When people talk about values…. Well, no. Wait. People don’t really talk about values much anymore. “Values” has become a word associated with skirts past the knee and collared shirts, baked goods and dinner by seven, heads bent in prayer. Or maybe I’m not giving all of us enough credit. Most people have some personal value system, whether they’re aware of it or not, but we don’t all have to subscribe to the same ones anymore. What crazy, post-modern lives we lead. Our lifestyles are as personalized as our T-shirts, and the ways we’ve grown up the last few decades so diverse, most traditional ideas about “right” and “wrong” in American culture have been tossed and long been rotting (and, to a large extent, to collective societal benefit).
So if men aren’t necessarily busy bringing home the bacon anymore and women aren’t expected to be cooking it up for breakfast, how do we understand our roles in a relationship? How do we work as a team? The new values we define for ourselves in our own lives are redefining what makes for a relationship (romantic or otherwise) that is successful and one that really, really isn’t.
What are these personal value systems? How do we define them? And what does it look like in real time? Values, regardless of what we think they are or what we would tell our therapist they are, are best defined by what we do. Coming out of a long day at work and faced with the option to go for a run or watch the latest episode of The Voice hunkered down in the couch with a bar of chocolate, which do we choose? Do we stay up late clicking through Facebook or the news (or cat videos), or do we rise early to get in some meditation or a walk with the dog? Mom’s birthday or a friend’s baby shower on the same weekend, opposite coasts: which plane ticket do we buy? There are infinite choices, but it can all be broken down: family, friends, health, play, work, finances, religion or spiritual life. It took a long time for me to decide which came first, second, third. If I wanted to spend my early morning hours writing (work) or meditating (spiritual life). I ultimately decided based on what makes me happier and more “successful” as I define it, which ended up being a compromise of sorts. I get in a quickie meditation—no more than five minutes—and spend the rest of my morning hours writing and reading. Introduce people to this mix and it gets even more complicated and more compromises must be made.
What is the translation of these decisions to relationships, especially because those old standards of “right” and “wrong” are (sort of, little by little) a thing of the past?
When considering a partner for the long term, values are what can help determine whether two people will ultimately drive each other crazy or be a great team. Making a list of the elements in your life that you most value, taking a little inventory on whether or not your actions reflect those values (it’s ridic how often they don’t—I often spend up to an hour trolling the internet in the morning instead of writing), and knowing when you’re face-to-face with a sexy thing that shares your life’s order of operations is really essential to happy times in and out of the sack.
Life is complicated and there are so many choices to make day to day, when it comes to relationships, finding a match to your own values can seem more difficult than ordering a coffee at Starbucks. “How will I ever find my tall, double shot (one decaf, one regular), dry vanilla soy latte with cinnamon?” we may wonder. This in itself is a huge problem—itemizing human beings like a gourmet coffee—but that’s a topic for another time. For our immediate purposes, it’s critical to know what’s important to you, what you need versus what you want, and what kind of life you’d be comfortable living, not just in finding a partner but in living a happy life. These things define who we are, what career we choose, what time we go to bed, even our sense of humor. In other words, do I need the cinnamon? No. But do I need a partner who is happy to let me work in the morning, my most productive hours of the day? Uh, yeah. Probs.
But matched values doesn’t mean matching personalities (thank god—how boring). A partner who doesn’t like coffee may still be a great match to tall, double shot (etc., etc.) latte lady because s/he appreciates a midday flip through the paper or a snack, which has the same restorative effect for him/her as the coffee break does for latte lady. Essentially the same choice is being made: a few minutes to be around people and relax in the middle of the day is more important than working through those few minutes or making a call to family or going shopping or whatever. The choice to take a pause in the middle of the day and why is a common value, it’s just the details of the break that are different.
Obviously, when you’re talking about houses and babies and religion and all kinds of other huge life decisions, it ain’t so easy as talking about a few minutes to rest midday. But the idea of matching values is essentially the same. Usually, it’s an area where compromise can’t happily be made by either party. If newspaper/snack partner has an allergy to caffeine, s/he won’t ever be happy to share latte lady’s vanilla-cinnamoniness, and this is ultimately something latte lady has to accept as okay with her or not.