Years ago, a single woman I knew — tall, blond, attractive, intelligent, professionally successful — was getting really sick of being single. She had plenty of dates, but no one she ever wanted to marry.
So she made a list.
When she told me this, I wondered how weird and bossy that was, but she was soon happily married so…how wrong was she to try?
I made a list, too.
It was really, really long. I think it had about 36 things on it.
I didn’t specify anything about looks — height or weight or length of hair — I know what I like. I knew I would only want to marry someone in decent physical shape, who dressed with style. I’d dated a few bald men who were super-attractive beyond their hairiness, so that wasn’t an issue. I’m 5’5″, so didn’t need a guy who’s 6’4″, as some tall women might.
I had to start paring it down, which was a really interesting exercise. What did I most want?
A man willing and able to brush/shovel show — score! (This is the Jose I keep talking about.)
Something I couldn’t really put into writing in an on-line ad, which is the only way I was meeting anyone — I really hoped to find a man who was extraordinarily accomplished but extremely modest. Hah! In New York? Anyone who fit the first category would never date me, (I’m not a size 00, have no Ivy degrees nor a huge salary or fancy job) and the latter…it’s deeply un-American, at least where I live, to hide your light beneath a bushel. The skyline is virtually lit with ego and special-snowflake-ness!
But I also knew I wanted someone with clear, consistent ethics and a spiritual life. That, too, sounded way too starchy to put in an ad and I couldn’t figure out how to bring it up in conversation. I was reluctant to describe myself as a church-goer, (occasional), while knowing someone who couldn’t care less about the state of their soul, and the fate of the world, would never be a match for me.
My list was the best move I’ve ever made.
It forced me to really look at my priorities and decide which were the most important. Fun, cute, sexy…sure, in my 20s and 30s. But in my early 40s, by then six years’ divorced with no kids and no wish for any, I also wanted someone with real substance.
To use an old-fashioned word that means a great deal to me — with character. Of good character.
Not just a character!
Jose, now my second husband, found me through an on-line profile I created while writing a story for Mademoiselle magazine. “Catch Me if You Can”, was my truthful headline.
I didn’t say I was a journalist but he knew right away — “That ego!” he’s told me many times.
(If you’re currently looking for love on-line, check out this story that had professionals
tweak re-write two users’ profiles.)
Within a few dates, we both had a pretty good idea this one might take — it’s now been 13 years. He turned out to be a devout Buddhist, with a small room in his Brooklyn apartment with a shrine, Buddha and prayer flags. He took the vows of refuge after covering the end of the war in Bosnia for six weeks, which seared his soul.
We share: a strong work ethic, a commitment to spiritual growth, a love of great food and wine, a hunger to travel, intellectual curiosity, ease in settings from the White House, (he has photographed three Presidents) to a rural cabin, short fuses and tart tongues. He is crazily accomplished, (a Pulitzer, for 9/11 photo editing), but never tells anyone. (Check that box!) He’s funny, optimistic, affectionate, fiercely loyal.
We’re also very dissimilar in many ways. I live to take risks and am careless about rules and regulations. He’s a PK, a preacher’s kid, cautious about giving offense. I’ve spent much of my career freelance, figuring out my income month by month — he has never not had a job, ever.
When we started dating I had read a book with an interesting list; PEPSI…suggesting you seek a partner with whom you are compatible Professionally, Emotionally, Physically, Spiritually and Intellectually. We fit on four of the five, which seemed enough to me. And the one we didn’t fit on, Intellectually, (he rarely reads non-work material that is not focused on Buddhism), he has changed a lot, and we never run out of things to talk about.
For too many years, I played the part of the perfect little southern girl: I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. I dressed properly, including panty hose, slips, and girdles. I didn’t laugh too loudly in public. I did what I was told.
You see, I learned at an early age that I had to do this in order to always be seen as a “good little girl” (and avoid getting punished). I continued the same behavior after I got married, doing what my husband expected of me and keeping up the appearances of a perfect life behind a white picket fence.
I was a mental and emotional chameleon, changing my viewpoints and values to match first those of my parents and then those of my husband. Secretly, inside myself, I had my own dreams and opinions, ideas, and desires. Eventually I realized that in order to be happy, I needed to learn to live outside the box of my upbringing.
Have you ever made a list of what you really want in a partner?
Did it work?