mismatched love: two felt hearts of different sizes

Mismatched Love: The Challenge of Asymmetry

One of the best predictors of the attractiveness of a face is also one that people don’t much think about or perhaps even consciously notice.

It is symmetry.  People—both men and women—perceive symmetrical faces as more attractive, on average, than asymmetrical ones.

It’s only an average, so it doesn’t work every time.  But it’s a strong predictor of physical attractiveness.

Symmetry matters not only for facial attractiveness, but also for a different kind of attractiveness—that of an intimate relationship to each of its partners.

Symmetry and the core components of love

Symmetry can be of many kinds, but today I will talk about one kind—symmetry of intimacy, passion, and commitment. If you're interested in reading more about partners who have different love stories, read here.

There are three main components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment.

Intimacy is the warm aspect of a relationship.  It pertains to friendship in a relationship—how close, connected, and caring partners are for each other.

Are they the best of friends? Can they communicate about anything?  Can they fully trust each other? Can they be counted on when they are needed?

Passion is the hot aspect of a relationship.  It pertains to how needy each of the partners is of the other.

Are they obsessed? Do they think about the partner and little else? Can they imagine life without the partner?

Do they want to disappear into the partner’s arms and stay there?  Do they feel romantic in a way they can hardly believe is possible?  Do they feel that the partner is indispensable to their life?

Commitment is the cool aspect of a relationship.  It is one’s decision that one loves someone else and is in the relationship to stay.

Commitment is something one decides on, not necessarily something one feels viscerally.  But that decision can be just as deep as a feeling because it is what can keep a relationship going even in the hardest of times.

In successful relationships, the two partners are roughly balanced in their intimacy, passion, and commitment.

They may not be in exactly the same place, but usually, they are close.  It is hard to make a relationship work when one partner wants nothing more than to communicate their deepest intimate feelings, and the other isn’t interested.

It’s also hard to make a relationship work when one partner feels intensely passionate toward the other and the other feels little or no passion.

And it’s hard to make a relationship work when one partner wants a lifelong commitment and the other has something briefer in mind, perhaps as a brief as an hour or less!

Having an asymmetric relationship is a little like navigating a boat through rocky waters.  One may navigate past one rock and even a second one, but sooner or later, one hits into a rock, and then another, and then still another.

And with each hit, there is a chance that the boat will start leaking water, until there are enough holes that either the partners bail out or the boat finally sinks.

How to deal with asymmetries

There are at least 8 ways to negotiate those rocky shoals.

1. The partners just do not care that they are asymmetrical.

That can work.  The problem is keeping up the feeling of not caring.  In early stages, one’s love may conquer the discomfort of being in an asymmetrical state.

But as time goes on, and the relationship boat hits more rocks, it may become harder.

2. The partners can exchange components of love for some other fungible “currency.”

Maybe, for example, you know your partner loves you less than you love them; but they are rich or famous or smart or just incredibly attractive.  You decide that you can deal with less love in exchange for the other rewards the partner has to offer.

Or you decide you can deal with feeling more love because you believe you have so much else you can offer your partner.

3. One or both partners lie to themselves.

They simply pretend that they are symmetrical.  The challenge of such pretending is that it is hard to keep up over the long term unless one or both partners are truly emotionally unintelligent.

Asymmetries tend to keep popping up.  They may go away for a while, but then they keep returning, over and over again.

4. The partners know that they likely will have conflicts over their asymmetry, but they find a way to resolve them.

They realize, however, that the conflicts are likely to persist over the long term.

5. One partner tries to become less involved.

This is easier said than done.  Sometimes, partners become less involved by finding someone else, but then their involvement goes way down.

6. One partner tries to become more involved.

Also, easier said than done. You just can’t force yourself, and someone else cannot force you, to love them.

7. You try to manipulate your partner to love you as you love them, either by trying to make them love you more or by trying to make them love you less.

This almost never works.  When you try to make them love you more, you often end up pushing them away.

When you try to make them love you less, you may actually find it backfires, with their either loving you more or their just giving up on you.

8. You try to employ the passion paradox.

You pull away from your partner in an attempt to make them uncomfortable and then come closer to you to reestablish equilibrium.  This sometimes works over the short term, but the old equilibrium tends to reestablish itself over time.

So many options, so few effective ones.

Any of these solutions can work over the short term.  The challenge is getting them to work over the long term.

And things may become worse if a third person is, or becomes, involved, either when there is a preexisting second relationship or when there is a new one (i.e., one of the partners involved with a different partner as well).

Then, one has to negotiate not only the pain of the asymmetry, but also the pain of the jealousy when one partner realizes that the partner may love the third person more.

The partner may truly believe they love the third person “in a different way,” but it can be hard to convince the other partner of that.

What’s the bottom line?  Asymmetric relationships are a daunting challenge.  They can work over the short term.

Getting them to work over the long term is really hard.  If both partners work at it, and perhaps both are willing to give a little, it can happen.

But expect it to be hard work and expect that there is a good chance that the relationship may be volatile.

You may end up keeping trying for the boat not to spill you over or just to sink!

But it can be and has been done.  Whether it can last is up to you and your tolerance for asymmetry.


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