20-Something Question: Great Partner or Great Love?

Q. If I feel like I might be compromising for the possibility of a great partner, is it worth giving up the possibility of a great “love”?

I met this awesome guy on the Internet and have been spending a lot of time together recently. He’s funny, so easy to talk to, always makes me smile like a fool, compliments me as a person really well in many ways, and genuinely wants and knows how to take care of me. I always feel so comfortable and relaxed with him and we can usually always talk each other down when we get worked up or angry.

However, it feels like there is something missing, something not quite right. I’m not head-over-heels in love and there isn’t that fiery intensity I have had with other relationships. But I don’t know if this is because of superficial things that don’t really matter. Or is this feeling something that could potentially matter a lot?

He’s not the most attractive guy, and, while our sex life is good, I don’t know how much I am actually attracted to him (if that makes sense). I know there is obviously a certain element of attraction that is important in a relationship, but is it really more important than the good things I’ve mentioned?

His family is also lower-class than mine and has been brought up very differently than I have and I am not sure how he and his family will be received by mine. My family is very important to me and, though they would probably be very sweet to him, I think they would always feel like I could do better. How much should that matter?

My parents are divorced and my mother still hasn’t remarried and is not currently dating. She’s had a few long-term relationships that eventually always dissolved because the guy wasn’t right. She has remarked that she has realized she always went for the same guys and was “barking up the wrong tree.” Now she says she just wants a partner.

She and I are very similar in many, many ways and her remarks about her own relationships frequently hit home for me. I feel like this boy could really make an excellent partner but am I too young to “compromise” (I hate using that term in relation to this great guy but there is an element of truth to this) and just look for a partner rather than a head-over-heels feeling?

I know the obvious answer is to give the relationship a try and see what happens, but I have the habit of letting relationships go longer than they really should, even when I know I should break things off and I don’t want to risk convincing myself that he is right when he really isn’t and possibly “wasting” years and years of my 20’s. The bottom line is: If I feel like I might be compromising for the possibility of a great partner, is it worth giving up the possibility of a great “love”?


A. Not so obvious. There is no better time to start learning to trust your gut. What you have described is an amazing friend and supporter. While you do want a friend in a partner…you also need that spark! It will ebb and flow but if you don’t have it to start you likely aren’t going to get it.

The other point of view is that perhaps you need to evaluate your priorities. Are you prioritizing based on a hot date or a good mate? At some point if you are serious about wanting a life partner you have to look at if what was important to you when you were 20 is the same as you approach 30.

Here is what some 40-something women who have been there and done that have to say!


On attraction….

“I am sorry to say, but no matter how nice the guy, if it is not “there” it is just not “there”. Never settle, you will always regret it. Figure out what you want in a man and pursue it. It is not wrong to want a good-looking man or a man that is in your same socioeconomic background, these can both be very important. I would also stop comparing your relationships to your mother’s. Her mistakes do not need to be yours. I am not sure what a “partner” means in this situation, Does it mean not marriage material? If you have any interest in getting married, then this would be a mistake. Let this guy go and move forward with a clear idea of what you want.” – 40-something, mom, designer, entrepreneur, wife, Brooklyn, NYC

“If the attraction isn’t there, do yourself a huge favor and break-up with him gracefully. You are too young to sacrifice and settle — believe me you will find your true love, it just may take some time. You don’t want to end up divorced with children in your 40s. You want to make it right the first time around.” – 40-something, PR, Marketing, NYC, divorced

“This is a definite hard one. Everyone older than you will tell you that passion fades and that is not what you end up needing in your long-term partner. However, I say beware of a relationship that starts with no passion. Yes passion fades, but sex and romance can still exist even in the longest marriages. Don’t go into something feeling like you’ve settled or you will be supremely frustrated or seriously hurt this kind man. Take yourself out of the equation and ask yourself this…doesn’t he deserve a chance for the whole package?” – 40-something, global marketing director, NYC, divorced, in a relationship

“What are you looking for right now? A relationship or a partner? I think life is short and relationships are all different. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen if you give it a little more time? If that worst case scenario did happen, could you live with it?” – 40-something, married to best friend


On priorities….

“In my twenties I met a 40-something, just married woman who changed me. She said make two lists: nice-to-haves, and non-negotiables. So for me, hot looks became a nice-to-have. A nice person in love with me was non-negotiable.” – 40-something, mom, married, tech, NYC

“You want a relationship with all the wonderful elements you mentioned, but there is no denying that passion is important. If you don’t have it to start it is hard to keep it up! But I caution you to make sure you are being true to yourself and not just reacting to some image of the man you thought you would be with. Are his looks just not what you think your friends would be attracted to, not the talk, dark and handsome or whatever image the media puts forth or truly a turnoff to you? If he is a great guy just make sure it is not the bigger better syndrome that makes you think you can do better.” – 40-something, technology industry, business development, engaged, NYC

“It turns out friendship is the most important part of a marriage. Now I’m married to my best friend, which I didn’t have in my first marriage. I didn’t realize it was so relevant when I married in my 20s. I just thought I’m attracted to this person. We have the same ideas. He treats me well. We want kids. During our marriage, if you had interviewed me 10 years ago, I would’ve said you can’t expect your spouse to be everything – your best friend, your confidant, your lover, and your partner. Now I would tell you I was wrong. It actually does exist that you can find someone you can spend your life with that can be all the things you need and you don’t have to settle for less than that.” – 43, divorced, remarried, mom of 3 and step-mom, retired marketing executive, Detroit, MI


On family concerns….

I suggest doing some work on yourself — therapy, meditation, group sessions, reading self-help books or blogs — methods to understand better what drives and motivates you and where your own issues may be coming into play. Understanding yourself better is always a great idea no matter what! Once you’re the person you want to be, you’ll attract the most optimal partner to you.” – author, editor, speaker, life coach, Los Angeles, CA

“You shouldn’t marry a person for their family…but know that your relationship has to be even stronger if your family truly doesn’t support it.”


On letting relationships go on too long….

“Six months of sharp pain are better than forty years of a dull ache.”

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