Just two days before Valentine’s Day, Redditor Nate (aka BigBags), a single dude who was so tired of being force fed “warped and unrealistic expectations of love” that he quit his job to travel around the country to interview 100 of the most amazing couples, surfaced to answer questions about his findings. (If you’re wondering, like I was, how a person can make this sort of thing happen financially, Nate explains in the comment thread that he used his life savings and raised money through Kickstarter.)
“I got really sick of being force fed these warped and unrealistic expectations of love. I didn’t think Chris Brown, Athony Weiner, or Tiger Woods deserved to be the spokespeople for relationships… but they seemed to be the only ones getting any relationship-related air time,” said Nate in his “about me.” “So, rather than complain about it, I figured I’d hunt down the most amazing couples I could find and give them the microphone.”
In his AMA, Nate shares some truly original, thoughtful and inspiring insights he learned by interviewing happy “gay couples, straight couples, rich couples, poor couples, religious couples, atheist couples, couples who have been together for a short time, and couples who have been together for over 70 years … couples in arranged marriages and polygamous couples.” (You can listen to Nate’s “Lovumentary” interviews here.) He was initially hoping for “some pro tips on how to have a successful long-term relationship,” but got much, much more than that. Below, see what Nate discovered about what truly makes a relationship work.
On whether or not opposites really do attract:
“That was actually one of the things I was most curious about when I started my journey, and also one of the things that surprised me most.
It was honestly almost a 50/50 split. Some people swore that opposites attract, and really needed to have similar interests and personalities. Others were convinced that birds of a feather flock together, and that you need to compliment and balance each other out..
I think what was most important was not so much that people had the surface stuff in common, but that they had the same values, and similar goals. (ie: someone who is dedicated to personal growth was rarely found with someone who was happy to be complacent, someone who didn’t want kids was never found with someone who did.)
Values superseded interests.”
On why our culture is more obsessed with romantic relationships than friendships:
“We model our lives and behavior off of the examples we’re given. For decades, Hollywood has glorified the romantic aspects of relationships. It’s definitely changed what people expect from a long-term relationship now… which is sad.
Ironically – after talking to literally scores of couples about their relationships – the partnerships with the most passion after years and years of togetherness are those who have a strong and undying friendship. It’s not about the sex so much as it is about the way their level of undying commitment, their endless support of each other, the way they laugh at each others jokes, and forgive each others wrongdoings.
The thing that makes an amazing best friend is what also makes an amazing partner… add in the romance and you take it to the next level. (We tend to do it backwards in our society, we start with the sex, then panic, and try to add in the friendship… which rarely works.)”
On the role that money plays in the quality of a relationship:
“Most of the strongest couples had undergone times of extreme hardship, many of which included poverty.
For example: Reed and Allene went bankrupt, and ended up selling spoons door-to-door to avoid losing absolutely everything.
What separated couples like Reed and Allene from others is that when hardship hit them, they had each others’ backs, and they went to work and did what needed to be done. Marriage (or any sort of long-term commitment) is about team work, fighting for each other, and using each other to lean on in the hard times.
Finances has very little to do with quality of love. Actions have everything to do with quality of love.”
On the best bit of relationship advice he received:
“One woman in Georgia gave some pretty amazing advice. She and and her husband have been married for over 60 years, and after being asked what her best relationship advice would be, she paused and said…
Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.”
On the universal characteristics of a successful relationship:
The happiest couples always consisted of two (sometimes more) emotionally healthy and independently happy individuals. These people practiced self-love. They treated themselves with the same type of care that they treated their partner… or at least they tried to.
Emotionally healthy people know how to forgive, they are able to acknowledge their part in any disagreement or conflict and take responsibility for it. They are self-aware enough to be assertive, to pull their weight, and to give love when it’s most difficult.
After that emotional health came an unquestioning level of commitment. The happiest couples knew that if shit got real, their significant other wasn’t going to walk out on them. They knew that even if things got hard – no, especially if things got hard – they were better off together. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
Happy couples trust each other… and they have earned each others’ trust. They don’t worry about the other person trying to undermine them or sabotage them, because they’ve proven over and over again that they are each other’s biggest advocate. That trust is built through actions, not words. It’s day after day after day of fidelity, service, emotional security, reliability.
Establish that foundation, and you’re in good shape.
This is the icing on the cake. There’s a difference between the couple who drives through the rainstorm and the couple who pulls their car to the side of the road to make out in the rain. (Yes, that’s a true story.) There’s a difference between the couple who kisses for 10 seconds or longer when they say goodbye to each other rather than just giving each other a peck… or nothing at all. There’s a difference between the couples who encourage each other to pursue their personal goals at the expense of their own discomfort or inconvenience… even if it means their partner has to stage kiss another woman.
The couples who try on a daily basis to experience some sort of meaningful connection, or create a fun memory are the couples who shattered my perception of what was possible in a loving relationship.”
On the most important thing he took away from his experience:
“The most important thing I learned was 2-fold.
First, I learned that a long-term relationship isn’t about making you happy. It’s about personal growth. To put it overly simply, the happiness that we all desire is a result of overcoming challenges and obstacles together and experiencing the thrills of victory and achievement.
I always thought that once I was unhappy in a relationship, something was wrong and the relationship wasn’t meant to be. Classic rookie mistake.
The other thing I learned is that the majority of relationships are ignorant to how mediocre they are. They have absolutely NO idea the levels of happiness, connection, and joy they are capable of experiencing… but it’s only because they don’t know it’s possible.
Most couples don’t realize that with 5 minutes of effort or creativity every day, they could completely raise the level of their relationship in a way that could drastically change their lives.
It’s a matter of changing how we think. For example: Instead of asking “How was your day?” at the end of every day, try asking a question that proves you actually care about the answer. “What made you laugh the hardest today?” or “Was there a point today when you felt alone?” or “What was your biggest personal victory today?”
One couple made it a goal that whenever they kiss goodbye, their kiss will last longer than 10 seconds. They are committed to keeping that romantic passion alive in their relationship… and all it takes is 10 seconds.”
On how kids really affect your relationship:
“I’ve often heard people say that when you have kids, your relationship takes a back seat. The couples I spoke with almost overwhelmingly said this was false.
Do you have to sacrifice to have kids? Yes.
Does your relationship need to take a back seat? Absolutely not.
If anything, (most of the time) they bring a new dynamic and a new layer of love into the relationship.”
On single jealousy:
“It was sometimes hard to sit at the feet of couples that obviously had something amazing that I would honestly love to have one day.
It was days like that that I felt the most confusing feelings of my life. I had this overpowering love combined with overwhelming loneliness. It was pretty weird.”