Why “Perfect on Paper” Doesn’t Always Work Out

Sometimes, when everything should work out, it doesn’t. Just because something looks perfect on paper doesn’t mean it’s actually flawless – especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Of course, paper can’t account for chemistry. But it goes deeper than that.

Sometimes, that person who has the same exact background as you – same religion, same school, same class, same interests, same job, similar family – who seems so perfect for you in every way – isn’t. It can seem like they are, even for a long time. But too much in common is actually a problem in a relationship the vast majority of the time.

I think what leads a lot of us to fall in love for the first time is that almost complete or entirely complete similarity. We see ourselves in another person, and find ourselves drawn to them for that reason. First love is a journey of self-discovery. Because of this, first love is falling in love with one’s self as much as it is falling in love with someone else. This is why it is so essential, for those who experience romantic feelings. Though first love doesn’t necessarily teach one how to love and accept oneself completely, and frequently does not, it can and should teach a basic self-love.

At the same time, similarity is why first love frequently falls apart. We see ourselves in someone else initially, and when we grow and change, sometimes we grow in different directions. Sometimes these paths are identical or complementary, but more often than not they skew in opposite directions. People grow and change. It’s what they do. It’s what they should do. It’s a miracle that my boyfriend and I, after over three years and much of that time spent long-distance, have managed to grow together. It’s a miracle that anyone does, frankly.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t important things that couples need to have in common. There’s values and expectations, and dreams, that must be considered, and should be quite similar. That makes for a lasting foundation, and for a future to work toward. It’s nice for couples to be from similar backgrounds, especially socioeconomic, and similar interests, but it isn’t necessarily something that can make or break a relationship.

The key is complementarity. There are things that must be agreed upon, and there are those that must be in agreement. By “in agreement” I mean that there are certain views, personalities, and styles, among other things, that should complement one another. Also, what one person in a relationship lacks, the other should provide, though they should work toward equality, if not in ability, than in the amount of effort put forth by each party. It should ultimately balance out.

Complementarity, and not being identical, is key, because too much similarity is boring. Conflict brings interest and passion. Too much conflict can be damaging, whether short- or long-term, to a relationship and/or an individual, but a healthy amount of conflict keeps the spark alive between two people. So many of us have heard of the overused trope of “making up” being almost or entirely better than being in a good, healthy place in a relationship. Maybe there is a little bit of truth to it.

Conflict indicates something else as well: investment. If you can argue with your person, come to a conclusion, and move on, it shows that you are invested in the relationship. Conflict shows that you’re not only willing to fight, but that you’re also willing to fight for the relationship itself. It shows trust; you trust that, even though your partner is seeing a less attractive side of you, that they will still love you. Their continuing to love you through it all is a reaffirmation of that love. It’s a sign of commitment.

So, for those of you in love for the first time, don’t be surprised if it ends. Most people don’t end up with their first love, though some do. But know this: you are going through something monumental. You are going through something important. You are going through something life-changing. And I hope you’ll be the better for it.

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Student. DC area native. Lover of literature, my rescue dog, good food, and the sea.

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