Noe Valley Voice February 2001

What + What = Love?

What Makes a Good Relationship?

A Quick Valentine's Day Survey by Heidi Anderson

The road to love is rocky. Opposites attract. A good relationship is founded on mutual respect. You have to be willing to share. Honesty is the best policy.

Want to hear more clichés? Follow me around for a week in January as I ask Noe Valleyans what makes a good relationship, my Valentine's Day story assignment.

There are a million opinions about relationships in this naked city. I heard two dozen of 'em.

A Good Relationship Is...

From Loren, who works at MikeyTom Market on Church Street: "Oh, a good relationship means having the ability to give and take."

Loren wraps up a few bagels and takes money from a customer. Then he laughs, "Well, if I could actually find a good relationship, I could tell you."

From Eric, a shopper at MikeyTom: "What makes a good relationship? (long pause) Non-violent communication."

From a woman ahead of Eric in line buying groceries: "Friendship first."

Then Eric leans over a small child and says, "Say goodbye to Mommy." He and the woman in front of him engage in a stiff conversation about who has custody the next weekend.

Behind Eric is Juan from Whitney Street, who demurs for a second, but after a couple sips of coffee, offers, "She has to be my best friend first. Then, of course, it's gotta be great sex."

"You have to tell him you love him every day," advises Lucy, up the road on Church Street.

"You need to talk about what's bothering you immediately and in such a way that it won't hurt his feelings," says Rena of 29th Street.

Down at Martha's Coffee on Church Street, Austin, sharing a piece of cake with his wife Lori, muses, "Hmm, I'd say mutual respect."

Then Lori says, "You don't need to have everything in common. The most important thing is a shared passion," to which Austin erupts, "Shared passion in vinyl siding!"

What Would Oprah Say?

A funny thing happens when you ask someone what makes a good relationship. They pause. Their faces go blank as if you've asked them to answer what 12 times 9 is. Then you see the wheels turning. I know this one, they think. Their faces turn hopeful. Their faces seem to say, What would Oprah say?

I learned to keep my mouth shut and let 'em get past this stage.

Lorena of Corbett Street says her soul mate can't be too sensitive. "He has to have a sense of humor about himself." When pressed for an example, she says, "If I make a joke about him, like his weight, and he can't take it, it's over."

Nancy, lunching at Miss Millie's on 24th Street, says mutual respect often helps two people stay together, but mutual dependency probably got them there in the first place. "What propels people into any relationship is the fear of being alone," she says glumly.

That prompts her married friend Anita to say, "A lot of us in San Francisco stay together because of the outrageous real estate prices!" Aside from a healthy income, she adds, "a good relationship requires an automatic toilet-seat lowerer!"

Rafael, a parent dropping off his toddler at Tiny Tots on Day Street, says a good relationship "is built on a solid foundation of routine." He hastens to attribute this piece of wisdom to his role model, Homer Simpson.

A Messy Art Project

You'd think these thoughtful remarks would help me arrive at a formula. Or at least become a good matchmaker. (The yenta in me had to resist trying to hook up the two "friends first" people in line at MikeyTom.)

But love is not a math equation. In fact, what makes two people click can be a total mystery.

Carole, a friend who's been married for 18 years, answered my survey with: "Love can't be analyzed. The details can't be extracted from one relationship and then put into another relationship and get the same results."

Each relationship has its own DNA. And sometimes what makes for a good pairing is just good chemistry. And lots of stamina.

"A good relationship has to be worked on all the time," confides Celia, after 22 years of marriage to Felix. "You don't just take it out of the box, and it fits and that's it."

Celia's dad Jim, married 53 years to Gerry, agrees. "Patience" is his one-word answer to my question. "Patience."

Okay, a good relationship is a thing that requires patience, love, honesty, respect, friendship, a sense of humor, and (oh yes, let's not forget) passion. Finally, it is a non-transferable, constantly changing, extremely messy creative art project.

So this Valentine's Day, let's all enjoy our relationships as the works-in-progress they are. If you promise to do that, I'll let you go back to buying your groceries and drinking your frappuccinos in peace.

That is, until Flag Day. See ya then.