I met the romantic love of my life seven years ago—at age 63, by the way—and for the last seven years more than a few people have asked me for “the secret”. “How”, they’ll say, “do you find the true love of your life”?
Well, couple of things to say about that….
One, I haven’t got the faintest idea.
Two, are you really asking that question?
Look, if there were a secret to finding the love of your life, whoever had that secret would have sold it for billions of dollars and you’d already know it. There’s no secret to finding the love of your life any more than there’s a secret to losing weight, growing hair, or making money in the stock market.
Sometimes the “secret” is that you got lucky. You were in the proverbial right place at the right time.
If that were all there was to it, though, there’d be nothing more to write about. And that’s not the case at all. Let me explain with an example from the weight loss arena.
When people ask me specific questions about weight loss or diet, I usually try to move the discussion away from weight loss per se to what I call “foundational health”. That’s because I don’t think you can do very much about your weight till you handle the basics (like metabolism). And it’s kind of the same thing in relationships.
So here are a few basics worth cultivating in the relationship arena. None of them will guarantee that you’ll run into your soul mate the next time you’re squeezing avocados in Gelson’s. But I’ll pretty much guarantee that if you pay attention to these “foundational principles”, you’ll have a much better chance of things working out once you do meet someone.
- Cultivate honesty—but don’t be stupid.
You always want to be fundamentally honest in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. Don’t reveal every one of your demons plus your entire dysfunctional family history the first time you meet for coffee at Starbucks. Be truthful– but appropriate. Some mystery is attractive, so reveal yourself in stages. It’ll be more organic that way anyway. Vulnerability and total emotional honesty have to be earned. If you both work towards that, it will be delicious to watch it slowly unfold.
2. Keep your distance.
Michelle and I live in two separate homes about six minutes apart. We love it that way. But whether you live in the same house or not, find a way to cultivate the feeling that each of you has a separate space that belongs only to you, where you can retreat, be alone, and then come together out of choice. For us, having separate spaces makes our time together richer and sexier. And we take our time together much less for granted.
- Watch your criticism-to-complement ratio
When I’m advising people about diet, I often mention the importance of the omega 6: omega 3 ratio, because it’s critical for human health. Well, the criticism-to-complement ratio is critical to relationship health. Rule of thumb is 1:5 in favor of positive statements— so any time you make a critical statement to your partner, make sure it’s balanced by five complements. Trust me on this one.
- Sex and Money. Deal with it.
Sex and money are two of the biggest reasons people break up, and two of the biggest challenges in relationships. Expecting not to have issues around those subjects is like expecting to lose weight without plateauing—ain’t gonna happen. Remember, it’s never about the problem itself, it’s about how you deal with it.
It’s well-known that if you shut up and listen, people will think you’re the most sparkling conversationalist they’ve ever known. People—all people—really just want to be heard. It’s kind of a condition of being human. I’ve never met a single person who didn’t feel that way deep down, and that includes the person you’ve just met or the person you’ve been with seven years. So shut up and listen (especially guys, who seem to be genetically programmed to have a hard time doing this!). Don’t interrupt. Recreate their experience, don’t judge, and then help them recreate yours. Listening doesn’t mean shutting up till it’s your time to speak.
Look, I don’t have any secrets that can guarantee success in any area of life—relationships, tennis, writing, weight loss, none of them. I wish I did. People ask me how you become a writer all the time, and I say the same basic thing I’m saying now. There’s no blueprint, so just take care of the basics. One thing I’ve learned in my life is that when you take care of the basics you’re building an infrastructure—whether its physical health or emotional health or both.
And when you do that, you’re much more likely to make the most of the opportunities that may come your way.
Louis Pasteur famously said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind”.
I’d add to that: “So does romance”.