Apr 27 2010 By Chester Chronicle
A love story
Can anyone really find their soul-mate? We look at the notion of 'affinity', and whether finding it with another person means you'll have the perfect relationship.
When Rita Wilson, 46, split up with her husband of 10 years in 2006, little did she think she'd ever find love again.
Especially on the internet.
But life can throw up surprises at any given moment, and Phil, 52, was one of them.
Rita had loved and lost a few times in her life. First married at 18, she'd had two daughters by her early 20s and then watched, slowly, as she and her husband grew apart.
It was a painful, but necessary, separation. But after her last long-term relationship floundered - with a man 11 years her senior - Rita gave up thinking she'd ever find love again, especially as a 40-something divorcee.
"When I split up with my last husband, I thought that was it, I was done," recounts the Lincolnshire-based DIY shop assistant.
"I was never a pub person and didn't really like to go out, so I'd resigned myself to thinking that it was over.
"I considered myself frumpy, mumsy and 'over the hill' in my 40s - so how was I ever going to find love again?"
Unimpressed with their mum's lackadaisical view of love, Rita's two daughters - Samantha, now 26, and Danielle, 22 - encouraged her to look for a partner online. So Rita posted her profile on Match.com - "the only dating website I liked the look of, because it seemed honest" - and waited.
Three months later, she met Phil, an engineer who lived just a few miles away. While there was an immediate physical connection between the two, what really united them was their shared interests - most notably their family ties, says Rita.
"Phil had a really cute face, but mostly I liked the fact that his profile was honest.
"He said he adored his two grown kids and that they were not just his life, but his priority. He wanted his partner to fit into that and share that with him. And that's exactly what my profile said too.
"Ultimately, we were just looking for the same thing, and that's why it works."
When it comes to falling in love, it might be a man's eyes, lips, laugh or style that hooks a woman in.
But for a relationship to really last, she should look beyond such superficial cues and focus instead on that sure sign of affinity: Common values and goals that will draw, and keep, two people together, says clinical psychologist and relationship expert Cecilia D'Felicie.
"What we know about relationships is that they thrive with similarities, as shared values and goals can help reduce conflict and build flexibility and fluidity.
"There are always some key issues that can turn out to be deal-breakers and need to be addressed in any partnership: Do we have children already or want children? Do we want to get married or just live together? Share a house or live separately?"
"Similar answers to those questions will help you have a long-term relationship. You'll have less conflict, have a shared vision and know where you're going."
In our search to find our 'soul-mate', she says, too many of us ignore the practicalities of day-to-day living, and don't ask each other those questions until it's too late - leading to heartbreak down the line when it could have been avoided much earlier.
"You might meet a great guy and then, six months down the line, discover that he doesn't want kids. What then? That can be heartbreaking for some women. That's why it's so essential to ask each other these questions earlier rather than later."
It was only because of Phil's upfront profile that Rita learned answers to her own questions. She wanted a partner with older children ("I wasn't ready to be a grandma just yet"), who loved spending time at home and who didn't mind that she had two grown daughters of her own.
Luckily, he fit the bill. But had she not posted such truthfulness on her own profile, it's possible that it would have taken both Rita and Phil a while to fully get to know - and understand - each other.
In order to avoid such potential confusion in the early stages of dating, Match.com launched a new service this month, MatchAffinity.com, aimed at the 60% of the Match.com market found to be serious about finding the 'one'.
The site asks users nearly 100 questions regarding money, sex, children, religion and love, and rates matches according to shared values, goals and personality types.
While such a service might seem to take the magic out of meeting someone new, it could actually be the greatest invention in internet dating, says D'Felicie.
"Dating blind, especially on the internet, isn't like joining a small dinner party of 10 or 12 people where you're meeting someone new.
"With the internet, there are thousands of potential dates, which can be quite overwhelming, especially for the older users. Having this shared ground could give you more confidence in knowing you've already got some of the legwork done for you."
Had Rita and Phil had the chance to use MatchAffinity.com, they would have done. But they also attribute a certain something else to their current bliss (and engagement): Luck.
"We've been very lucky that everything has come together as a unit the way it has: My daughter and Phil's daughter share the same birthday, everyone gets along fantastically, and we love doing the same things - doing the house up, going to the cinema, taking the car out or spending time with the kids," says the volunteer bereavement counsellor.
But just because their affinity for each other might mean that they seem a perfect match most of the time, it doesn't mean they don't argue, she notes.
"But that just keeps things exciting - it means we still have things to learn and accept about each other, too.
"At the end of the day, though, this is the best relationship I've ever had. They say you fall in love in the beginning during the honeymoon period, but two years on, I still feel like that. I rediscovered myself through Phil - and it's put a permanent smile on my face."
Top tips on finding affinity
If you've loved and lost, or loved and failed, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try again, says D'Felicie, as it can often take people many years - and multiple partners - to finally find true love.
"Don't feel like it didn't work out in the past because there's something wrong with you.
"Sometimes break-ups are due to life events or deal-breakers, or perhaps after the sexual chemistry fizzled out, you realized you didn't have much in common.
"The more you can take away from your past relationship in knowing what works and what doesn't work for you, the better, as you can put that to good use in a new relationship. So take note, take some time for yourself, and get back out there."