“Love is our response to our highest values — and can be nothing else.”
— Francisco d’Anconia, Atlas Shrugged (Part 2, Chapter 4, Page 490)

When you stare deep into the eyes of your lover, what do you see?

Forget your own reflection, funny man. Go past the desire and passion, girlfriend.

Who is that staring back into your eyes?

Pay attention. We humans like to play at being mysterious and cool. We like to mask our deeper selves and protect our souls from possible pain. But the truth is, if you look carefully, the soul can’t be masked. It can’t be hidden or denied; though we will do all we can to mute its presence.

We select the people in our inner circle. These people are more than just a reflection of what we find fun, engaging, and interesting in life — they’re a reflection of ourselves.

When we surround ourselves with friends who are, for example — outdoor adventurers and carefree — we’re making a statement that we value outdoor adventures and a carefree attitude. When our friends are our boon couch companions for the all-important Kung Fu marathon and buffalo wing extravaganza, we’re asserting that we value the Tao philosophy of wisdom and intelligence, along with the ability to kick ass and dine deliciously.

So when you look in the eyes of your most intimate partner, what do you see?

Do you see the patience you strive for?
The generosity of a soul that you admire?
The tenacity that you respect?

Do you see the sense of fun and adventure that you crave?
Do you see the thoughtful intellect and dry wit that you enjoy?

Do you see your hero?

I’m not talking about superhero qualities and impossible standards of perfection. This isn’t about setting someone up for failure or having unrealistic expectations concerning your relationships. In fact, this really isn’t about your relationships at all. It’s about you.

Think about the values that are most important to you. If it’s important to you that you build a life of health and wellness, adventure and community service, then how long are you holding on to the woman who is allergic to the gym, fears flying and germs, and prefers to spend her time at family get-togethers with her close-knit circle of friends?

How long do you cling to the man whose corporate ambition is providing a comfortable life, but he’s tied to his phone, laptop, and the constant business trips? And when he’s home, he just wants to relax, watch TV, and go for a swim?

There’s nothing wrong with any of these profiles. But, they don’t mesh.

“The qualities which a man seeks in his beloved are those characteristics of his own soul, whether he knows it or not.”
— Plato

Plato is partly right. The one you choose to pull closest to you — to invest your energy and time and emotion into – that one is most keenly your reflection. That’s all you hold dear. But if your values are out of alignment, you’ll know it. You’ll feel it.

When you’re acting in a way contrary to your core values, you’ll feel it in your body — physically. You’ll feel it in your mind. You’ll feel it emotionally. You know it.  Now, you’ll also rationalize it. You’ll explain it away. You’ll say you’re being too picky or unrealistic. Or your needs are not as important as the other person’s. Or what you want is silly anyway. You will excuse it seventeen thousand ways to mute that feeling of discomfort.

But you know it’s there — the uncomfortable feeling that you’re not being true to yourself. Because you’re not.

When I look in his eyes, if I’m not seeing thoughtful intelligence, wry humor, deep empathy, fierce independence, an emotional connection, and an open-minded sense of adventure, then I’m looking into the wrong eyes. If you’re not seeing your list of core values gazing back at you, despite any genuine interest, you’re looking into the wrong eyes too.

And if you don’t know what your list is… well… look around you. What are the characteristics you see in the loved ones you have surrounded yourself with? Because whether you’ve consciously thought about it or not, those are the values you’re currently choosing to live by.

How do they feel — do they fit? Or is it time to get to know yourself?