Developing The Master Relationship Plan

Edward A. Dreyfus. Ph.D.

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Now that we have debunked some of our favorite myths in the previous article Finding Someone Right for You; we're ready to move to the next step, developing a strategy. Most people become rather wary at this point. They believe that romance should just happen without any strategizing. I am a firm believer in letting nature take its course. However, I am also interested in empowering people to give nature a helping hand. There is nothing in this plan that is against romance.

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Developing a plan increases your likelihood of success. We develop plans and strategies for everything in life we succeed at, careers, a dinner party or wedding, performing surgery, buying a new or used car, planning our estate, designing a house, decorating an apartment, or going on a vacation. You name it. If we are successful, we have made a plan. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, when it comes to romance we prefer to rely on chance. Then we wonder why the divorce rate is so high. If our businesses or dinner parties had as high a failure rate, we surely would begin to analyze why and try to do something about it. Well, the same is true for romance.

Step One: What are you looking for?

Most of the time when I ask people what they are looking for in a mate they say something like, "Someone attractive, intelligent, and sensitive with a good sense of humor." They try to give the impression that they are not asking for much. However, on closer investigation I usually find that the list is much more extensive. So, in this step make a complete list of what you are looking for in a mate. Include those characteristics that are important for everyday living on a long-term basis.

We must distinguish between several categories of mate: roommate, playmate, friend, and permanent mate. Each of these has its own set of characteristics with some degree of overlap. Many people have not distinguished between the categories. Therefore they may be stating they want a permanent mate when, in reality, they are seeking a playmate. A permanent mate is some combination of roommate, friend, and playmate. Therefore, it might be wise for you to make up three lists of characteristics, one for each of these three types of mate. Once you have developed these lists, merge them. Some characteristics may be eliminated. Intelligence may, for example, be more important in a mate than a playmate; neatness is more important in a roommate than in a friend.

Step Two: Take a personal inventory.

Honesty is very important in this step. List all the characteristics that describe yourself. Pretend that you are describing yourself to someone else, what would you say? Once you have developed this list, ask three of your closest friends to develop a list describing you. Tell them to be brutally honest. Compare their list with your own. Then ask them to look at your list and tell you whether they agree with your self-assessment. (Now, if you chicken out at this point, how do you think you'll ever be honest enough to find someone truly matched to you?) If there is a discrepancy between how you see yourself and how your friends see you, then you have some work to do. Somehow you have to reconcile your self-perception with the perception of others.

Step Three: Separate fantasy from reality.

Most of us have images of ourselves that often are at odds with reality. We have an idea of who we would like to be and present the image to the world, rather than the reality. Sometimes we tell the story so often we tend to believe it ourselves.

When it comes to relationships, we cannot present the person we would like to be as if it were the person we actually are. This would never fly in business; it is called false advertising. Truth in advertising is very important in developing a relationship. That's why the above exercise with friends is so important. If you can't be honest with your friends, or don't think anyone knows you enough to answer your questions, look around more carefully. Pick people who will not intentionally hurt you, and ask them to make up a list.

We often deceive ourselves, as well as others. In this step you must assess what you say you want with the reality of who you are. Some people say they want an independent thinking, self-directed partner, who is successful at their own career. In reality they want a someone who will take care of them and be the Mom they never had. It is similar to the guy who goes to the horse riding stable and tells the person who rents horses he wants a frisky thoroughbred because he thinks of himself as a jockey. After he falls off a few times and has to walk back to the stable, he realizes he should have been with a gentle mare.

Step Four: Increase your opportunities.

Make a list of the type of activities you enjoy: biking, dancing, cooking, spiritual, self-help, yoga, art, horseback riding, etc. Begin to participate in those activities in an arena where both single men and women can be found. If you are interested in cooking, for example, find a cooking class that is likely to be attended by both men and women. By attending activities interest you, you are able to insure that you will have a good time, even if you do not meet someone who is of interest to you. Do not participate in activities where the end result determines whether you enjoy yourself. Do not waste your time going to places where the odds are stacked against you: meat (meet) markets, bars, dance clubs, large gatherings, etc., are not places to meet potential mates. Maximize your use of time.

Step Five: It pays to advertise.

Let all of your friends and relatives know you are seeking a mate. Make use of business associates. Everyone is a potential agent. Most people love the idea of helping someone find a mate. Tell them about yourself and specifically what you are looking for, so they can better represent you. Don't be bashful; be honest. Think of these people as you would a real estate agent. Tell them exactly what you are looking for so you can increase your likelihood of success. The more information they have, the better.

Make use of dating services, but check them out first. Make sure they are reputable. Get references. Do the types of people you are looking for participate? If you have a flair for writing, use the personals column, but again do some homework. Check the credibility of the magazine and quality of the ads. Do the types of people you are looking for advertise in the column?

If you think only losers use dating services or write personal ads--you're wrong. Lots of successful people who don't have time for "luck" use these services. Just make sure you pick high-quality services, and use your common sense about meeting someone who doesn't "feel" right. Talk to them anonymously over the phone for a while before agreeing to meet. Ask about their history--education, work/career, friendships, family, previous relationships, health, interests, etc. If any red flags come up, ask more questions. Listen carefully and see how they answer. If you don't get the right answers, tell them you'd like to think about them a bit more and will call back if you decide it might be right. Then, think about it. Give yourself some time. If they pressure you during any of this, cross them off the list. If you aren't entitled to this information before meeting, why meet?

Early Imprinting

The first relationship we observe is that of our parents. This forms a template deep in our unconscious that affects our choice in a mate. Our parents form a model of what relationships are like and what adult males and females are about. As such, these early imprints have a profound effect on our choices of mates and our expectations with respect to a relationship. If this early imprinting was positive, we are likely to have satisfying interpersonal relationships and a positive image of others.

However, if it was negative, it may well have the opposite effect. Sometimes the effect was so negative, even though we may not be aware of it, it can severely interfere with our interpersonal satisfaction. Repeated destructive relationships, co-dependence, and generally unhealthy relationships may ensue. In these cases, professional intervention may be necessary before you can proceed with some of the steps indicated above. If in doubt, seek the help of a qualified professional trained in relationship skills. Help is available--ask for what you need.

5/29/98

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Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.

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