Monday, October 17, 2011

The 80-20 Rule

One thing I have noticed about myself over the years is that when I am single, and everything else feels at a lull in my life, I tend to start fixating on wanting a partner. Partly, this is just a response to the loneliness that can come up, as well as the myriad of dreams about what you might be doing if you were with someone. Another piece of it, though, is a basic failure to appreciate my life as it is. Being alive, healthy, with my basic needs mostly met isn't enough. Having a small group of quality friends isn't enough. Nor a supportive family. Nor any of the other things I'm simply taking for granted.

As I read other blogs and dating forums, and I wrote posts for this blog, I keep going back to the idea that being at ease with being single is the best way to enter into a long term, healthy partnership. And that those who are severely uneasy about being single tend to struggle in relationships, and use dating in part, as an attempt to bring ease into their lives through connection with another person. A strategy that nearly always fails over the long term.

When I think about all the comments people leave on dating blogs saying things like "these people I go on dates with don't appreciate me." Or "they're just into my body or my money or my political ideas or whatever." When I see these kinds of comments, I wonder about the people saying them. Do they deeply appreciate their lives as they currently are? Do they feel a love and passion for what is already present in their lives? And can others see that love and passion?

I'm not a believer that our thoughts alone make our lives. That's way too simplistic in my view. However, I do believe that how we think about our selves does have an impact. Sometimes a strong one, and sometimes much more subtly. If internally, you feel some desperation to find a partner, and some loathing of being single, others will pick up on that. If you don't feel passionate about different aspects of your life, that will be fairly obvious to others.

In other words, we need to place a lot more focus on how we are ourselves, and much less focus on what we want in a partner.

I like to think of it as a 80% - 20% rule.

80% of the energy I expend on dating is about honing my attention and listening skills, refining the list of what's important to me, practicing being open to a new relationship entering into my life, and reflecting upon what I might have learned from recent dates I have gone on that "didn't pan out." It also may simply include time doing things to take care of myself.

The remaining 20% of the time involves doing things like looking at online profiles, making lists of wants and don't wants in a partner, going on dates, and other such outward looking things.

What I usually see people doing is the opposite ratio. 80% of the time is spent focusing on the dating pool, including copious amounts of time bitching about other people's flaws, mistakes, and offenses.

There's more I could say about this, but I'd like to offer this flipped ratio as something for you all to consider. If you like this idea, how might you change what you're doing now to get more in line with it? If you dislike what I've said, how have you been successful using a mostly "other focused" approach? Or have you not been successful using that kind of approach?


  1. That first paragraph interested me, because I immediately thought about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: once one level of need is satisfied, we move on to wanting to satisfy the next. If p-bc - "pair-bonded companionship" (where pair is not numerically defined, so you can have pair n=1 is the aromantic happy by hirself, and pair n greater than 2 is polyamorous groupings) - is defined as a need on one of the various levels, then once the previous levels are completed, or once all the other needs on the same level are satisfied, then obviously the chief focus becomes satisfying the need for p-bc. It's not that the other things are "taken for granted" as such, it's just that they are currently well maintained and satisfying those needs, while the focus is on satisfying the next need.

    Not sure if I have anything to add or comment on about the rest of the OP, but that was just the thought that came into my mind.

  2. I think flipping the 80-20 ratio would apply even to relationships you're already in. It's an interesting thought! I like it.

  3. Snowdrops,

    Going back to look at Maslow's needs pyramid, it seems to me (today anyway) that section 3 and 4 could be flipped. Or perhaps the clear distinction he's making isn't something I would consider clear or a direct path at all.

    In fact, I'd argue that too many of us seek to "build self esteem" through belonging and feeling loved by others. Or another way to say it might be that we measure our self-worth, and feel confidence or lack of confidence, based on outside confirmation. If we don't have a partner who loves us, or "enough" friends, or peers who respect our work, or whatever, many of us crumble. To me, that's not a great way to live.

    In some ways, I see levels three and four as mutually reinforcing. That is, it's really helpful to have a lot of folks who love you in your life, respect what you are doing, and that you feel you belong to a larger group or groups. And yet, if you become too dependent upon all of that, if some or most of it goes away, then you'll probably sink into misery.

    People (in my opinion) are better off learning how to stand on their own two feet, to be able to generate confidence and a joy for life within themselves. I think this often happens while within a context of having others around who love, respect, and accept you as you are. But the person who is able to self generate isn't dependent on having a certain level or amount coming from the outside to feel good about their lives. In other words, they aren't inclined to desperate partnering and making friends with anyone who will fawn attention and affection on them - because that need is already fulfilled.

  4. @ Nathan:

    I deliberately didn't talk about specific levels, I was more interested in the general concept, that the "next level" or the "missing block of this level" is always what gets the most attention, as long as the other needs are satisfied.

    I do have some ideas about the specifics, but I'm not sure they're relevant or helpful in the context of the OP. It's just recognising that the unsatisfied need is the one that gets the attention/causes anxiety.

  5. Applying the 80-20 rule to my relationship today will surely be a great help to improve myself and most specially to my relationship with my partner. I can say that I already lost my old self upon entering to this relationship but then I realize that this will barely the tool to help me fix all the doubts and fears I've been dealing with. Thanks for this one Nathan.

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