The Formula for Love (Seriously)
I figured out the formula for love. Nope, I’m not joking.
Friends who know me well have seen me pull this out late night at a bar. It’s my intellectually stimulating version of a party trick. Since I’ve shared it with a number of people, and most seem to get a kick out of it, I figured it’s about time I publish it on my blog.
I came up with the initial formula in February 2012 after a guy broke my heart a little bit. After thinking through a ton of other relationships since then (mine and other people’s), I’ve edited it a little bit over time. But, the gist of the formula has remained the same since the beginning. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen—my formula for love.
I wrote about the first part of the formula—Rightness—last month. I’ll copy and paste it below for ease. Plus, I also left out a hugely critical component of Rightness—which is “Authenticity"—so I’ll talk about that below.
When it comes to choosing who to be in a committed relationship with, it all starts with the rightness funnel above.
Before you choose a relationship, you need to whittle down your pool of options. You start with “everyone in the entire world," and that pool goes through a ‘Demographics Filter."
The demographics filter weeds out anyone who you will literally never have the opportunity to fall in love with due to factors like geographic location, language barriers, and unbridgeable cultural differences.
You’re left with the population of people on the planet who share enough demographic similarity. That factor alone whittles the selection pool down quite a bit.
Next comes the interests filter.
Interests can range widely, and the desired ratio of common-to-dissimilar interests varies greatly from person to person. The purpose of this filter is to weed out people who have very different interests from you, to the degree that it inhibits the growth of a high-engagement relationship between you and another person. For instance, if you’re really passionate about your area of work and it’s important to you that you have a partner who is also passionate about and understands the kind of work you do, that is a highly desired common interest. Interests can relate to a whole slew of things, including:
- Weekend activities
- Education level
The interests filter whittles your “potential" pool down to only those you share enough and/or the right common interests with to make a high-engagement relationship even possible. What I mean by “high-engagement" is that two people can experience and enjoy enough things together, which allows them to develop an important closeness and high level of mutual understanding between each other.
The chemistry filter is exactly what it sounds like: do you have a physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual chemistry with someone? It’s rare to find all four of these things in one person, but they are all critically important for long-term relationships. If you’re not stimulated and there isn’t a shared chemistry in those four distinct areas, at some point, you’re going to feel like things are missing and try to fill the gap, probably with other people. This is what people refer to when they talk about “emotional cheating."
I certainly don’t think it’s realistic that anyone would never be physically attracted to another human being again once they get into a relationship. But, I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I think the right person is someone you can deeply connect with on all four levels. When I say “connect," I do not necessarily mean “agree." It’s entirely possible to have very different opinions from someone else and still feel a ton of chemistry. In fact, I’d argue that a little bit of disagreeing is important because it allows two people to learn from and growth with one another.
Any way you spin it, chemistry matters.
Once you get through the chemistry filter, you’re left with only the people you’re attracted to romantically, and share enough common interests with.
Now comes the good stuff.
The values filter is perhaps the most important one of all. Values represent everything that you hold in the highest regard. They are often a mix of dreams, goals, beliefs, and personality traits that make up the foundation of who you are. They are the parts of yourself you don’t want to compromise on, even when you’re in love.
For instance, say having children one day is critically important to you—one of your values is building an incredible family. If that’s the case, you would not want to end up with a partner that does not want children.
Or, say one of your values is kindness—you believe in treating everyone around you with upmost kindness, and it’s important to you that your partner does the same. That means anyone who didn’t highly value kindness would probably not be an ideal values fit for you.
Values and interests can overlap. For instance, for some people, building a family is an interest more than it is a hobby. For other people, having common career goals in a relationship is a value rather than an interest.
Values often tend to include the following:
- How to raise a family
- Core, unshakeable personality traits
- Political beliefs
- Religious beliefs
- Business ethics
- Approach to marriage
- Strong geolocation desires
The values filter gets you down to a list of only the people who have pretty much matching and/or complimentary value sets. This is critical. If two people have misaligned values, it’s not going to work. In fact, I think misalignment of values is by far the major reason most marriages fail. Most couples don’t talk about all of their values to make sure there is alignment; they wait until it’s too late. The bigger issue is that many of us don’t take time to sit down and really map out what our values—our non-negotiables—are.
If you want to be in an incredibly successful relationship, it’s critically important that you understand your values, share them with your partner, understand his or her values, and truly see if there is a long-term match.
After you go through a values filter, you’re left with the very small number of people who you can actually build a happy and meaningful life with.
For some people, this number is in the thousands. For others, it’s in the single digits. I think it totally depends on your filter mechanisms.
This factor is absolutely critical, and I can’t believe I left it out of my original post about Rightness last month.
Here’s the deal. Choosing your partner is an enormous commitment. I don’t think most people have any idea of the weight of that commitment before they make a decision to get married or otherwise be with another person for life.
Assuming you and your partner only get married once (which I think is what most Americans want—though, it’s totally crazy that more than half of us will work through a divorce at some point in our lives) and you find him or her relatively early on in your life (before you hit the halfway point), you’ll spend more time with your partner than pretty much anyone else in the world—including your parents, siblings, kids, colleagues, friends, etc. Obviously, there are exceptions. But you’ll know and spend more time with your partner than pretty much any other individual.
The only person you spend more time with? Yourself.
And that’s what the authenticity filter is all about. You’ll know you are coming very close to meeting the absolute love of your life when you find someone who makes you feel more you.You know how most of the time on a first date or in a relationship, you have an invisible script playing in your head constantly? “Does (s)he love me? Am I good enough? What does (s)he think of me? Is (s)he happy with our date plans? Am I pretty enough? Am I out of my league? Did I say something wrong? Does (s)he think I’m stupid?"
You know how it goes.
When you find the love of your life, that person will make it past this filter. He or she just lets you be completely yourself. You don’t even think twice about it. You never feel as free, non-judged, accepted, embraced, and loved for exactly who you are as you do with that special person.
Moreover, he or she catalyzes your best self. You feel challenged—emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, etc. You feel like he or she will be your greatest champion, and is never trying to “fix" you or turn you into someone you’re not. When you do something crappy or make a bad decision, this person will love you regardless—but will also be willing to give you real talk advice when you want or need it.
If you feel more like yourself—good and bad, all aspects of you—around this person, that’s a surefire sign you’ve found an incredible fit that most people in life find only once or twice…if at all. When you find this, never let it go. This person will always bring out the best in you and make you feel completely at home.
This is the very last filter. The “X" factor is the immeasurable experience you have with another human being on this planet. You meet that person, and you just know. You just get this sense that he or she was built for you. That you’d fit perfectly together. That if that person asked to marry you, you’d say yes. No hesitation, no second guessing.
There’s no way you could ever put a finger on exactly what the “X" factor is. That’s what makes it so special.
I don’t think this kind of love comes around very often. I don’t necessarily think many of us find it at all over the course of our lives. And it’s very possible that there’s more than one person in the world who you could find the “X" factor with—I have no idea. But, a quality of the “X" factor is that, once you experience it with someone (and you’re able to pursue it and allow it to flourish), you just know you’ll have eyes for only that person. Maybe you’ll find other people physically attractive or emotionally beautiful along the way. But, nothing will compare.
When you meet someone like this, you can look at that person and see the whole world in his or her eyes. You are immediately captivated. There’s no doubt—you know you’ll be in love forever.
The “X" Factor love is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, if you’re lucky. It leads to the most spectacular, long-lasting, meaningful kind of love. I can tell you for sure that this kind of deep love is possible. And so you can, of course, hold out for it. But you’ll need to consider how long you’re willing to wait.
That’s what we’ll talk about tomorrow: the risk/reward of relationships, and how to make smart decisions when deciding whether to get into or stay in a relationship.
Sponginess represents how willing and able you are to soak up the love that comes your way like a sponge. It’s comprised of three different parts:
- Personal History - i.e. the baggage you carry and the lessons you’ve learned from past life experiences and relationships. This is the set of memories that colors how you behave in relationships, how much you trust your significant other, and your ability to love deeply.
- General Openness - How willing you are to “lay your cards on the table" - to reveal and share all the parts of who you are, including past experiences, personal beliefs, values, and interests.
- Propensity for Vulnerability - The willingness and desire to be vulnerable in the face of uncertainty and potential pain/loss. Having a wide open heart and being able to give your whole heart to another person, despite past pain and loss.
I define the difference between openness and vulnerability as follows:
Openness is the willingness to tell other people your story—vulnerability is your willingness to let other people be part of it.
Timing is the third and final factor of the love formula. It represents how “on" the timing is between you and another person. Season of Life - The stage you are at in your life. Totally separate from age (which is a demographic variable), “season of life" is more the mental/emotional age you are at. For instance, say a 25-year-old female who has a clear career path and a very immature 30-year-old male who is lost in his career found each other. If “career" is a big value to one or both people, then the value paths don’t match up, and thus, the relationship timing is off. The timing could be on at some point in the future when dude gets his act together career-wise- but until then, it creates a rift in the relationship.
Geolocation - Where in the world you and another person are. The physical distance that separates two people.
* Note: The “Rightness" and “Timing" factors are weighted (that’s what the “W" is for). For instance, for me, “Rightness" holds a heavier weight than “Timing". If I found a guy who was exactly the “right" man for me, I’d figure out the issues with timing and distance. But, for others, “Timing" may hold a heavier weight- this could be true for a foreigner who lives abroad for work in a country with just a small population of people with a similar demographic background (like language). The selection pool is a lot smaller, so perhaps in this instance, geolocation matters more than a perfect “Rightness" fit.
Sponginess, however, is a necessity (that’s what the “N" is for). It’s the one piece of the formula that must exist at a high level. Both people need to rank pretty high on their individual ability to:
- Learn the best lessons possible from past experiences
- Be open to sharing their story, and
- Have a desire to be vulnerable and open-hearted with a potential significant other
No high sponginess, no true and lasting love. Simple as that. Rightness + Sponginess + Timing = Love Quotient Love Quotient represents the total compatibility “score" between two people. Scores are categorized in three ways: Low, Medium, and High.
- Low -These relationships represent the non-starters. The ones where you go on a few dates with, or maybe even date for a few months, but eventually die out because it’s not a “right" fit and/or the timing is exceptionally off.
- Medium - This is the category most relationships fall into—even many marriages (I’d argue most, actually). I call these the “don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-super-broken" relationships. This is when enough of the factors are in play that, depending on your sponginess level, can make another person seem like the perfect fit. A lot of times, perfect fit is judged based on demographics, interest,s and chemistry (the first three parts of “Rightness"), but not enough (or at all) on values, authenticity, and that special “X Factor." As a result, you wind up being in a relationship for a long time thinking your significant other is a great fit - until you uncover a difference in core values and ability for authenticity, which makes the longevity of the relationship unsustainable.
- High - This kind of love is the Holy Grail of relationships. I know you’ve seen The Notebook (I’m looking at you, too, boys). Everyone dreams of having that kind of crazy, passionate, fulfilling, challenging, awe-inspiring love. In my experience, I’ve seen very few relationships fall into this category—perhaps 10-20% of all relationships in America. I think there are a lot of reasons behind the psychology of why that is, but we’ll save it for another blog post.
The Importance of Hardship
The thing that separates “High LQ’s" from “Medium LQ’s" is hardship: death, illness, financial crisis, adjusting to and taking care of children, losing a job, moving to a new city, etc. Hardship is the stuff in life that inevitably happens—and a couple can only get through (and thrive as a result of) hardship if they are really aligned in all corners of “Rightness," “Sponginess," and “Timing".
When all of these factors are operating at a high frequency, it creates deep love and trust. That, in turn, makes your partner your absolute best friend, lover, husband/wife, father/mother, teacher/soundboard in the world. It takes two people becoming all of these things for one another to overcome immense hardship.
And the overcoming of hardship and total appreciation of life, adventure, and one another?
That, coupled with rightness, sponginess, and even timing is how you know you’ve found true and lasting love.
I can’t wait to hear about the greatest love story you’ve ever heard or lived. Leave a comment below!
[jbox title="About the Author" border="5" radius="15"] This post was originally published on Melissa's blog. Ever since she was able to understand the concept of “true love,” Melissa has been insatiably curious about what that looks and feels like—and how we can all cultivate long-lasting, passionate, deeply fulfilling romantic relationships. She is love learning about human behavior and potential, and lives for helping people take big leaps in their lives to start amazing projects or companies.[/jbox]