It has come to my attention, based on experience and observation, that when considering potential mates, we really should assess our Sh*t-in-Life™ compatibility levels earlier and more often, because realistically the relationship is doomed if these levels exist at opposite ends of the spectrum.

I’ve had many conversations over the years about the mental checklists single people use to size up and weed out potential mates. The lists get universally shorter in proportion to age increasing and generally speaking, most people end up with a list of about 10 items. Quite a few people I know have settled on the “7 of 10” rule, meaning they have a list of about 10 things they really want or need in a partner, but they also understand that perfection is futile and finding someone who exhibits 7 of 10 traits they are looking for makes them pretty damn fortunate. I theorize that there’s another layer to the 7 of 10 rule which is always present but not always acknowledged — assigning importance to each item on the checklist, thus moving it up or down on the scale of what we want or need most, to least.

Based on the “7 of 10” rule, my last relationship was exceptional in 3 or 4 areas, mediocre in 3 or 4, and abysmal in one or two, but because of how the points of importance are weighed and distributed, the one or two areas of abysmal weighted heavier than the other 8 or 9 combined. It took me a long time (about 4 years) to figure out what the actual problems were and to accept that ultimately, there was no solution. It’s not that we didn’t care about each other enough to work it out, it was that in certain aspects we were so fundamentally different that we were never going to see each other’s perspective, and ultimately never going to understand each other.

Game over.

Movies and television would have us believe that getting to know another person requires nothing more than a few candlelight dinners, one or two walks along the beach (or through an open air market), and a few sleepovers — um, not true. My own experience has taught me that a. you cannot truly know a person until you live with them (dorms don’t count) and b. it takes years and years and years to really know a person, and even then you may only have scratched the surface. This is why entering into a relationship is always a commitment, because we’re committing to sticking with it long enough to see how much we like each other, if we’re actually compatible (not just hormonally), and if we can be happy together under the same roof, for an extended period of time — maybe forever.

It never occurred to me until my last relationship that the experiences by which we are shaped, that make us who we are, can also render us utterly incompatible with certain other people. In this particular instance, our incompatibility was directly influenced by the Sh*t-in-Life™ scale.

The Sh*t-in-Life™ scale is nothing more than the amount of sh*t one must get through, overcome, or extricate themselves from in life to continue moving forward from one day to the next. Some describe this as “baggage”. Whatever the descriptor, I believe there are two types: There’s the One-Off, which (for the most part) occurs once, but has ramifications that carry with us through life (such as having a child, getting fired from a job, or getting divorced), and then there’s the Ongoing, which are the things we’re forced to wrestle with on a perpetual basis, but rarely able to affect much change upon (such as having a child, jobs and careers, in-laws, or internal family dynamics.)

While I wouldn’t say I’ve had a hard life, I would say my life has been a continuum of complexity and difficulty, conditions under which thick skins are formed along with strength in the face of upset, but not something that’s easy to understand if you’ve never been there. I also wouldn’t say my ex lead a charmed life, but based on what I know, he’s largely either been shielded from or managed to mostly avoid any real problems or difficulties throughout his life and the few he has experienced were One-offs. Maybe he’s fortunate in that regard, but unfortunate in that he has no idea how relate to someone who by contrast has experienced a fair share of adversity, largely of the Ongoing variety.

For the longest time I thought we just had a communication problem, easy enough to overcome with a little patience and mutual respect, but it turns out the reason we weren’t communicating is we speak two completely different languages. Languages that are learned but can’t be taught.

My family, for instance, is loud, opinionated and very open. We speak our minds, have heated debates and arguments, and frequently use expletives and sarcasm for emphasis and humor. As long as I can remember we’ve shared our stories, emotions and opinions this way, but never really taken each other too seriously, outside of legitimately serious situations. I’m fully aware that not everyone comes from a family like this and that I sometimes come across as dismissive or aggressive when I don’t intend to, and to some extent I’ve managed to temper these personality traits in an effort to get along with others in a more amicable way. However, the likelihood of me becoming quiet and docile, or never again using expletives in conversation, is zero — not going to happen. The likelihood of me ceasing to stand up for myself or have a confrontation that needs having, is also zero.

Conversely, my ex comes from a very quiet family in which everyone is afforded a turn to speak, emotions are kept close to the vest and shared only in private, if at all, expletives are not condoned, and the conversation is very light. As you might have guessed, my ex and I intrinsically converse, confront (or avoid confrontation), and communicate in vastly different ways, usually resulting in an argument followed by the two of us repelling each other like two negatively polarized magnets for a while.

In addition to the issues of communication, there was also the lack of understanding. Both empathy and sympathy are the result of being able to, on some level, put ourselves in another person’s shoes and try to see the world from their perspective, but unless you’ve had some experience with Sh*t-in-Life™, you have no frame of reference. For instance, when my father died and I would try to comfort my mother, she would tell me I couldn’t possibly understand what she was going through, and she was right, but I could still empathize with her on some level and try to comfort her because I was feeling a great loss as well, albeit a different one. Trying to explain being bullied to someone who has never been bullied might evoke sympathy, but will lack true understanding, in the same way that trying to explain an adversity-free life to someone whose dealt with a lot of Sh*t-in-Life™ will evoke awe, and a little sympathy, but will also lack true understanding.

Those who have dealt with a lot of Sh*t-in-Life™ don’t look at the world through rose colored glasses — they were likely mangled beyond repair about the third or fourth time they were beaten up on the bus as a child, and definitely destroyed when that stalker made life a living hell for a year or more. Those who haven’t had to deal with much Sh*t-in-Life™ probably don’t even know that adversity exists, why would they? It’s not in their frame of reference. In the case of my ex, he thought the rosy world he envisioned in his mind was it, and anything outside of that purview was superfluous, unimportant drama which only served to suck the air out of his shiny, happy existence. It’s really no wonder it didn’t work out, but I’m grateful for the revelation and the experience either way.

I’m not saying these things can never work out, I’m just saying that for people at the far ends of the spectrum, opposites might attract, but will probably never understand each other. I don’t know what got bumped, but the Sh*t-in-Life™ scale has certainly been added to my top 10 list. Shall we call this a lesson learned?  ✻