined them are not meant to be all-encompassing, but rather, a comprehensive list of essential principles from which to better ourselves and our romantic relationships. These universal standards are important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Think about the values you champion and those you could improve upon. No one is perfect. People excel more in some areas than in others. Strive for balance as you grow and learn—not perfection.

With a better understanding of our core values and the role they play in helping us foster a meaningful and lasting romance, we can shift our focus to understanding the distinction between our needs and our desires. Why are these important, and how do they ultimately relate to the 4Cs? The answer is simple, and in many ways, applies to every one of us.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 1.2

Reassurance

Whether we choose to admit it or not, most of us routinely seek some form of reassurance from an important individual in our lives. Perhaps from our parents for trying to live up to their expectations; from our children for trying to be the best role models we can be; from our friends for acknowledging their significance in our lives; from our boss for acknowledging a job well done; and especially, from our romantic partners.

Reassurance, by definition, provides an action to remove our doubts and fears. The need to feel wanted and appreciated comes naturally. No one seeks to feel unwanted or abandoned. And certainly no one enjoys rejection or being taken for granted.

We all require different levels of reassurance. Some more than others. On one end of the spectrum we find those who require little more than a pat on the back or a simple “thanks.” On the other end, some people crave constant reassurance to the point where we label them “needy” or “clingy.”

Men tend to run from women who come across as emotionally needy; although, women are not immune from exhibiting the same behavior toward needy men whom they consider desperate. There are degrees of needy, and men out of touch with their own emotions can be quick to label a woman who requires regular open, honest communication as needy.

Somewhere a balance exists, for both men and women, between the requirement for too much or too little reassurance. How we define too much or too little depends on the individual person and their particular needs. Finding the perfect balance can be tricky at times, but siding with one extreme or the other never bodes well for couples trying to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. As with many aspects of our romantic relationships, and in particular with trying to understand our own core values, we should strive for reassurance within ourselves and not become completely dependent on our partners.

Why does reassurance hold such importance? Because it demonstrates caring, compassion, and commitment to one another. Reassurance affirms our belief in one another. It validates our feelings for one another in a positive way. Reassurance also plays an integral role in maintaining open, honest communication. Without it, the person who no longer receives reassurance starts to feel unwanted, unappreciated, or ignored. Reassurance also provides a powerful tool for building trust; for reminding our partner they feel loved; and for maintaining respect. Reassurance also boosts our self-esteem, defined by the integration of self-confidence and self-respect, and plays an important role in maintaining romance and intimacy in a relationship. Reassurance expands our ability to love and be loved.

Verbal reassurance doesn’t have to be profound or poetic. And it doesn’t have to be lengthy. It simply has to be honest and sincere. The level and specific content of verbal reassurance varies appropriately with the stage of our relationship. If someone craves our verbal reassurance after a first date, it might be a sign of insecurity and some unresolved issues. On the other hand, a woman seeking verbal reassurance after several dates, might be trying to ascertain her standing in the early stages of a new relationship (e.g., Am I his only girlfriend or one of many in his stable of female acquaintances?).

For men who fit the model of the strong and silent type, a warm smile, a gentle hug, a soft kiss, or a note on the nightstand exemplify ways to express reassurance. Men enjoy kissing, but for women, the kiss holds greater value; a form of nonverbal reassurance that requires a higher degree of trust and comfort than say a warm hug or a walk on the beach together. In some ways for women, the kiss represents a litmus test of a man’s affection. Men often interpret a kiss as a prelude to sex. Whereas men expect to see clothes shed post-haste, women crave the sense of closeness and belonging a kiss provides, without necessarily involving sex. Show me a man who believes he can fake sincerity in a halfhearted kiss with his girlfriend or wife, and I’ll show you a man with delusional tendencies. Sooner or later, and chances are much sooner than later, the woman will pick up on the signal like a bright orange flare. By which point the only thing more certain than the man’s delusional state of mind is his partner’s decision to move on.

Regardless of your position on reassurance, we all require some measure of reassurance to sustain a healthy romantic relationship. When in doubt about your partner’s need for reassurance, simply ask.

Some key points to remember about the core value of reassurance:

  1. Reassurance should be reciprocal.
  • Reassurance can be verbal, nonverbal, or both.
  • Everyone craves some form of reassurance on different levels; some of us more frequently than others.
  • Open, honest communication plays an integral role in our efforts to provide reassurance.

Humor

“See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.” —Robin Williams

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” —Woody Allen

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.” —Steven Wright

“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” —George Carlin

“The next time you buy a new mattress, tell the salesperson you’re haggling with, ‘I don’t know…I’ll have to sleep on it.’” —Jason Melby

Humor represents one of our most important core values. How many people do you know who don’t enjoy laughing? If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in a while, we’re taking life too seriously. Often, we spend our time in a futile effort to make sense of things beyond our control. The weather, for instance, always is what it is. We can love the day’s forecast, or we can hate it. But there’s not much we can do to change it. The same goes for those wacky relatives who drive us crazy, though I’m fortunate not to have any of those in my family tree. Maybe it’s your ex who won’t let go or your boss who’s always on your case. A problem child with a mind of their own or just a bad hair day. Life is unpredictable. Change is inevitable. For some of us, a pint of Häagen-Dazs can heal fresh wounds. Others find comfort at their favorite martini bar or from a riveting novel. But sometimes, when you’re dangling from the last fiber at the end of a badly worn rope, all you can do is laugh.

Laughter builds an instant social bond between two people, and unlike the price of gas, laughter won’t set you back sixty bucks to fill your tank with high spirits and positive vibes that come with acknowledging the humorous side of life.

Humor has a tendency to sneak up on us in ways we least expect. Case in point: several years ago I went through a divorce. At that time, my wife and I knew it was the right thing to do. Although a difficult but necessary decision, my divorce impacted me less as a husband losing a wife and more as a father losing time with his sons. Though my wife and I agreed to share joint custody, the separation of households meant my boys would only be with me half time. As a father who loves his children more than life itself, the prospect of losing time with them brought an emotional pain the likes of which I’d never felt before. But more than my sadness of losing time with my six-year-old sons, came a sense of overwhelming concern about the potentially negative affects the divorce would have on them.

One night, when I was tucking my boys in bed, I noticed one son seemed restless and sort of melancholy. Not knowing what was wrong, I tried to ask him but heard no reply as he started to rock himself to sleep. At that moment, I felt terrible and proceeded to reassure him that despite the change in routine brought on by the divorce, I would always love him. And I would always be there for him.

Motivated by my assumption that his moment of sadness stemmed from the impact of divorce, I proceeded with my monologue of reassurance, hoping my words of love and encouragement were getting through to my son and his twin brother, who listened intently from the bunk above. After a minute or so, I stopped talking and said a final “good night.” Before I could stand up, my son rolled on his side to look at me, his face a portrait of concentration as he pondered what I’d said—or so I thought at that moment in time—and asked, “Can you show me how to fart with my armpit?”

A moment earlier, I wanted to cry. Now it was all I could do not to bust out laughing. I’m not making light of my divorce or the impact it had on my family. I’m simply illustrating one of many examples where a little humor can help put things in perspective.

Another quick aside…this one more relevant to the topic at hand as it involves a first date fiasco. After exchanging sideways glances with one another for the better part of six months during several school functions our children attended, I decided to ask a female acquaintance out for dinner. After all, we were casual friends who shared some common interests beyond our roles as single parents. I also found her attractive with a wonderful personality and a nice sense of humor.

I planned our date for dinner at a low key restaurant near the beach, which turned out to be the only thing that went right on this casual rendezvous.

After leaving work later than I’d planned, I got stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for the southbound CSX locomotive to plod its way through Melbourne. At home, I hustled through my shower, shave, and change of clothes. As luck would have it, I managed to cut myself shaving, an event I rarely encounter, slammed my elbow on the bathroom pocket door hard enough to ignite the not so funny bone, and discovered a once tiny pimple on my chin now loomed like Mount Vesuvius.

With little time to spare, I settled my nerves with a few deep breaths and calmly put everything in perspective. My pimple less threatening than it first appeared, I grabbed a fresh shirt off the hanger and reached for my antiperspirant on the bathroom counter. Unfortunately, this particular deodorant stick was one I’d had for some time. With barely a penny’s width of product still left in the twist applicator, I applied what I could from the only antiperspirant in my possession and experienced the coup de grâce. For instead of applying smoothly, the deodorant crumbled into pieces and scattered on my bathroom rug. Already ten minutes late, I got on my hands and knees to pluck what I could salvage from the carpet.

Fast forward to dinner at a favorite local hangout with a woman who seemed more interested in the casual decor than she did in me. After half an hour of good food and somewhat stilted conversation, I found myself in a quandary and decided to inject a little humor with a quick recount of events leading up to our first date encounter. As dinner came to a close, along with any expectation of a second date, I told her the story about my deodorant shenanigans. With my palms face out, I said, “At least my hands smell good.” I got a good laugh out of it—right up until the end of the evening when my over-priced, pre-owned luxury lemon broke down at a stop sign on the way to drop her home.

If you think about it, there are times when we all experience less than stellar moments in our romantic relationships. One minute we’re happy, and the next we’re sad. One minute we’re embroiled in a heated argument of apocalyptic proportion and the next we’re laughing about our own hypocrisy. Sometimes a little perspective helps remind us of the most important things in life. And the importance of humor should never be overlooked in our romantic relationships. The ability to laugh maintains our sanity in our increasingly fast-paced, over-stressed world. Much like words of reassurance, a little levity goes a long way. Not to say an addiction to laughing would necessarily be a bad thing; although, it might give the wrong impression by implying we’re inebriated, high, or emotionally imbalanced. Oddly, I’ve dated women who exhibit all three traits. Sometimes on the same night.

Humor is often what we make of it. It’s also no secret women love a man who can make them laugh. And vice versa. If John Candy were alive today, I’d date him. Okay, that’s a stretch, but my point is men enjoy women with a great sense of humor as much as women seek men who can make them laugh.

Think of humor as the universal call of the wild. People love to laugh. And for good reason. Studies show laughter can reduce pain, strengthen our immune system, and lessen our everyday stress levels. Studies also indicate laughter plays a positive role in our romantic relationships, where couples appreciate each other’s humor. Or as someone once said, “People with a good sense of humor have a better sense of life.”

Some key points to remember about the core value of humor:

  1. When all else fails, sometimes all you can do is laugh.
  • Laugh with your partner not at him.
  • A sense of humor will help sustain you through the rough times and make the good times even better.
  • You don’t have to be a comedian to appreciate the funny side of life.
  • People who laugh more, live more.

Independence

Healthy romantic relationships involve commitment from both partners who presumably enjoy each other’s company. Obviously, spending time with one another, learning, growing, and experiencing life as a couple, supports a fulfilling relationship. Yet despite the common interests we share and the desire to spend time together, we must also acknowledge our need for independence. Independence creates a sense of security. It helps us balance our desire to be in a relationship versus our need to be in one, concepts I discuss at length in Chapter II.

What does independence mean to each of us in our romantic relationships? For some, it means time alone to read, listen to music, or reflect upon our thoughts in solitude. For others, it involves a shopping spree with girlfriends or enjoying a guys’ fishing weekend. Independence does not necessarily imply solitude, so much as time away from our relationship, which begs the question: how can we maintain our independence and still be in a serious relationship when these choices appear contradictory? We can have one without the other, but we can’t remain independent and attached to a meaningful romance at the same time. Or can we?

To answer this question for yourself, reflect on your own need for independence. Some of us are fiercely independent; others not so much. I cook, clean, and do my own laundry. I pay my bills on time. I care for my children when they’re in my custody. So by all accounts, I consider myself independent. That said, I enjoy a woman’s company. I also appreciate, respect, and enjoy the value of a meaningful and lasting romance. Like most things in life, I strive for a balance between my need for independence—which involves a lot of time to write, exercise, and enjoy a variety of hobbies—and my desire for a healthy relationship, which involves chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. For me, the need for independence and togetherness fit less of a mutually exclusive model and more of a Yin/Yang paradigm where the two halves intertwine. I prefer regular, consistent time alone in modest doses rather than long bouts of solitude away from my partner. I also try to communicate this up front. My need to spend time alone doesn’t mean I don’t value my romantic relationship. On the contrary, my time alone helps me recharge my senses, clear my head, and maintain a positive perspective on life—all of which helps make me a better person, a better friend, and a better partner overall.

I encourage you to look inward and ask yourself how you define your independence. What are some things you need time to do for yourself? And when? And how often? There are no right or wrong answers here, only truth. Strive for a balance in your romantic relationship. Whether you’re inclined to need more or less independence, make sure you communicate this need to your partner.

For those of us who require lots of independence, be careful about spending too little time with your partner. People who make themselves unavailable physically and/or emotionally, risk serious, and sometimes irreparable harm to their relationship. A meaningful and lasting romance implies physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual togetherness—not two people leading completely separate lives. Then again, some people in healthy romantic relationships prefer lots of time apart because for them it simply works.

The polar opposites of those who require lots of independence, are those who require almost none. Those without a sense of independence crave constant reassurance. In my experience, individuals who lack a sense of independence have not learned how to enjoy spending time alone. They also tend to expend energy doing things to please other people instead of trying to please themselves.

According to a February 2011 USA Today article, which cited a national survey of more than five thousand single men and women across age groups from twenty-one to over sixty-five, women want more independence than men in their relationships. According to the national survey, touted as the largest and most comprehensive study of single adults to date, seventy-seven percent of women stated having their personal space was “very important” compared to fifty-eight percent for men. I don’t pretend to understand all the reasons behind these figures, but it’s interesting to note how the women in this survey appear to crave their independence more than men. Perhaps women tend to socialize more than men with visits to their favorite spa, shopping destinations, nail salons, or just hanging out on the beach with friends. Apparently, modern men require less independence. Or perhaps guys simply need to find more things to do.

Independence doesn’t exclusively apply to a physical separation of partners. In other words, you can still spend time together and maintain some independence at the same time. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and express your thoughts or concerns. You are who you are, a unique individual capable of making your own decisions and enjoying your own interests, whether or not they coincide with your partner’s. If you don’t like red meat, don’t let your partner convince you to eat it. If you don’t like horror movies, speak up and suggest an alternative. Perhaps your definition of independence includes pumping your own gas, carrying your own groceries to the car, making your own decisions about when and where to eat out. Regardless of how you define your need for independence, make it clear, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes there’s a fine line between independent and stubborn—or independent and confrontational. Having everything your way all the time won’t work well either.

Some key points to remember about the core value of independence include:

  1. Look inward and define your own need for independence. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not, you may jeopardize the success of your existing or future romantic relationships.
  • Strive for a balance between together time and time alone. Recognize that your need for independence might vary.
  • There will always be activities you enjoy sharing with your partner and those you prefer to enjoy alone. Embrace your differences; don’t reject them.
  • In a budding romantic relationship, communicate your expectations early on. If your expectations are grossly out of line with your partner’s—e.g., one of you requires significantly more alone time than the other—then you might have an issue to address.
  • Don’t give up your independence. Be yourself. Hold onto the things you believe in and the ideals you value in your life.

Accountability

With everything we do in life, we are accountable to someone; to the bank that holds our car note; to our boss at work; to our children who look to us for guidance and support; to our friends, our family, and our significant others; to ourselves; and for some of us, to God. But what does accountability really mean? For starters, it begins with honesty. Accountability is closely coupled with the trust people place in us. Accountability also means learning to say we’re sorry and taking responsibility for our actions; learning to accept the blame when our deeds cause harm to others.

The law holds us accountable if we defy the formal statutes governing acceptable behavior in our society. Employers hold us accountable for our productivity and our behavior in the work place. Our romantic partners hold us accountable for our words and actions in our relationships. But what about ourselves? Shouldn’t we hold ourselves accountable for our own actions? Absolutely!

Then why is it so easy to be accountable in various facets of our lives and then jettison this notion the instant we’re in a romantic relationship that doesn’t work? I’m talking about guys who say they’ll call and then never do. I’m also talking about women who argue they are tired of the dating games while they continue to perpetuate the same dating games themselves.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” In other words, it’s always easy to blame others for mistakes—and hard to look inward, to self-reflect on our own bad habits and occasionally inappropriate behaviors. I’m not proposing everyone should overanalyze every relationship they’ve ever been in, but I feel it’s important to understand where we’ve been before we forge ahead and try to figure out where we’re going. Only after we’ve spent time reflecting on our virtues and our flaws, can we begin to apply these lessons learned to our romantic relationships.

Accountability makes us vulnerable by exposing our flaws and forcing us to see things for what they really are. In the words of the late Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “He who gains a victory over other men is strong; but he who gains a victory over himself is all-powerful.” We gain victory over ourselves by being accountable for our actions.

If you’re serious about wanting to engage in a meaningful and lasting romance, or if you’re already involved in one, be open and honest. Don’t step out on your responsibilities. Step up and do the right thing. Look inward and identify the things that bother you or cause discomfort in your relationship. If you’re lucky enough to be perfectly happy twenty-four-seven and content with every aspect of your life, I applaud you. For those of us who live in the real world, it’s never a bad idea to examine ourselves and make small course corrections, especially if we’re not content with certain aspects of our lives. Or as Joyce Meyer lectures, “You can suffer the pain of change or suffer remaining the way you are.” Change isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Ditto for accountability, which can, at times, force us to modify our behavior patterns and come to terms with our shortcomings.

Some key points to remember about the core value of accountability:

  1. Be cognizant of the way you treat people.
  • If you don’t like what you see inside yourself, work to make a change for the better.
  • Accountability should be something we strive for, not something we hide from.
  • It’s better to become accountable than pass the blame.
  • Accountability allows for positive change in ourselves and in our romantic relationships.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 1.1

Before we delve into the 4Cs, let’s take a moment to review some core values required to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. Specific core values and their significance will vary slightly from person to person, as no two people are exactly alike. But the core values I present in this chapter describe an essential set of values most people share in common.

Think of a house, where the 4Cs represent four sturdy walls with a roof built to hurricane specifications. The protection the house affords is only as good as the strength of the walls and roof, assuming the structure was built on a solid foundation. But what if the foundation were faulty from weak concrete or a massive sink hole waiting to collapse? No matter how strong the walls and roof, the weak foundation would jeopardize the entire structure. Perhaps not an immediate threat, but one destined to occur as the weight of our shelter, and the forces imposed upon it, continue to bear down.

Now step outside this metaphorical box for a moment and imagine how the same logic might apply to a romantic relationship built upon a flimsy foundation or perhaps no foundation at all. Often, the absence of core values, or a lack of commitment to them, prevents us from building a romantic relationship on solid ground.

This chapter defines ten core values and their significance to a meaningful and lasting romance. The following common sense values represent basic morals we should strive to achieve for ourselves and our romantic relationships:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Reassurance
  • Humor
  • Independence
  • Accountability
  • Self discipline
  • Appreciation
  • Forgiveness

Trust

Without exception, trust signifies the most important core value. Without trust, we have nothing. Trust speaks to the essence of who we are and how we interact with one another on a daily basis. Trust determines how far we are willing to extend ourselves to others. Trust within ourselves also feeds our self-esteem.

Different levels of trust persist throughout our lives. Would you trust a stranger you just met at a bar? Or someone you bumped into at the library? How about a friend of a friend you met at the grocery store? Do you know many people you would trust with your life? Do you trust your boyfriend? Your girlfriend? Your spouse?

Any relationship, romantic or not, will eventually dissolve without trust. Trust exists not only as a sort of virtual adhesive to bind us together, but as a living umbilical cord of sorts, exchanging emotional nutrients between individuals in a meaningful and lasting romance. Trust can’t be bought or bartered. It must be earned.

Growing up, we are taught to trust adults in uniform (police officers, firefighters, doctors, etc.). We are also taught to never trust strangers. But as we grow older and wiser about the realities of life, we quickly develop our own notions of whom we feel we can trust and how far we are willing to extend our trust to those with honorable qualities. For the most part, we build trust through reliability and authenticity. Trust also implies we meet our commitments, uphold our promises, and hold ourselves accountable for our own actions. Robert E. Lee said, “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Ronald Reagan’s philosophy involved, “Trust, but verify.” And Scottish author George MacDonald wrote, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”

For many of us, trust remains a pervasive topic in our daily lives. Think about your own view on trust for a moment and the levels of trust you extend to various people in your life.

Do you trust yourself in challenging situations at work?

Do you trust the news?

Do you trust your government?

Do you trust your hairdresser?

Do you trust your mechanic?

Do you trust your bank?

Do you trust your child’s teacher?

Do you trust the stock market?

Do you trust your spouse?

Do you trust in God?

When we apply the concept of trust to romantic relationships, we impose a variable degree of trust in the opposite sex. I call this our trust continuum. At one extreme of this continuum we take the position of trusting no one. Ever. To the point where our lack of trust impacts our ability to communicate effectively. At the opposite end of the spectrum, we trust everyone we meet, doling out our name and number with a wink that says, “Call me anytime.” Neither extreme on our trust continuum is ideal. For most of us, the position along our own trust continuum lies somewhere in the middle, perhaps slightly skewed toward one end or the other.

The position along a given trust continuum can vary from person to person, as well as from one circumstance to another. A morning meet-and-greet for coffee with a new romantic interest requires a low degree of trust, where the worst thing that could happen is your date never shows. Contrast this scenario to a first date with a man who picks you up at your house and takes you to dinner in his car. Perhaps you met him online and enjoyed a few friendly conversations or text messages. You might even know his last name and have already run it through the registered sex offenders list or vetted it through an online background check—none of which tells you much about this person’s level of trustworthiness—just whether or not they’ve been caught. In the end, the onus falls on you to decide the level of trust you’re willing to extend or not.

Some people are more trusting than others. For many, trust takes longer to earn, especially for those who’ve been hurt too many times before. Once trust is broken, it can be very hard to get it back. An obvious statement, perhaps, but one often unappreciated. Fortunately, trust can be earned over time through open and honest communication, a topic addressed at length in Chapter IV. For now, let’s review some key points about the core value of trust:

  1. Trust your own instincts. They’re almost always right.
  • If you trust your partner, don’t waffle from one extreme to the other along your trust continuum. If you trust your partner more one minute and less the next, you’ll send mixed signals.
  • Recognize that some people incur more emotional scars than others from past relationships, and thus, their willingness to trust may not be on par with yours. Be patient with trust issues. For some folks, it takes longer than others to build trust in a new relationship.
  • Be careful with people who trust too willingly. Tread lightly with their emotions and don’t mistake their generous demeanor for someone who hasn’t been hurt before. Sometimes still waters run deep.
  • If you feel like you can’t trust someone because your intuition keeps telling you there’s something off about him or her, then move on. It’s a big world out there and just a matter of time before you cross paths with someone more compatible.
  • Don’t let one bad experience destroy your trust in the opposite sex. Confrontations with untrustworthy people might slide us toward the ultra-conservative end of our trust continuum, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to trust again—or falsely assume all members of the opposite sex are untrustworthy.
  • Remember, trust goes both ways. If you want people to trust you, you have to trust yourself and exhibit the essential qualities of a trustworthy person—honesty, integrity, compassion, and decisiveness, to name a few.

Respect

Albert Einstein said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

Although I lack Einstein’s intellectual capacity by a huge margin, I share his philosophy on respect. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the importance of respect, which goes hand in hand with trust. You wouldn’t trust someone you don’t respect. And you wouldn’t respect someone you don’t trust. This applies to ourselves as well as our relationships, where the concept of mutual respect plays an integral part in a healthy romantic relationship.

In many ways, respect, like trust, is earned. How you verbally communicate, how you dress, and how you conduct yourself in public as well as private situations, and especially how you treat others, will conspire to help you gain or lose respect. If you view yourself in an optimistic light and treat others in a manner you wish others to treat you, respect will follow.

In a healthy romantic relationship, we give and receive respect. We give respect as a result of truthful actions conducted by others. We receive respect as a result of our own trustworthy actions applied toward others. Each of us has a need to feel valued and encouraged. While this level of need will vary from person to person, we all share a need for respect. Often, we fill this need through words of encouragement, setting boundaries of acceptable behavior, and keeping our promises. Anyone who’s ever been stood up on a date, particularly a first date, can relate to how easy it is to lose respect for someone. The same goes for a promised phone call that never happens.

If you find you can’t respect someone, then they aren’t the right person for you. If someone doesn’t respect you for who you are as an individual with your own needs, desires, hopes, and dreams, then move on. Respect holds tremendous value in intimate relations, where many of us feel emotionally vulnerable. We don’t have to agree with every one of our partner’s opinions or beliefs, but we should be willing to respect them. People seldom see eye to eye on every issue in their relationship, and that’s okay as long as both partners share a mutual respect for one another and their relationship. Respect not only helps establish a more personal connection, it also helps build a longer-term relationship. As author William Ury wrote, “Respect is the key that opens the door to the other’s mind and heart.”

Some key points to remember about the core value of respect:

  1. In the words of Confucius, “Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
  • Respect is earned.
  • If we lose respect in our partner’s eyes, we might not get it back.
  • We should share our opinions but not impose them.
  • Respect for our partner’s differences and personal boundaries goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy romantic relationship.
  • Those who give respect tend to get respect in return.
  • Respect builds trust.

Honesty

When I think of trust, respect, and honesty, I think about the charismatic Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior and his unwavering commitment to black civil rights. A leader revered by millions, Dr. King once proclaimed, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Growing up, we’re taught the difference between right and wrong. For the most part, our parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and other authority figures promoted the basic concept of right and wrong. To steal is bad. To love is good. To lie is bad. To tell the truth is good. To misbehave is bad. To be polite and respect your elders is good.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way as we get older, things start to get a little fuzzy. We still maintain the distinction between right and wrong, but we start to exercise “white lies” or “half truths” more often. Unlike blatant lies, the white lies don’t hold the same stigma. We hear a few. We tell a few. Sooner than later, we convince ourselves a little white lie is not such a big deal. After all, everyone does it. You tell your friends you don’t want to go out because you’re too tired when in reality you simply aren’t in the mood. Rather than tell the truth, you sell a story. Your boyfriend asks if you like his new shirt, and you tell him it’s nice. In reality, it’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen and you’re embarrassed to step out with him in public.

At times, there’s a fine line between lying and withholding information, the former implying a blatant falsehood with the latter omitting certain details without overt dishonesty. Maybe you’re too tired to go out, but instead of voicing your opinion on the matter, you dodge the subject altogether and pretend to ignore the discussion by delving into another text message. In the new shirt example, an alternative response might include, “I’m glad you found something you liked.” Your answer remains sincere and honest, while the underlying truth you feel about the shirt remains hidden. Many times, we find these half truth examples benign. After all, we aren’t hurting anyone’s feelings, and we tell ourselves we’re simply making the decision not to share more information than required. We aren’t lying, we just aren’t revealing the big picture.

In our relationships, small white lies, and at times even the perception of a trite falsehood, can generate negative feelings over time. Any lie, small or not, tends to snowball. Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” There’s a lot of truth to that statement, no pun intended. The truth can be awkward and uncomfortable at times, but it forms the bedrock of any lasting romantic relationship. Obviously, blatant lies have no place in a relationship, but white lies can be detrimental as well. There will always be circumstances when we would rather withhold our sincere opinion than risk hurting someone’s feelings. In these situations, a little tact goes a long way.

***

Guys, your girlfriend doesn’t have a weight problem. She has a healthy figure. Her dress doesn’t make her look plump. It accentuates her curves. Note the fine line between lying and sharing an alternative viewpoint.

***

Honesty should always be something we strive for in our relationships, not something we shy away from. As with trust and respect, honesty should start with ourselves. Be honest about your feelings. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the hard questions. Is he really the right one for me, or am I just feeling lonely? Am I with her because I like her for the wonderful woman she is and all the genuine qualities she owns, or because I’m hoping to get lucky tonight?

Are you in your relationship because you want to share your time with someone special or because you’re simply trying to fill a void in your life with the first person who comes along?

Young children tend to be the most honest people of all. Their innocence untainted by faulty gestures from adults with poor judgment and ulterior motives, children see people for who they are—good, bad, or indifferent, which brings a funny story to mind.

Several years back when my twin boys were about three years old, their mother and I liked to take them to the beach and collect sea shells. One particularly gorgeous Florida morning, we strolled past a crusty old fisherman with his Styrofoam drink cooler and a pair of Cabela’s fishing rods cast to the Atlantic—a typical scene we’d observed many times before, except this time, the tattooed fisherman had one good leg and one joined above the ankle to an antiquated prosthesis shaped like a pogo stick. Our twin boys, barely taller than the man’s knee, took notice immediately and walked up to the gruff-looking stranger. Dressed in identical clothes and shoes, our boys stood side-by-side, almost hand-in-hand as they were prone to do at that age. Their mother looked at me with a glint of apprehension in her eyes, her anxiety mirrored in my expression while both of us anticipated the candid comment our sons would utter to the salty fisherman with a stick for a leg.

When the man turned around, our boys stared at him unflinching and bent their heads sideways in unison like a pair of Muppets controlled by a puppeteer, captivated by the prosthetic device. Neither boy mumbled a word, opting instead to smile at the man’s irregularity before staring up at the stranger who looked down at them and said, “Pretty neat, huh?”

Our boys nodded simultaneously and kept walking. Their honest reaction from a natural curiosity spoke volumes to the kind-hearted man who acknowledged their bewilderment with an honest reply of his own. My point is, honesty should be the default setting. Unfortunately, for many of us, deceitful acts propagated by former partners with low self-esteem or a specious moral compass can tempt us to avoid honest communication. But if you want to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance, you have to fight the temptation to skew the truth and be honest with yourself and your partner. And while honesty can be uncomfortable at times, it creates a healthy environment necessary for a romantic relationship to grow. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Make honesty your California redwood—a deeply-rooted, unshakeable evergreen others look up to in awe.

Some key points to remember about the core value of honesty:

  1. Not only is honesty the best policy, it should be the only policy.
  • Pretending to be truthful while dispensing white lies is like saying you’re a little pregnant.
  • Better to face the truth and live with the consequences than perpetuate dishonesty in your romantic relationship.
  • Honesty represents the yardstick from which we measure our integrity.
  • If you can’t be honest with yourself, you won’t be honest in your romantic relationship.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Introduction

Emotions

May thoughts await in dreams untold

Along a stretch of lonely road

A barefoot stroll on powdered sand

Side by side, hand in hand

While stars align in open sky

And spirits soar where angels fly

As sunlight shines from heaven’s gate

To warm the hearts of those who wait

On whispers in a mild breeze

Or gentle stir of autumn leaves

For what was lost can now be found

When love and happiness abound

—J.M.

Introduction

After more than eighteen years of writing suspense novels, what on earth compelled me to write a book about romance?

The easy answer derives from the positive feedback I received with my June 29, 2011 eZine’s article, The Four ‘Cs’ to a Meaningful and Lasting Romance. Encouraged by a receptive audience, I decided to expand upon my initial concept and amplify my thoughts on romantic relationships. The more complicated answer stems from my need to understand why intelligent, attractive, and caring individuals entangle themselves with the wrong romantic partners while more compatible ones slip away.

Since the Gutenberg era, famous poets, playwrights, and illustrious authors have penned countless words on love and romance. In contemporary times, psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage counselors, therapists, ministers, and motivational speakers alike, have written volumes on relationship issues. Numerous authors, many of whom I reference in this book, provide valuable insight on romantic relationships from a sharp academic focus; some through a more anecdotal lens. Other authors steep themselves in psychobabble or promote ideas void of substance, promulgating the same song, different verse to either knowingly or unwittingly evade the answer to the question, “What does it take to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance?”

After almost ten years of marriage and nearly twice as many years in the dating pool, I’ve often asked myself why a flourishing romantic relationship should end without considering that perhaps it never really began. As a systems engineer for almost two decades of my adult life, I’ve learned to apply logic, reason, and common sense to a range of complex problems. As an author and a hopeless romantic, I’ve learned the answer to my question on romance exists somewhere between logic and emotion. Certainly romance can, and often does, persist without reason or logic, but I propose the absence of rational thinking and objectivity diminishes a romantic relationship’s capacity for meaning and longevity. Sometimes we focus too objectively on love and the pursuit of happiness with someone we covet, only later to discover a more subjective definition of our own happiness and how we define our personal needs and desires. When everything clicks, love is grand. When it doesn’t, we’re often stuck in a parody of thermodynamic law, where:

  1. You can’t win
  • You can’t break even
  • You can’t get out of the game

Bruce Lee, the legendary martial artist, philosophy student, and author of Tao of Jeet Kune Do, wrote, “Relationship is understanding. It is a process of self-revelation. Relationship is the mirror in which you discover yourself—to be is to be related.”

Lee’s notion of understanding and self-revelation goes deeper than the pages of a manual on fighting techniques and strategy. His words speak to the essence of relationships and how we must first examine ourselves to understand who we are as individuals before we strive to understand who we are as one half of a desirable union. In line with Lee’s philosophy, a T’ai Chi instructor I learned from years ago sternly proffered the following advice: “See things for what they are; not for what you want them to be.”

At barely twenty years old, I acknowledged my instructor’s counsel within a sparring context, more applicable to the way one might attack or defend rather than how to approach a romantic relationship. Over the years, my instructor’s words took on a different meaning, one more applicable to me in a broader sense, beyond the scope of how to manage an opponent.

As adults engaged in life and love, we can want what we want, but in the end, we often get what we get, which sort of speaks to the concept behind the adage life’s not always fair. The notion of learning to see things for what they are and not for what we want them to be is important to understand. Often, we see what we want to see—in ourselves and in other individuals we attempt to engage in romantic relationships with—only to ignore the way things really are. Good or bad.

Socrates said, “Know thyself.” A simple truth, perhaps, but one often overlooked when we pursue a romantic relationship. In other words, if we don’t take a good look at ourselves and try to understand who we are as individuals with personal needs and desires, then how can we hope to successfully navigate a meaningful and lasting romance? Or to put it another way, if you don’t know what you want, how will you know when you find it?

Learning to see things for what they are and not for what you want them to be doesn’t mean you have to like the way things are. It means accepting the way things are in your real life world and not living in a cloud of false perception—an important philosophy for building any successful relationship, especially a romantic relationship forged by reason and passion. To articulate the significance of this concept, I devote the initial chapters of this book to defining what I call our core values and the distinction between our needs and our desires. These introductory chapters provide a common foundation upon which our romantic relationships should be built. A deeper understanding of our core values, needs, and desires also satisfies a prerequisite to defining the 4Cs and their pivotal role in a meaningful and lasting romance. My former eZine’s paper drew an apt analogy between the 4Cs I explore in later chapters of this book and the 4Cs used to measure a diamond’s worth. Stay with me for a moment, and I’ll illustrate an intriguing comparison between the two.

Diamonds have been called a girl’s best friend—a consistent theme for generations of single and married women captivated by these brilliant gemstones. To accentuate the allure of diamond jewelry requires a proportionate combination of color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. Color and carat weight define prominent features of any diamond, but no woman dreams of a large yellow stone or a colorless rock the size of a gnat’s head. This explains why we introduce a superior cut and clarity to enhance a diamond’s quality, and in turn, its value in the marketplace. A large, nearly colorless and perfectly cut diamond with little to no imperfections will dazzle you with its brilliant shimmer. The challenge is not to measure well in just one, two, or three aspects of a diamond’s quality, but to exemplify all four. Only the rarest of diamonds receive the moniker of perfection and command the highest price. The most prolific gems, however, strike a balance between color, cut, clarity, and carat weight.

Just as no two diamonds share exactly the same characteristics, no two romantic relationships are precisely alike. Obviously our romantic relationships are not defined by color, cut, clarity, and carat weight. But much like quality diamond jewelry, thriving romantic relationships signify love, romance, and commitment. Unlike diamonds, which take billions of years to form, our romantic relationships require significantly less time and effort to evolve. Moreover, we have the ability to enhance our romantic relationships by understanding and applying the 4Cs to a meaningful and lasting romance.

But before I introduce the 4Cs, let’s touch on meaningful and lasting for a moment. After all, what good is a lasting relationship if we find ourselves in limbo between happy and miserable? And what value does a meaningful relationship afford us if it fizzles in short order to leave us lonely and unfulfilled?

The concept of a lasting romance implies loyalty and dedication but doesn’t guarantee meaningful any more than a meaningful romance can guarantee longevity. Meaningful and lasting should not be mutually exclusive in our romantic relationships—but should complement one other.

After nearly a decade of marriage and more unsuccessful relationships than I care to admit; after years of candid dialogue with women I’ve befriended; after years of observing behaviors from both healthy and dysfunctional relationships; and through volumes of academic knowledge gleaned from credible research literature, I’ve identified the 4Cs associated with every meaningful and lasting romance—namely chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment. At face value, they seem obvious. Yet so often we fail to recognize their existence or worse, choose to ignore them. Love persists in healthy romantic relationships, but at times, all 4Cs do not. Romantic love stirs the soul and sparks a passion between a man and woman, but a meaningful and lasting romance cannot endure without chemistry, communication, compromise, and commitment.

This book will encourage you to explore your innermost needs and desires while also prompting you to ask yourself some tough questions. Though it’s written from a male perspective, I’ve done my best to respect and admire both gender viewpoints within heterosexual relationships. Although I feel that most, if not all, of the concepts explored in the following chapters apply equally as well to homosexual relationships, my lack of knowledge and understanding about the subtle nuances of homosexual couples confines my writing to romantic male-female relations exclusively.

We all exist as human beings with fundamental needs, desires, and capacities for love. Whether you are eighteen or eighty; whether you are currently involved in a long-term relationship or still hoping to find “the one,” this book will help you gain a better understanding of yourself and how to build and maintain a more fulfilling romantic relationship.

In the words of Deepak Chopra, “Relationships that begin in passion’s raging fire, often end in the coldest ashes.” I would add, romantic relationships bounded only by passion, in the absence of logic and reason, will not sustain. This underscores my philosophy on the 4Cs required to achieve a meaningful and lasting romance. For passion alone, in the absence of good communication skills, a willingness to compromise, and a need for commitment, cannot achieve a meaningful and lasting romance.

This book explores each of the 4Cs in more detail in an effort to address some longstanding, and often elusive questions, including:

  • What are core values, and why are they significant to a meaningful and lasting romantic relationship?
  • What are some fundamental needs and desires we all share in common, and why are these so important?
  • Why do some romantic relationships look so easy while others become the poster child for dysfunctional behavior?
  • Why do some romantic relationships begin with a flurry of passion and end abruptly, while others start slowly and diminish over time?
  • Are romance and sex mutually exclusive, and what does it take to shine in both?
  • How does new technology help and hinder our romantic relationships?
  • Is online dating just a digital meat market, or could our soulmates exist in cyberspace?
  • How can we handle some of the most daunting compromises romantic relationships face?
  • Why do we fear commitment, and what can we do to build commitment in our romantic relationships?

This book makes no claim to reveal all the secrets of a meaningful and lasting romance, but it does offer new insights on critical relationship needs, reminds you of ones you might have forgotten, and explores timely issues romantic couples often face. In many ways, experience remains the best teacher. And I truly feel my personal experiences with romantic relationships are not unique to me, but prevalent across a sizeable population of romantic couples.

What follows is not a lecture on romantic ideologies or a self-help guide cloaked in evangelistic tongue, but rather, a fresh, candid perspective on what it takes to make a romantic relationship work. When you reach the end of this book, you will have a better understanding of your personal needs and desires, a renewed sense of self, and the vigor to embrace a meaningful and lasting romance.

I hope you enjoy reading The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. I can’t promise this book will change your love life forever, but I believe, in many ways, the principles contained herein have made a positive and lasting impression on mine.

Music City Madness: Chapter 88

Melissa glanced out her tinted bus window at the early morning traffic moving south along I-95 toward Melbourne, Florida. Alone with her boys and a driver who took kindly to kids, she noticed the familiar landmarks from the zoo to the Suntree Country Club along the Wickham Road exit heading east from the interstate, past the Maxwell King Center, toward Wickham Park. Years ago, she’d played the same location as a warm-up act for Vince Gill. She’d learned how to pace herself on stage, absorbing pearls of wisdom from accomplished singers and musicians willing to impart their knowledge for the sake of improving their craft. Eventually, her own musicians disbanded as competition escalated among major record labels vying for the strongest talent. Now, thanks to Sid, she found herself attached to an A-list team of professional musicians and seasoned crew members willing to endure the daily grind of back-to-back shows under less than ideal conditions.
She checked on her boys to find them snoozing in their racks when the bus entered the sprawling outdoor venue across from the community college.
“Where is everyone?” Melissa asked her driver.
“Don’t know,” the driver answered while several crew members offloaded equipment from a cargo van. “They must have got a late start.”
Melissa felt the bus shimmy and jerk during slow speed maneuvers within the reserved parking area until it settled in its designated space. She stepped out to find Sid near a black limousine, in a pair of light blue golf shorts and a red Arnold Palmer shirt. “What are you doing here?” she asked, surprised by the unexpected visitor.
“I heard there’s going to be a great show tonight.”
“We deliver a great show every night. Why are you really here?”
“I wanted to tell you in person. Wharton Brothers decided to exercise an early termination clause. Translation…”
“I know what it means,” Melissa acknowledged. “My tour ends here. And so does my career. Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Good news travels fast. Bad news travels faster. What about my band?”
“They’ll find work. Brad Siegel has other gigs lined up for them.”
“I should have known he was involved in this.”
“I tried to renegotiate,” Sid explained.
“I get it. What about my new album?”
“You’ll finish it. Just not with Wharton Brothers.”
“What about my duet?”
“I’m still working on it.”
Melissa followed Sid toward the main stage area, where crew members assembled racks of lighting gear. “How long have you known?”
“I got the call the other night. I booked a plane to Melbourne so I could tell you in person. Where are your boys?”
“Still snoozing on the bus.” Melissa strolled toward a patch of shade. “This life’s not for me anymore. The boys took to it at first. Then the novelty wore off. They miss their home and their friends and Tomás.”
“Tomás misses you.”
“Brad Siegel’s a prick,” Melissa vented. “And useless as a screen door on a submarine. I want a label who believes in me. A lot of women succeeded way beyond their prime. Bette Midler. Barbara Streisand. Cher. Celine Dion.”
“Technically, Celine is younger than you.”
Melissa gave Sid a heated glance. “Not funny.” She followed him to a row of folding chairs near the stage. “Where’s my band? I haven’t seen them since we left Atlanta yesterday.”
“They’re around.”
“Their bus wasn’t in the parking lot. They better not be camped out in Cocoa Beach. We have a lot of work to do.”
“Relax. Let life come to you for a change.”
“This from the man who traveled eight hundred miles to tell me I’m fired.”
Sid grinned. “If you could have one wish, what would it be?”
“Anything?”
“Anything…”
Melissa contemplated the question. “A better agent.” She touched Sid’s arm and chuckled. “I’m kidding.” She looked at the stage prepped with drums, guitars, and a microphone stand. “What would you wish for?”
“A new client,” Sid pushed back.
“Then I guess we’ll both be disappointed.” Melissa followed him to a pair of folding chairs near center stage with RESERVED signs hanging off the back. “What are you doing?” she asked when Sid claimed a seat.
“I’m tired of walking.”
“You just got out of your limo.”
Sid tapped the chair beside him. “Flatter me.”
“What is this?”
“A surprise.”
Melissa remained standing with her hands on her hips. “You know I hate surprises.”
“Everyone always says they hate surprises, but people love them.”
“I’m not most people,” Melissa professed as she noticed her band members appear one-by-one on stage with Leland. She looked at Sid, then back at Leland. A moment later, she heard the bass drum pounding in rhythm with her elevated pulse. Her lead guitarist played edgy, up-tempo power chords while the bass guitar added a vibrant, southern-rock melody. The music pumped through her like the blood in her veins as Leland approached the microphone stand.


Leland admired the gathering crowd and signaled the band to take the volume down a notch. He slipped his arm through the strap on a white Stratocaster and spoke in a confident voice projected through a stack of Marshall amplifiers. “I have so much in my life. More than any man could ask for. More than I deserve. But I can’t stand the thought of living one more day without you, Melissa Hamilton. You mean the world to me. I wrote this one for you. I hope you like it.” He signaled the band to bring the music full force. Then he started to sing…

I believe in heav-en
And a life up above
I believe in des-tiny (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
And the value of love

I believe in freedom
And the power to choose
I believe in emp-athy (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
And a life without rules

(guitar transition; new chord progression; uptick in tempo)

We all go astray, but that doesn’t change who we are (drum crescendo)
You are a-m-a-zing!
Like the sun that warms the earth, you warm my heart
You are everything a man could want and more…

(Slow tempo, edgy southern-rock power chords on guitar)

I believe in karma
And the lessons I’ve learned
I believe in hon-esty (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
When the tables are turned

I believe in valor
And help from above
I believe in des-tiny (hit big symbol hard for emphasis)
And the strength of our love

(guitar transition; new chord progression; uptick in tempo)

We all go astray, but that doesn’t keep us apart (drum crescendo)
You are a-m-a-zing!
In everything you do
Like the faithful who believe in mir-a-cles…

(pause music, vocals only for next line)

I believe in you…

(Continue with slow tempo, edgy southern-rock power chords on guitar)

I believe in you…
I believe…in you…

(music fades)
Melissa ran to the stage amid a cacophony of cheers. Her eyes teared as Leland helped her up. She wrapped her arms around him and whispered in his ear, “I believe in you too.”
Leland lifted her feet off the ground. He pointed at Abby in the flash mob audience and gave her a big thumbs up. “What do you think?” he asked Melissa.
Melissa raised a fist at her band. Then she relaxed her arm and waved at her boys in the crowd. “My boys are fakers!”
“They were all for it.”
“What kind of name is Peter Blankenbaum, anyhow?” she razzed him.
“Irish-German.”
Melissa laughed, her spirits high on love. “I had a dream about Elvis the other day. He was in his seventies, and I swear he sat right next to me on the plane. It all seemed so real.”
Leland marveled at her candid jubilation. “Stranger things have happened…”

THE END

Music City Madness: Chapter 85

Leland waited inside a construction trailer with his tool belt around his waist. The smell of burned coffee and cigarettes permeated the portable office wallpapered with building plans and a motorcycle calendar advertising topless women on custom bikes.
He acknowledged the foreman, who entered in his orange safety vest and yellow hard hat with a pair of leather work gloves and a dented Stanley thermos. “You wanted to see me?”
The foreman set the metal thermos on a file cabinet and unlocked the top drawer to retrieve a thin stack of envelopes. He parsed through the first few names before he found the one he wanted. “This is yours,” he told Leland.
“My advance?”
“Severance.”
“For what? I just started this job.”
“We’re over budget. Last to hire, first to fire. You know the deal. Other guys have seniority.”
“Then put me on a different site.”
“Not my call.”
Leland tore open the envelope and scrutinized the dollar amount printed on the company draft. “This will barely fill my truck.”
“There’s FEMA work in the city.”
“It pays half.”
“More than you’re getting now.”
Leland followed the foreman outside the trailer and beat a path toward his truck. He unbuckled his tool belt and threw it across the seat. Then he climbed inside and contemplated his paltry earnings. With his rent in jeopardy and an empty refrigerator at home, he prayed for the daughter he sorely missed, for the woman he loved, and for the strength to press on. He prayed to endure what he knew was only temporary hardship; to look beyond the small setbacks and see the bigger plan.
He’d played more gigs on the honky-tonk circuit than he ever imagined he would. He’d also tasted his five minutes of fame and opened his heart to thousands of country music fans who’d listened to him perform, blissfully unaware of the pain that drove him to end his career.
He reached in his pocket when he heard his cell phone ring and noted Sid’s name on the flip phone’s display. “I left you three messages this morning.”
“I’ve been busy,” Sid replied over the phone.
“I just got shit-canned from a job I can’t afford to lose. If you’re calling to kick me when I’m down, get in line.”
“I wouldn’t worry so much anymore.”
“What about Abby?”
“That’s why I’m calling…”
“Did you talk to Paula’s lawyer? I think Martin Hamilton’s involved with her somehow.”
“I’m working on it.”
Leland moved the phone to his other ear. “I’m getting tired of the waiting game.”
“Let’s talk in person.”
“Where are you?”
“Look up.”
Leland checked his rear view mirror to see a black Escalade in his field of view. He climbed out of his truck to meet Sid in a swirl of dust and diesel from a convoy of heavy equipment. “What’s going on?”
Sid covered his mouth with his hand and pointed to the construction trailer. “Let’s talk inside.”
Leland followed him. “Is Abby okay?”
Sid entered the single-wide trailer on blocks and filled a paper cup from the water cooler. “She’s fine.”
“Where is she?”
“South Carolina. Myrtle Beach, to be exact.”
“What is she doing there?”
“She ran away from the home in Nashville.” Sid finished the water and crumpled the cup. “I just found out.”
“How did she—”
“She lifted a credit card from someone’s wallet and bought a bus ticket online. Melissa’s boys emailed her their location.”
Leland ran his hand through his hair. “Is she okay?”
“Melissa’s escorting her back to Nashville. Their flight lands this afternoon.”
“Then what happens?”
“You take her home.”
Leland scratched his head. “To her foster home?”
“No, Dummy. Your home. You’ll need to go downtown and sign some papers first. I’ll come with you.”
“What about Paula’s case against me?”
“Her lawyer withdrew the case. Paula’s returning to where she belongs. So is Abby.”
“How?”
“I made some calls.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“What if Paula tries to come after Abby again?”
“Paula needs long term care. By the time she’s ready to even think about mounting another case, Abby will be of age and no longer a minor, free to choose with whom she lives.”
“What about the test results? If I’m not her biological father—”
“You’re her father, Leland. DNA doesn’t change your commitment to your daughter. Paula’s agreed for you to maintain full custody. Her falsified abuse allegations have been dropped. Child services will want to talk with you to make sure everything’s above board at home and work.”
Leland hugged him. “I can’t thank you enough. But I need to find a new job.”
“I would focus on your music instead.”
“Music’s not exactly in my future anymore.”
“A few million people beg to differ. Your little stunt went viral. A Man Like Me has been blowing up the Internet. You’ve got three million hits on YouTube already. I have two major labels competing to sign you. Both are talking seven figures. Country Weekly wants an interview.” Sid smiled wryly. “You’re going to need a good agent.”
Leland choked on his words. “Are you serious?” Tears welled up in his eyes.
“Your time has come, Leland. Lord knows you’ve earned it.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“Believe it. You touched a lot of people that night. Before the concert, no one outside of Nashville, hell, no one in Nashville, knew the voice of Leland Presley. They do now.”

Music City Madness: Chapter 80

Melissa locked herself in her tour bus, physically depleted from the rigors of endless preparations and daily rehearsal schedules at the start of her East Coast festival tour. After struggling to reclaim her career, she finally found her stride, regardless of her looming regrets about selling the house to Martin and uprooting her boys from the only home they’d ever known. In her haste to end her relationship with Leland, she had candidly dismissed her own addiction issues and her self-centered views. Now she found herself alone on a custom coach with more accouterments than a five star hotel. She knew the demands of life on the road; how the lure of fame and fortune overshadowed any notion of an honest conversation about the unsettling monotony of the music business mired in poor judgment, bad taste, and chronic indulgence in illegal drugs. She had everything she wanted and more, with no one to blame but herself for feeling rejected at a time when she needed Leland the most.


Leland charged inside the Nashville recreation center to find Principal Hendrix engaged in conversation with a Davidson County Deputy. “Where’s my daughter?” he vented loud enough to draw the principal’s attention. “Abby’s supposed to be here.”
“Mr. Presley—”
“I want to see Abby now!”
Principal Hendrix maintained an aggressive stance with her large frame physically obstructing Leland’s path. “Mr. Presley—”
“Where is she?”
“Abby’s safe. Let’s go somewhere private and talk.”
A vein in Leland’s temple throbbed. “I’m not going anywhere without my daughter. Bring her out here now, or this is going to get ugly.”
Principal Hendrix waved off the deputy sheriff who took offense at Leland’s fighting words. “Mr. Presley, I’m on your side. I realize you’re frustrated. I promise you, Abby is safe.”
“It’s not her safety I’m concerned about.”
Leland followed Principal Hendrix inside a small equipment room. “Whatever it is you think you’re doing to protect my daughter, it’s not helping.”
“Mr. Presley, I’ve worked in education for more than thirty-five years, including most of my summers spent with youth programs like these. I’ve seen a lot in my tenure, and there are two things I know as certain truth: first, I don’t believe you pose any threat to Abby; and second, I wouldn’t be here if I thought otherwise.”
“I’m taking Abby home with me.”
“Right now that would do more harm than good.”
“I disagree!”
“You’re not hearing me, Mr. Presley. I’m on Abby’s side. She has issues, of which I am well aware, but abuse at home is not one of them.”
Leland drew a deep breath. “I’m not leaving here without her.”
“Child services has a court order granting the state temporary custody until a hearing can be held to determine—”
“This is wrong! They have no right.”
“They have the law.”
“No law gives them permission to come in here and threaten to take my daughter!”
“It’s not a perfect system.”
Leland lunged for the door when he saw Abby emerge with a sheriff’s deputy and a man in a tie with a government ID around his neck. “Abby!”
“Dad!” Abby screamed.
Leland approached the officer. “My daughter’s coming home with me.”
The officer reached for his taser gun. “Sir, I need you to step back.”
“You said no one would take me away!” Abby cried.
“I’m sorry,” Leland pleaded. “I’ll figure this out. I promise!” He followed Abby and the officer until Principal Hendrix intervened.
“Mr. Presley! You’re no good to your daughter in jail.”
“This isn’t right.”
“You’ll have your day in court.”
Leland stood helplessly as the men ushered Abby from the building to a government sedan outside. He wanted Paula in a straight jacket, and the judge who sided with her case, in jail.
“Go home, Mr. Presley. Meet with your lawyer. If there’s anything I can do to help, I will.”


Sid entered Leland’s house and followed the sound of acoustic guitar played at a heated tempo. “Leland?”
“In here,” he heard Leland call out.
Sid stepped around unpacked boxes and a curious orange tabby who jumped on a window sill for a glimpse at the squirrel festivities outside. “I’m sorry about what happened. I tried to get there before child services arrived.”
Leland stopped playing when Sid entered the room. “They took her away from me.”
“They had a court order.”
“How soon will I get her back?”
“I’m working on it.”
Leland picked at the guitar strings indifferently. “I feel empty inside.”
“You can’t blame yourself.”
“I blame my wife!”
“The burden of proof falls on her attorney. Their case is flimsy. I’ve already filed a motion to dismiss.”
“How long will that take?”
“Depends on the court’s schedule. Maybe ten, twelve weeks at most. But there’s no guarantee they’ll grant it.”
“I’m not waiting two months!” Leland set his guitar in the case. “There has to be something more you can do. This is my word against hers. There’s no way the courts would side with Paula. You know she’s lying.”
“Only if we can prove it.”
“You said the burden of proof was on her attorney.”
“And her attorney will make a strong argument that you’re not fit to be Abby’s father.”
“But I am her father.”
“Not biologically, which makes the situation more complicated.”
“Abby needs me.”
“She’ll be safe in the state’s care.”
“Bullshit! I’ve been in the state’s care.”
“We’ll get her back,” Sid assured him.
“How?”
“I’ll worry about that. You stay close to your phone.”


Leland reached for the bottle of bourbon stashed in the cabinet above the refrigerator. Behind him, the orange tabby sauntered from the hallway to Abby’s room and howled. “She’s not here,” he told the cat and unscrewed the cap. He took a swig and left the open bottle on the counter. He retrieved his guitar and played through a new chord sequence, hoping to find the words to match the music. But every string played sharp or flat, out of tune and out of touch with every melody he composed in his head. Instead of solace in his music, he found emptiness, an emotional void where fear transformed into sadness, sadness devolved into anger, and anger appealed to apathy.
He clenched the guitar neck in both hands and raised the prized possession above his head. Rage swelled within him until he slammed the vintage instrument to the floor, again and again, pounding the handmade Gibson into a pile of splintered wood and broken strings.