To Poach or Not
Not every messy beginning has as happy an ending as Olivia and Alan's. So if an opportunity to poach (or be poached) presents itself, it's essential to see the situation -- and the relevant relationships -- for what they are. Keep in mind that:
- Poachers aren't a great bet. Relationships that are a result of poaching don't have a great long-term prognosis. "Poachers rate low on conscientiousness, kindness, and past fidelity -- which doesn't bode well for marriage," says Schmitt.
- Your relationship may never seem "perfect." The desire to stray -- to poach or be poached -- may come from a skewed perspective on your current relationship. "You want many things in life, and any partner can offer only some of them," says Aron. "Even if you're in a good relationship that offers you lots of X, if someone comes along who offers Y, you take the X for granted, and the Y starts to look really good." Start by focusing on the relationship you're in and the skills you bring to it. Is there a way to add more "Y" (spontaneity, for example) and make sure you appreciate the "X" (security, maybe? ) that you do have?
- Relationship hopping may not offer instant happiness. If your current relationship seems unsalvageable, simply trading in for the new one idling outside is likely not the answer. Melissa, 26, an American living in London, left a dull marriage with an amiable husband for a more fiery liaison with her boss. That lasted two years -- much longer than it should have, she says. "I don't think we wanted to admit that we'd made a big mistake and caused ourselves and others a lot of pain for something that wasn't going to work. We both had a grim determination to keep our relationship going, despite all the signs that we were wrong for each other."
- Feeling unsettled? Look inside first. Overall, when you're not happy, in a relationship, it's most important to evaluate not your partner, but yourself. Melissa didn't just need to find the "right guy" -- at least not yet. First, she needed to look at what was making her put up with, even fight for, less than she wanted or deserved. "Mainly what determines your satisfaction is not your partner, it's you," says Aron. "There's a good chance that if you're unhappy and anxious in a relationship, jumping to a new one will make you happy in the short run -- but in the long run, you'll feel the same." Melissa now admits that in the past, she'd been over-equating drama with passion, and also looking for her relationship to define her. "My husband was the carefree guy and my boss the hardworking company man. My own personality is between those two extremes, but I played along with who they wanted me to be because it was easier than figuring out who I was." She's now seeing someone new, and taking it slow. "Now I make sure that my relationship not a source of drama, and also that it's not the only thing in my life," she says.
- A little self control goes a long way. If you don't go for this person now, you probably won't "miss the chance of a lifetime." Remember: patience is all the virtue that poaching is not. "He told me he'd be with me if it weren't for his girlfriend," says Rachel, 31, of Nick, a guy her age and also from D.C. Despite their attraction, the two survived some intense situations -- even driving cross-country to grad school together -- without incident. When his relationship finally ended and the two started dating, Rachel says, "I had this wonderful feeling that if he wasn't poachable when he was with her, then he wouldn't be poachable when he was with me. After all, I knew from experience."