The fastest compatibility test you've never heard of
Okay, we’ll run with the title and make this quick. When someone new is entering your life, whether it’s a friend, a coworker, a romantic interest, or someone else you’re still figuring out how and to what extent you’d like to fit them into your life, try asking yourself:
“How do I feel when I’m with them?”
Many of us are already skilled at taking into account facts and opinions about others when we’re figuring out how we want to spend time with them and how much we want to invest in any given relationship-- “He has a financially stable job,” “She is an ethical boss,” “They are really good at cooking,” “She is warm and kind.” And that’s fortunate, because those facts and opinions can keep us out of relationships of any kind that are not a good fit for us. For example, if you hope to have children one day and a prospective long-term romantic partner does not, it might be a good choice for you to find someone else to fulfill your dreams of parenthood, even if you have nothing but positive feelings for this person.
While it’s important to focus on those facts and opinions, we often do so INSTEAD of addressing our emotional responses to someone. So, listen to the facts, but also listen to how you feel when you’re with them. Listen to all your feelings, even the ones that don’t make sense to you yet, and even the ones that scare you. Realize that your emotions are your reality, not any story you make up about your relationship; you can keep telling everyone that you’re a perfect match, but if you’re feeling angry with your partner most of the time, that’s a more accurate depiction of your reality than the picture of bliss you’re trying to paint.
Notice patterns of feelings with someone over time, and try not to freak out if you feel sad or anxious or bored with them every so often. Think of it as determining the emotional climate of your relationships-- the weather will vary day to day, with some pleasant breezes, some boring clouds, and some darker storms, but keep an eye on the averages. You can learn a lot about your dynamic with others by looking at your emotional patterns. And if you’re having trouble making sense of why unpleasant feelings keep arising or you’re having a tough time deciding what to do once you find yourself in a relationship with an inhospitable emotional climate, it might help to get a second opinion, whether it’s from a therapist or a friend who has similar values to you. You may want to initiate a metaconversation to see if things change. If you do go this route, notice if the emotional climate changes, or if it’s just the weather that changes temporarily before returning to an unpleasant baseline. If things do return to baseline, or if you suspect you are in a relationship of any kind that is unhealthy for you, it might be in your best interest to end the relationship. And of course, if you have a metaconversation and you notice a sustainable improvement in how you feel in the relationship that maintains over time, that might be a good sign that the relationship is working well, and you might want to stick around.
So keep asking yourself: How do I feel when I’m with ________? Your answers to that question can serve as a compass to help you move toward the kinds of relationships that work best for you.