Statistically speaking age at the time of marriage is the number one factor in measuring how long the union will last. Those who get married very young are more likely to see the inside of divorce court then those who wait until their mid-twenties and beyond. Social scientists indicate a number of reasons why the age people get married is such an important factor in success; education, stability, and maturity just to name a few. Every 18 year old thinks they belong to the mature adult club, but they are missing the life lessons that can only come from navigating the complex world of personal relationships. Meeting new people, surviving a breakup (romantic or platonic), living on our own, learning new skills, and travel are just some ways we learn more about ourselves and others on our path to personal fulfillment. It is thought that those who marry too early in their inter-personal maturity cycle miss out on key developments necessary to figure out what and who really matters to them in life. We learn about ourselves and our needs from each person we interact with. I am not a relationship expert or accredited social scientist, but in hindsight it is interesting to analyze my own relationships and what I learned about myself and the world from dating trial and error.
Even if you only watched one talk show episode in your entire existence you more than likely heard the following phrase uttered by a woman scorned; “but I love him.” These four words are often muttered out of the mouths of women who are trying to defend the reasons they stay in an awful and physically or emotionally abusive relationship. He stood me up on a date but I love him. He cheated on me but I love him. He got another woman pregnant but I love him. He beat the crap out of me but I love him. Women who utter these words have no self-respect nor have they learned an important maturity lesson; you can love someone deeply and profoundly and not have a successful relationship or marriage with that person. This lesson applies to more then just the obvious bad relationship signs of abuse and infidelity. It might sound completely unromantic to those who have not “been around the block a few times” but the Beatles were wrong; love isn’t all you need. It is possible to fall in love with someone but still not have the elements necessary for a lifetime commitment. Understanding more about yourself, your goals, and your needs and how they conflict with a person is necessary to know when to walk away from an otherwise good relationship. Too many women (and men) stay in a relationship (or get married) to the wrong person because they are comfortable, stable, and ignoring the subtle signs of doom. Even worse, we often think the conflicting behavior, opinion, or attitude will change over time; people rarely change. Learning this lesson is eye opening but frightening. When it comes to relationships we cannot always trust our heart but we must listen to our head.
Warning signs are ever present during bad dates and in bad relationships, but we often don’t recognize those signs until it is too late. The sound of our brain screaming “no” to pursuing or continuing a relationship is undeniably muffled by the heart screaming “yes.” Our hearts lie to us when we are lonely, depressed, bored, or feeling a little desperate. Common sense is the first thing thrown out the window in affairs of the heart and it is important to have a mental (or physical) list of relationship “must haves,” “nice to haves,” and “no ways” allowing good judgment to prevail over lust and infatuation. New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a piece on Father Pat Connor who educates teenage girls on “whom not to marry” before they walk down the aisle with Mr. Wrong. Father Connor’s lessons on what traits and qualities make good husband material reminded me of my own “who can I date” list. Created in jest with friends one night to after one of my more amusing dating disasters, this list proved a useful tool in weeding out a few prospective boyfriends before anyone got hurt. Some argue against the laundry list of dating requirements claiming that they are unromantic, eliminate potential good matches, and make women and men too picky. For those who feel that way go ahead and waste your time in a string of dead end and unhappy relationships, everyone else can take notes on their life experiences to help speed up their process of elimination. Here are some qualities that were on my list (in no particular order):
No jealously or possessiveness: Some women (and men) think people show love when they are jealous or possessive. It seems cute at 16 but at some point it is important to learn that men who are jealous and possessive lack self-esteem, don’t trust you or your relationship, become controlling and manipulative, and should be kicked to the curb at the first signs of these negative qualities.
Macho Man: There is no bigger turnoff for me then the whole macho man showoff routine. I wasn’t looking for an ultra-sensitive “girly man” but the exaggerated sense of power, strength, and dominance often demonstrated through actions like bar fights is repulsive. Machismo is nothing more then men indicating that they think they are better than you just because they were born with a penis and this well-educated, equal rights advocate has no time or tolerance for men like that; romantically, personally, or professionally.
Foodie: One might say I am passionate about food. I love a good meal, love to cook, love an evening out at a fine dining establishment, and love trying new dishes. It would be impossible to share my life with a person who didn’t have the same feelings for food. It only took a few dates with a guy who openly admitted he ate not out of enjoyment but because it was a requirement for staying alive to realize this. He would plan day long dates without any stops for nourishment and look at me strangely when I begged to stop for dinner.
Cheers: I like wine with my dinner, love a cold beer on a hot afternoon, and have an affinity for fine scotch. I didn’t judge men who didn’t drink but they often judged me so it was best to avoid teetotalers. This predicament didn’t happen very often giveen I predominently met men (including my husband) in bars.
Adventurous: Not necessarily jump out of an airplane adventurous, but after a string of dating boring homebodies it became apparent that I required someone who liked to enjoy new experiences, learn new things, and grow as a person. With my love of food I also preferred to date men with adventurous palates and often used the pizza test; if a date ordered nothing but a plain cheese pizza with no toppings the date would end with a handshake and a nice to meet you; have a nice life.
Respectful: How a person treats a waitress or bartender speaks volumes about them. If someone is nasty to servers, talks down to them, and treats them like second class citizens beware; chances are this is how the person will treat you after the honeymoon period is long over. I waited tables and tended bar during college and was amazed at the number of men who acted like they were showing off to their date by ordering around the “help”.
College: Having a college education was a necessity. This is not saying that people who attend college are smarter or better then those who don’t, but my experiences in college shaped much of who I am and sharing my life with someone with similar experiences was very important to me. I went out with a few guys who didn’t go to college and the differences in life experience were too hard to overcome. These were also the same men who expressed jealously and contempt towards women who earned more then them and given the pay gap between educational levels chances are that would become an issue in the long term. Some of these men openly asked me to dumb it down around their friends. I like being smart and don’t think it is something I should have to hide or apologize for.
Dogs: I am a dog person and although I didn’t have a dog during my dating years there was never a question that some day I would have a dog, or two, or three. Men who didn’t like dogs, didn’t want dogs, or thought of dogs as anything less than furry blessings from above didn’t get past the first date.
Children: I am what the childfree community refers to as an “early adopter;” someone who knew from a very young age that they did not want to have children. Even possessing this knowledge about myself I still dated a few people before realizing the effect of this on long-term romances. I wasted my time, and the time of some amazing men who met many of my other criteria, not sharing this tidbit about myself up front. It is kind of a weird thing to bring up, but eventually I realized how important it was to just throw my not liking nor wanting children out in the open early rather then wasting my time and energy with a man who wanted to have 2.4 kids and the white picket fence.
Smoking: No ifs, ands, or butts; after kissing a smoker I realized it tasted like I was licking an ashtray. Not sexy. Nor is the use of any drugs; total deal breaker.
Friends: If someone is a loner there is usually a good reason. Often the loner has a crappy personality that appears a few months/years into the relationship.
Challenging: One might describe me as strong, tenacious, and opinionated. I tended to attract men who were quiet and looking for someone with a more domineering personality. They were fun at first, allowing me to take over the relationship with little to no push-back. After a while these men bored me to tears. No doormats please.
Taller: This is not very PC; I tried to date men who were vertically challenged and the relationships came up short (pun intended). There is nothing small about me and my 5 foot 9 inch frame, often described as statuesque and voluptuous. My inability to handle a relationship with a shorter man has much to do with my lifelong mental and physical structure with my weight. Dating a man shorter then me made the weight struggle worse and I realized I just feel happier and more attractive when I am with a man who makes me feel a little thinner and smaller.
Italian Men: Also not very PC but as a part-Italian girl growing up surrounded by Italian men I learned many lessons about what I did not want in a romantic relationship. (Most) Italian men are jealous, possessive, macho, sexist pigs. They are egotistical Mama’s boy drama queens who think their shit doesn’t stink and the world revolves around them. They believe they are God’s gift to women. Women, in their opinion, were put on earth to have their babies and it is there right to marry those women but keep a few girlfriends on the side. Even if an Italian man somehow escaped his upbringing without obtaining any of these negative characteristics, chances are I would tower over them wearing simple flats. I am still looking for an Italian man out there to defy the sterotypes and prove me wrong on any or all these observations. If you exist and are single let me know; I have plenty of interested friends.
Do you have a relationship checklist? If so, what is on your list?