About the most important decision of your lifeFeatured

Before the age of 18, I observed eight loved ones go through divorces. In essence, I started college with more examples of why relationships didn’t work than why they did work. Yet, finding a partner was always important to me.

The actual dating experience was hard and lonely for me (more details about what that was like here). But, once past the initial dating phase, I found that each time I met a [potentially] suitable mate, I would quickly assemble a list of reasons why the relationship wouldn’t work rather than why it would. I turned to friends and family for advice, but that wasn’t enough since they were often biased towards my perspective. I tapped into other resources - therapy, The Gottman Institute, influencers, and random tidbits I came across on Reddit - but I struggled with how to go from dating to figuring out if someone was right for me in the long-term.

There was no rubric, no guide, no go-to resource to troubleshoot, ask questions, get advice. And yet Warren Buffet asserts that this, who you choose to marry, is the most important decision in life. That decision on who you choose affects you emotionally, physically, financially…literally how you spend your time on this planet.

Feeling lost, in 2018, I created an anonymous Instagram account to process dating and figuring out if someone was right for the long-term. I asked loved ones to follow. They cheered along and soon strangers did too. That account equipped me with a third-party, unbiased perspective that changed everything. It was the space I craved to process my experience when I wanted to and on my terms. The community was along for the ride - to provide objective feedback, share their experiences, and wave a foam finger when I needed it.

When I declared I met someone who seemed too good to be true on the IG account, I received DMs saying, “Don’t overthink it,” when I was indeed overthinking it. When I said I was trying to figure out if this was the long-term relationship that led to marriage, I asked the community what they would ask (or wished they had asked), in addition to Googling “questions to ask before getting married”.

One person dove in with suggestions on how to plan a fun weekend retreat around the topic of “spending our lives together” so we could unpack it as a couple. At first, I felt awkward about investing so much into the decision, but then I thought about how much effort goes into new launches or even annual planning at work. Why wouldn’t I do that for my life? And then, when I got engaged, someone said, “I’m thrilled now you can focus on problem-solving life and building a great relationship with this person.”

I went into my new marriage with less of the rose-colored, Hollywood romance perspective, and a better understanding of what people mean when they say “marriage is work”. All of this helped me feel like I “did my homework”, and I am better equipped to savor the fun parts and better handle the constant reinvestment in partnership because of this community.

My hope is for everyone to feel supported the way I was, which is why I launched Meet The Otter, a virtual community and (group) coaching experience for dating and relationships backed by behavioral science. Given that partnership is the most important decision of one’s life and yet we have the least amount of information to make this decision, we decided to study it. Over two years, we spoke to executives at Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, and HowAboutWe, connected with mental health professionals, and surveyed 1K+ members of our community. Here’s what we learned:

  1. The first example matters. The first example of romantic partnership we’re exposed to is our first impression. In our community, 56.9% of people revealed that their first example of a romantic partnership was not a healthy dynamic. When dating, the default is to compare the current dating experience to that first example to identify patterns. It takes self-awareness and in-depth exposure to new relationships to train the brain to look for other patterns.
  2. Inspiration can come from other places. Since the first relationship impression wasn’t a healthy experience for the majority, we asked where they found inspiring examples. Most stemmed from friends (38%), parents (25%), other relatives (12%), followed by examples found in articles and research (11%).
  3. Having a place to process is important but there is no perfect place. The most common destination to process dating or relationship challenges is with friends, according to 96.3% of respondents. However, this outlet was not without limitations. A few common concerns included, “a lack of objectivity” with friends or “a desire to have a neutral, non-judgmental third party who doesn’t know you but understands your relationship status”.
  4. There is fear around commitment. According to Pew Research, 38% of millennials grew up in a single-parent home. It is likely this experience cultivates some fear around a marriage not working out - 60% of our community fears divorce, 23% sometimes fear it, and 17% definitely do not fear it.
  5. We need a dedicated place to talk about this part of our lives. According to our community, 95.1% of people wish they had a place to talk about dating and relationships outside of close friends and family. That third-party perspective, removed from one’s day-to-day personal life, can be a place to process dating and relationship journeys. Through community interviews, we learned that people often relied on work colleagues to be that third-party perspective and destination to process, which many people lost during the pandemic and a mostly remote work experience persists. Pre-pandemic 61% of our community had a ‘work spouse’ and relied on them for dating or relationship advice. Today 83% miss having a work spouse and a space to talk about their journeys.

How are you caring for this part of your life? If you’re interested in long-term partnership, how are you going about making this most important decision?

Wow! Impressive data collection
Thank you!!
@SimranKD I feel this for sure and could have benefited from a space to work through dating and all the questions that come with finding a partner. I would've loved an unbiased space to work through the questions: was this a me thing, a them thing, an us thing, a new relationships thing, the right thing, the wrong thing?But the real thing is that I'm still craving this space even now that I have an amazing partner. Navigating lives, friends, needs, boundaries, families, holidays (how to spend Thanksgiving?!), merging finances—or not—is REAL. I have an awesome therapist, great friends, and some solid examples of partnership but access to conversations and ideas on how to work through and think about a particular topic that I'm currently facing is lacking. Here for all of this!
Thanks for sharing @rebeccadonald! I can totally relate to these feelings. Relationships are living, breathing organisms that keep evolving. We need a space to work through all the stages that come up. We are working on it so definitely check out the site if you’re curious how we might be able to fill this gap.
I love this methodical, rational way of working through this. I'm divorced and I thought we had had a lot of thorough and thoughtful inquiry around our values and what we wanted out of life. So for a while I was truly puzzled about the 360 turn my ex took that led us to divorce. Reading this made me realise how superficial that process was. I really thought i was doing something😂. I would have really benefited from an approach like this as I do love to deep dive on issues I care about and would have noticed the inconsistencies and gotten unbiased advice. I'm not dating yet but I would definitely like to be more intentional about this and make the best decisions for me. Thanks so much!!
@abenaa - Congrats on taking steps to shift into your truth! Would love to learn more about what you did. I think the hardest part of this is that there’s no perfect science but…goodness a little more rigor would be helpful given the impact it has.
Warren Buffet himself had a pretty unconventional marriage and open relationship: saying we shouldn't listen to his advice, but I don't think he's modeling healthy relationships either. It sounds like he was a workaholic who literally dumped tons of emotional labor on his first wife until she got fed up and moved across the country. It was an "open marriage" on paper, but they were effectively divorced but probably didn't want to go through the paperwork since he had become so wealthy by that point. His wife was dating other people, and he immediately started living with someone his wife introduced him to, who he later married after his first wife died. His adult children have basically said he can't function without a domestic partner handling his non-work life for him.
Totally fair. I also struggled with some of the other folks who said it - Sheryl Sandberg, Melinda Gates, and Oprah. I agree with the reality...this decision has a serious impact on us and there isn't enough support around it.
Love this piece and topic! Honestly I don't really know where to even begin, I trash dating apps but it's not like I'm really using them that much to really complain (LOL) but yea I just don't like the idea of them and I still think they killed modern love. I think for me, I do want a partner, I don't need one but I'd like to share my joys, my pains and any random moment with a special person. I love my friends and family and I do share all these moments with them but a romantic partner brings something else. I want to build something meaningful with someone but like you said it's a huge decision and I don't want to f it up. The fact is I am a very dedicated person, and I invest heavily in my professional and personal life (which is where I arrived at a point where I have reached a healthy level of self love)... so I'd invest heavily in a romantic relationship. However, I have yet to meet the person for whom I'd want to do that and who would be my ride or die if that makes sense! The more I look around me even my female friends who are in happy relationships or marriages, the more I seem to think men have become "lazy", they no longer put in the work to find relationships/love or to keep the romance alive (for those who are with my friends), either they don't feel incentivised to or there's some other societal pressures I can't seem to see? the long story short is I am really not sure haha
The good news is there doesn't have to be a deadline on this if you're open to different permutations. And even if/when that person comes along, it's pretty wild how we dream things to be one way but actually getting to that place takes work. I think the point you make about female friends who longer seem happy because the relationships aren't being maintained is so so so real. It is an acute painpoint, and this is part of what I'm obsessively working on is how to care for relationships regardless of which stage of this journey you are at because ultimately love and belonging is a fundamental human need. And yet...none of this has a rule book or even a soft outline to follow. But I'm on it! It is possible!
Wow thank you for sharing all your thoughts! I was reflecting on this reply I posted a couple of days ago and realised perhaps I say I want a romantic partner, but am I really ready for it? and where I cannot seem to answer is: I don't know if I am actually not ready (i've been single for a while now.. like 5 years so i should be ready for it) or if the older I get the less interested i am to put in the effort to find a relationship, because i know that whichever relationship i decide to enter it's because I see a future with that person (i'm monogamous so id not want multiple partners) and that's kinda scary haha!And yes i would love to stay in touch and updated on your research! it's a fascinating topic to me.
Sure thing! I am happy to share my experience on this. I always knew I wanted a long-term partnership. Every time I would assess this big question, it came down to being an only child for me. I know once my parents are gone, it's just me (and extended family)...but I would no longer have a nuclear family. It's dark, but it's a real thought that's always been lingering for me. Now even with that lingering thought in my mind for years, I was definitely unprepared for long-term partnership. I didn't fully realize how much it would change my life, and I was not ready for it. I'm still very much adjusting to it. For me, the simplest way I can sum it up is that the number of people in your life usually doubles, but the amount of time you have stays the same. A lot of my challenges so far are tied to that...fwiw. We are creating a group for "new relationships" for this exact reason with The Link. This transition (from single to not) needs WAY more support.
Wow! Making the decision to enter or leave relationships can be extremely difficult, and family and friends can often have skewed perspectives, so this is really necessary and going to be extremely impactful. Meg Jay dives into a lot of these theories in her book the Defining Decade, I read it when I turned 20 and have been fortunate to have this perspective since. I decided to leave what was a good relationship, because our future goals didn’t align - which was so hard and has taken a long time to process. I questioned if it was the right decision for a long time, and could have benefited from this community during that time. I would love to help with this if you ever need some extra hands on deck with lifecycle and engagement marketing.
100% agree! I loved her idea of a "productive identity crisis". I don't understand why this book has not made more "recommended lists" or best gifts to give graduates for the same reason. This perspective at an early age can be so valuable. Thanks for your kind words, Lindsay! I can relate to your point of making a decision and craving community both before, during, and after it. I'd love to connect! Will shoot you a dm.
Agreed! Excited to connect.