Adam Aleksandrowicz | 20 minute read
Last week I got asked an all too common question of “what should I do” that prompted me to share. The young guy had thought he’d struck gold with a virgin from a wealthy family and was desperate to make it work.
I’ve copied the last part of his message (with his consent to share) below.
“I dont know how to flip the switch with this. I also initiated a break up with her 2 months ago over text and we ended up meeting each other a day after to talk it out she ended up apologizing for how she treated me and cried while doing it etc. She values trust a lot and because I ended up pulling the cord she claims its gonna be hard to bring my trust back up. Also she claims we don’t have the same interest and we need to work on communication more. I purposed reading that 5 love languages book but she said thats only for married people. Also she said that a bit of the reason we don’t do much stuff intimately is because how much she trusts me. Honestly I would leave this relationship but considering she comes from a very high class family, virgin and she listens to whatever her dad says (shes scared of him but highly highly values his opinions) its hard to find these type of girls. So I don’t know what to do at this point.”
I feel for these young guys, I really do.
However whilst it’s easy to laugh, it got me thinking how we’ve all gotten into relationships at one point or another for all of the wrong reasons.
Whether it be convenience, sex, money, status, or something in between, can you sit there while reading this and honestly say every relationship you’ve had has been based on something more solid?
Dating is a lot like a job interview. You want the candidate who will show up each day with a smile and who won’t crack under pressure. Unfortunately, interviews can be deceptive, and what you learn about a job candidate during an interview can completely fail to predict their future performance.
Sometimes the most qualified candidates are so nervous they look incompetent during the interview. Sometimes the least qualified candidate can hold it together long enough to land the job.
It isn’t until later, during a crisis, that their strengths and weaknesses surface. If you’re hoping to avoid the ugly fate of a failed relationship, with all its emotional and monetary costs, then finding a woman who possesses maturity is a must. Maturity doesn’t mean though she’s stolid and unimaginative.
So rather than looking at her virginal status and cashed up father, I wanted to give you 5 insights into female maturity which are far more useful (and likely) in the real world.
However for now, let’s lay out some clear benchmarks and minimum requirements for maturity so we all know what we’re talking about. If, like this guy, you’re going to take the risk of allowing her into your world, you had better make sure she possesses the minimum job skills.
The first thing to know about emotional maturity is that it looks slightly different in men and women.
And really, why wouldn’t it?
Evolution has given us different predispositions, and society gives us different training. In general, boys are taught to value stoicism while women are taught to value discussion. That’s not always the case, but it’s true more often than not across most societies.
Yet women sometimes expect men to function like women, and we men are just as guilty of wishing they functioned like us. They wonder, Why can’t men be more sensitive? We wonder, Why can’t she just drop it and move on? We confuse the hell out of each other because we’re speaking slightly different languages.
Still, men and women have more in common than not. Any reasonable person of either gender finds behaviour like backbiting or passive-aggressiveness to be distasteful. It’s the marginal differences between men and women that cause no end of trouble.
So after some lengthy pondering and discussions with other men, I’ve decided to narrow this down to five non-negotiable, must-have emotional skills that any wife or girlfriend should possess.
They are in no important order:
- Self love
I’ve come up with this from talking to men who are in what I’d call, high-functioning, successful relationships and narrowed down the qualities of women who were highly skilled in supporting her man.
The men in these women’s lives were hit the jackpot because these women made trials and conflicts easy to resolve. Their men never found themselves in second place behind a damned cat. You should expect nothing less than these qualities of any woman with whom you plan to share your life.
Before I get into the first of 5 ‘must have’ emotional skills with women, I wanted to start by saying this. There are pockets of the internet telling you all of the red flags to avoid in women, and without wanting to be nihilistic, I think there is more value in looking for qualities that ‘make’ a woman more of an ideal partner, than one to avoid.
Sure, there are red flags and some women are complete trash. I even wrote another article about how you might be trash yourself so I have no illusion over how low value some people can be.
However if you want to take a guess at what the most overlooked part of dating and vetting is, it’s you. Dating and relationships start and ends with you. You are the only thing you ever really have control over. All that you can really depend on is yourself.
You have control about what you look for in a woman beyond her form and aesthetics. What you will and won’t tolerate and what values you want to align with.
Essential Skill 1: Perception
I’ve always found people will argue about the silliest things while they’re avoiding the most important problems. I once had a mate who would argue with his girlfriend over who left the rotting fruit in the refrigerator when a crisis of overdue bills was looming over them. Their argument was dangerously detached from the gravity of their impending eviction.
It’s almost like a rabbit hole of distraction where people would rather put seemingly insignificant issues in front of real ones. Watching this with close friends was painful to watch. I’d see these arguments lasting days because they couldn’t keep themselves focused or couldn’t suss out the real issue on their own. Sad really.
One of the reasons couples routinely fall into rabbit holes is an over-reliance on their own individual memories and the stories they tell. We make the mistake of believing our brains function like tape recorders, but we don’t recall memories so much as we reconstruct them. The fallibility of human memory is the bane of courtroom trials.
Our memories of emotionally charged events are generally about 50 percent accurate, but they feel 100 percent accurate. This means that when one partner insists they witnessed the other partner putting the rotten fruit back in the refrigerator rather than the trash can, the accuracy of that memory might be no better than a coin flip.
Since we’re reconstructing memories, rebuilding and retelling the story rather than retrieving it from incorruptible storage, our recollection can go a little further off track each time we revisit the memory. Insight short circuits this entire unreliable process, and the first requirement is the all-important quality of inquisitiveness.
An insightful woman is able to set aside the need to be right. She’s more interested in checking the facts than in shouting a well-rehearsed story from the mountaintop. Because she begins by asking questions rather than telling stories, she can detect what’s really happening within herself and within the relationship.
Couples can only be as insightful as the least insightful partner is willing to be. It’s like the effect of the lowest common denominator.
Living with a partner who lacks insight is death by a thousand cuts. Life with this person becomes full of pointless arguments and silly disagreements that can grow into much larger problems.
Smart men know that heading off small problems before they grow, and choosing an insightful woman is one of the best steps you can take. If nothing else, an insightful woman makes life more fun because you won’t be wasting time on unproductive conflicts.
Just don’t expect her to be a pushover. An inquisitive, insightful woman may occasionally realize you’re the one who put the rotten fruit back in the fridge.
Essential Skill 2: Resilience
Given the choice, would you prefer a wife or girlfriend who wilts and withers in the face of challenge, or one who is resilient, flexible, and resourceful and who knows how to handle herself?
Be honest. There are a lot of white knights out there who get off on rescuing women. For now, I want to make the case that resilience is another must-have quality in a woman. I can think of no greater insurance policy than choosing a partner who can stand on her own two feet.
You’ve heard the expression, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”?
That’s only true when neither partner is running a deficit in the strength department. You have plans (I hope). Unfortunately, the world probably won’t cooperate with your agenda. The second law of thermodynamics says your world and your plans will descend into chaos if you allow it.
A woman who lacks resilience will mightily speed that process of erosion by adding an extra layer of chaos. Each moment you spend rescuing her from the emotional distress of minor disappointment is one moment you won’t spend pursuing your goals.
The un-resilient woman will utterly suck the wind out of your sails.
What is resilience, exactly? What qualities define the ability to bounce back in life? Entire books have been written on the subject, so let’s just cover the highlights. And let’s start with emotion management.
Every hardship presents a basic choice: focus inward on emotions or outward on the problem. Both have their advantages. Focusing inward is known as emotion-focused coping. It comes with some useful results, include seeking out friends who can empathize and strategize, finding the positive aspects of the problem, disengaging from unproductive actions, and reframing our view of the problem. We do these things in the service of calming ourselves down, and ideally the problem becomes easier to tackle in the process.
Taken too far, however, this approach turns into wallowing and wishful thinking. At some point, we have to take action. The counterpart of emotion-focused coping is problem-focused coping. This includes seeking information, planning, and taking action. The renowned psychologist Richard Lazarus wrote that effective coping involves being able to handle both our emotions and the problem at hand. He called it “planful problem-solving.”
It’s a pretty simple recipe: Identify the problem and what needs to be done without avoidance or denial. Make a plan and stick to it without succumbing to discouragement, constant reappraisals, or setbacks. Be willing and able to change directions when the solution is failing.
Lazarus wrote that even the most skilful strategies and efforts can lead to distress when they fail. That’s when a person needs to be able to turn to emotion-focused strategies such as seeking social support or practicing positive reappraisal.
I would add that the ability to lick one’s wounds and then get back in the game is a defining characteristic of resilience. Another brilliant psychologist, Al Siebert, described the characteristics of resilient people in his book The Survivor Personality, in which he studied the mindsets of true survivors.
Here are some of the qualities that helped people overcome tragedy:
Willingness to accept the unfairness of life. It’s tough to win the game when you’re whining about the rules.
Possessing a playful curiosity. Problems remain in proper perspective when we don’t take them or ourselves too seriously.
Being flexible in the face of challenges. Remember the second rule of thermodynamics. The best laid plans are sometimes no match for the forces of chaos. Accepting that fact, even welcoming it, keeps us from withering away when plans fail.
Finding opportunity in misfortune. This is the mark of true resilience. The say every crisis brings opportunity. The resilient survivor knows it to be true.
Here’s why this matters for you as a man. There will come a time when the two of you face a real challenge. Two resilient people tackling the problem together are far more effective than one person whose attention is divided between the problem and an emotionally frail partner.
Essential Skill 3: Self-Love
Which comes first, self-neglect or the problems associated with it?
Is a person depressed because they drink too much, or do they drink too much because they’re depressed? Are they out of shape because they avoid exercise, or do they avoid exercise because they’re out of shape?
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the starting point. I remember reading how researchers found that smoking cigarettes was thought to be an attempt to regulate low mood among people who are especially sensitive to nicotine’s short-term mood-enhancing effect. At the same time, those nicotine-sensitive people are also more prone to its long-term depressive effects.
So which comes first, the depression or the smoking? You can ask the same question for virtually any lifestyle choice with an unpleasant outcome.
Personally, I subscribe to the belief that actions precede feelings. If you want to feel good, be resilient, and possess good self-regard, then take the actions that provide those things. If we wait until we feel like taking good care of ourselves, we might die of old age before we get there.
My advice is simple. You should really love yourself with all the care in the world as not only will no one else, but there is only one you.
Unfortunately, that means the person who avoids exercise because they’re overweight, for example, will need to experience the unpleasant feeling of being soft as they exercise their way out of their predicament and into a better physical state. That’s easy to say but difficult to do.
People can get very comfortable in self-destructive habits because it’s tough to give up that which feels good, like beer and pizza, and replace it with something unpleasant, like those first few trips to the gym.
Self-love is largely the act of avoiding the long-term costs of short-term solutions like chain-smoking, binge eating, and drinking feelings away. The more frequently we give in to short-term answers, the lower our overall functioning becomes.
Self-maintenance is a series of small choices we make every day. Well, maybe not every day, but most days. We all need to cut loose once in a while. This matters for you as a man, as much as it does in the choices of the women you surround yourself. Don’t think for a second that this doesn’t apply to you too!
If she’s neglecting herself physically, spiritually, or emotionally, then she’s not bringing the best version of herself to the relationship.
Worse, poor self-care can snowball into all kinds of physical and emotional problems that could have easily been avoided. Self-love (or self-care) is one of those behaviours that’s easy to mimic at the beginning of a relationship.
However if you watch her actions and not what she says, then closely observe her circle of friends as this will always show you the real story. They say we’re all the average of the people we hang out with most often. If her friends value self-maintenance then there’s a good chance she does too.
Be sceptical if she claims to value self-love but her closest friends clearly do not. Self-care matters because the human machine isn’t so different from any other machine. It’s bound to break down at the worst times when we don’t follow the maintenance schedule.
There will be times when you need her to be at her best, not at her out-of-shape, neglected, broken-down worst. You can’t carry both of you all of the time.
Essential Skill 4: Emotional Intelligence
We all have psychological defences against internal conflict.
For example, I might notice myself eating peanut butter out of the jar when I know I should be at the gym. Or your girlfriend might find herself disproportionately angry with you when she knows you didn’t really do anything worthy of such ire.
We can avoid those little internal conflicts, rationalize them, or lie to ourselves. None of these responses are particularly healthy.
Ideally, I would say to myself, Adam put down the jar of peanut butter and get your big fat ass to the gym. Do it now. Your girlfriend might say to herself, why am I so furious? He didn’t do anything. I need to figure out what’s going on with me.
Unfortunately, unhealthy defences are easy and natural. One of the most primitive and least productive defences is known as ‘splitting’, which refers to difficulty holding opposing views about oneself or others.
The woman who relies on splitting can’t reconcile the fact that she simultaneously feels hurt by her partner and the fact that she loves him. It’s one or the other. He’s either good or bad, an angel or a devil. Does this sound familiar?
The healthier behaviour, of course, is the ability to say, “I love you and I’m angry right now.” That requires a level of emotional intelligence that every grownup should possess. However for you as a man, it absolutely must be in the emotional toolbox of ANY woman you choose.
The alternative is someone who idealizes you when she’s happy and vilifies you when she’s upset. That rollercoaster takes a devastating toll over time. Splitting poses a special threat to your happiness and your resources.
If she casts you in the role of villain whenever you disappoint her, imagine how she’ll treat you during the inevitable breakup or divorce. Being vilified is a troubling position for obvious reasons. For starters, it’s a tough hole to climb out of. You’ll have to return to her good graces before you can even begin solving whatever issue stoked her rage.
Being idealized is also troubling. Sure, it feels good at the moment, but you will inevitably decline in her estimation. Woe unto you the day she discovers you’re human and she must deal with a mess of conflicting emotions about you.
Emotional intelligence may be the most important quality to search for during your first few disagreements with her.
If you get the sinking feeling that you’re being cast as the devil, then take a closer look, as there might be stormy weather ahead. On the other hand, if she’s able to focus on the issue, refrain from personal attacks, tolerate unpleasant sentiments, and remain solidly allied with you as the two of you work it out, then there’s a good chance she has the emotional intelligence every healthy relationship must possess.
Emotional intelligence helps prevent conflict from spinning out of control. Splitting typically coincides with a fear of abandonment so overwhelming that the splitter finds it impossible to contain conflicting thoughts about you. That fear, in turn, creates a powerful compulsion to engage in conflict in the hopes of resolving it.
Arguing when emotions are high generally makes the problem worse. Splitting can also compel her to abandon you during conflict if she’s thinking, “I thought we were a perfect couple”. Does this rift mean we’re falling apart? I have to know that everything will be alright, or I must leave him before he hurts me further.
The splitter’s desperate desire to resolve that internal conflict makes it exceedingly difficult for her to step away from arguments and disagreements. Taking a break can cause immense anxiety by forcing the splitter to sit with the thought that their world is falling apart.
Healthy couples don’t fear taking a break from conflict. Even in the best relationships, things sometimes get heated. Conflict is likely to escalate when one or both partners aren’t able to regroup and collect themselves.
Taking a break and getting out of each other’s sight is the smartest thing to do when our autonomic nervous systems hijack the discussion. The partner who lacks emotional intelligence may one day try to prevent you from exiting the scene during a heated moment.
The reason why this matters so much for you as a man is that repeated examples of these types of arguments put you in a very vulnerable position. This is why basing long term decisions about women within the first few months is fraught with danger. Until you’ve had a chance to see how she behaves with the context of a tense argument you really don’t know what you’re in for.
Emotional intelligence is an absolute necessity in a female partner. Without it, her concept of you is less stable than it should be, and that puts you at tremendous risk for a rollercoaster relationship that can end in a flaming wreck.
Essential Skill 5: Internalization
Have you ever met someone who has a history of trouble with every former employer, every landlord, every former romantic partner? And it’s always the other person’s fault?
It’s exhausting, isn’t it? These people are never without an excuse. They are constant victims because they externalize responsibility. Contrast them to someone who internalizes responsibility.
The big difference is that internalizers’ lives are in order. They don’t let problems fester. They take care of their relationships and their responsibilities, and they are confident in the knowledge that they control their own destinies. Rather than asking how the world can change to suit them, they ask themselves how they can change to better succeed in the world.
We won’t spend much time here because the advantage of living with someone who internalizes responsibility is fairly self-explanatory. If she externalizes, and she’s always comfortable in her role as victim, then she’s bound to one day label you as her oppressor.
I wouldn’t wait around for her to mature because growth requires the same internalization skills she lacks. Beyond the obvious benefits of a partner who internalizes responsibility, there are a couple of extra points to keep in mind where woman are concerned.
First, some women internalize too much responsibility, absorbing the blame for every hiccup in their relationships. They marinate in angst over perceived tension with friends, family, or coworkers. This is a bad arrangement for the boyfriend or husband.
First, if you’re not careful, it will insulate you from internalizing your own responsibility because she’ll protect you from scrutinizing your own behavior. Second, it’s a recipe for resentment on her part. One has to wonder why a person feels the need to be responsible for everything.
Is it a bid to avoid abandonment? Anxiety that relationships will fall apart without constant supervision? A subtle attempt to establish control? A response to a traumatic upbringing in which life felt out of control?
Whatever the case, too much internalization will be a detriment to her and to you.
Here’s a bonus though. The woman who internalizes in a healthy manner can help you be the best version of yourself. If she has a solid track record of taking responsibility for her choices, then you can probably rely on her perceptions when she notices areas where you could be more effective personally or professionally.
As a man, Internalization matters because it has everything to do with the quality of your disagreements. Life with someone who externalizes responsibility is like living with a child, except this child has real power to make your life hell.
The experience of living with an internalizer is a dream. I say it from personal experience after I’ve known the exact opposite. Problems get solved and life moves forward. Don’t settle for anything less, you’re worth too much.
Men, that’s a wrap. To recap, here are five bare-bones, absolute minimum emotional qualities to seek in a woman:
- Self love
- Emotional Intelligence
My summary on this whole (lengthy) post is simple. Don’t expect perfection, just effort.
Maturity is always a work in progress. Noticing these qualities requires a keen eye because they aren’t necessarily visible on the first date unless that date happens to be some sort of spiritual trial like a survival trek in the outback.
To make dating even more challenging, the lack of these basic emotional traits is easily obscured if you’re blinded by how hot she is and the how good the sex is. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sacrificed emotional maturity for a great looking woman. I suppose some people overlook maturity because it isn’t flashy, nor is it obvious. It’s merely useful if you plan to be together for more than just dating.
Our men’s brains are often unconcerned with utility when they’re on the prowl. Tomorrow be damned. I’m lonely tonight. Now there’s no reason to fall into that trap if you know what to look for.