On Valentine’s Day two years ago, Nathan Vincent proposed to his wife, Shari. They had searched online for a soul mate for several years before their marriage in July 2010.
The Vincents, a Billings couple in their 30s, made their match through the Internet dating service eHarmony.
Their conversations flowed easily from their first date, in September 2009.
“I had dated a few other guys prior to Nathan, and things before were never really lining up, it felt like they were forced and our conversations were forced,” Shari said. “It seemed like with Nathan, his character and his integrity, all the things I was really looking for and really desired came through, and it all was just falling into place.”
Getting to know each other
Nathan knew he was looking for someone who shared his evangelical faith. He kept that priority front and center, even after one woman he dated said she felt like she was talking to her preacher.
Nathan and Shari exchanged emails and phone calls before they met in Minneapolis, where Shari lived and Nathan was visiting for his college class reunion.
At that first date, at a restaurant along the river, they ended up holding hands.
It felt good just to touch, Nathan said.
“He spent a lot more time with me than with any of his classmates that week,” Shari said.
In the ensuing months, they maintained a long-distance relationship, by phone, by Skype and by visits. Over the holidays, they met each other’s families. They felt comfortable with each other and lucky to have found each other.
Neither one can pinpoint the exact moment they knew they were right for each
other. But Shari knew she was falling more and more in love when she started to seriously consider moving to Montana.
For all we know about science, the chemistry of love remains a mystery. No crystal ball can show us the way to find Mister or Miss Right. But with Valentine’s Day approaching, some Billings counselors offered a bit of advice.
For married couples in counseling, communication is usually the top issue, said Tom Ferro, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Associates in Counseling in Billings.
Is there a feeling of being heard and understood? Does she get me? Does he really listen to me?
Conversations should be able to get to a “feeling level” of communication, where couples feel comfortable expressing their emotions, fears and dreams.
“If they only talk about themselves and they never ask about you, that’s a huge red flag,” Ferro said. “We want to be in relationships where people have empathy. If you don’t have empathy, you’re not going to be able to be very good in a relationship. Can this person experience empathy and show empathy?”
Ferro suggests people draw up a list of 10 qualities they’re looking for in the other person and then actively seek those qualities out in friendships and relationships.
As people age, they tend to become more cerebral about dating and more realistic about what they will and won’t change about their own behavior, Ferro said.
“They may ask themselves: ‘What does this person have to offer me? Are we compatible? Do we have things in common?’”
He suggests paying attention to how the person treats friends and family, watching how the person behaves in social situations. Is the person interested in a long-term relationship? Has the person bounced around from place to place or job to job?
Drug or alcohol use is often an issue for couples in counseling.
“It’s hard enough to handle a relationship without alcohol and drugs involved,” Ferro said.
The person you’re dating should treat you right, honoring and respecting your values, said Kristin Wagner, a licensed clinical professional counselor.
“You’re looking for someone who makes you feel valued, appreciated, respected.”
If you’re starting a dating relationship and things are not flowing, it’s a definite sign, said Amber Ussin-Davey, a licensed clinical professional counselor.
She finds some truth to the adage that people find a relationship when they’re not looking for it.
“It’s disheartening to think of each social event as maybe this will be the time I’ll meet someone,” Ussin-Davey said. Instead, concentrate on things that make you feel happy in your daily life.
“Things fall into place when we’re feeling good about ourselves,” she said.
If you’re in a dating relationship, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out to what degree your feelings are reciprocated.
Do you feel like you’re a priority in the other person’s life?
“Putting family first, their dog first, co-workers first, is definitely a sign they’re not that into you,” Ussin-Davey said.
Returning to the dating pool after a divorce can be daunting.
“A divorce is kind of like a death. You have to have time to grieve,” Wagner said.
Jeannie Assinos, a spokesperson for eHarmony, emphasized the importance of realizing what didn’t go right in your previous relationship and learning from that.
After a divorce, it is sometimes much clearer what you want and what you don’t want, she said.
But the fear of re-entering the dating scene can be intense.
“As we get older, our suitcases get heavier,” Wagner said.
It may be less intimidating to seek out friendships with people who have common interests through a bowling league, hiking club or book group.
If you’re dating with children, proceed slowly and with caution, Ussin-Davey said.
“You want to make sure this is somebody who you want to have in your child’s life.”
She also advised divorced parents to make sure to put their child’s needs first.
“Dating and relationships can be a rollercoaster ride, don’t bring them on it,” Assinos said.
Caution, then optimism
Although online dating is no longer considered an act of desperation, individuals need to proceed with more caution than they might with a blind date suggested by a friend. Online match-making sites offer a raft of dating safety tips. Those tips include being cautious about divulging personal information and setting up first dates in a public place during daylight hours.
The match process on eHarmony starts with questions designed to analyze core issues, beliefs and values. The site looks for compatibility in key areas, giving little credence to the adage that opposites attract.
“What we say is opposites attract, and then attack,” Assinos said.
A long-term, successful relationship is apt to work better if couples are more compatible, Assinos said.
During the dating search, individuals nail down 10 “must haves” in a relationship and an equal number of “can’t stands.”
Some counselors suggest that relationships go through stages. At first, couples focus on how alike they are, dismissing their differences. Eventually, they come to an awareness that they are not clones of each other. Finally, there is a recognition of differences and they establish patterns of how to handle conflict.
At some point, individuals always have to cope with some level of disillusionment in relationships as they unfold. How they handle that disappointment and disenchantment can make all the difference in a relationship.
Some researchers suggest that the quality of the interaction between two people is a better indicator of a relationship’s health than compatibility traits.
Irreconcilable differences crop up between couples in any relationship. The stability of a relationship may have more to do with how you fight than what you fight over.
Research done by John Gottman, a psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Washington in Seattle, indicates that in stable marriages, there are five times as many positive communications as negative ones.
Happy couples tend to be more successful in sharing their joy, respecting each other’s feelings, and punctuating tense situations with humor.
The quality of those interactions just might be worth considering while you’re searching for Mister or Miss Right.