By Caitlin Kelly
If you’re still hoping to find a partner, it can feel like an exhausting and overwhelming search.
I spent my 20s dating a lot of men, but not wanting a long-term commitment from anyone, certainly not marriage. I didn’t want children and I wanted, long-term, to get to New York, a difficult thing for most Canadians.
So after I moved to Montreal, I fell in love with an American medical student from New Jersey. I was able to obtain a “green card” allowing me to live and work permanently in the U.S.
We spent seven years together, but should never have married.
I experienced repeated collisions of misaligned values and discovered personality traits I wanted to avoid. Dates that caused me to be versions of myself I didn’t like and cost me time that I could have spent on my couch: just me, a Vicodin and a book about sadness.
To break this cycle, I decided to track it all. Make sense of the patterns and change them.
Cue the Trello board. As of today, the board has six stages and eight traits. It’s similar to the business development process of a salesperson, with each stage representing a step toward a successful deal and each trait representing a characteristic that is more likely to lead to success.
The stages are: To Vet, Vetting, Vetted, Scheduling, Scheduled and Dating. Each person is represented by a Trello card — a kind of digital sticky note.
Before I go on a date with anyone, his card progresses from left to right, passing through these stages until we’re dating. If we never get that far, I archive his card, in which case an archived card is all he will ever be.
I evaluate my potential dates based on eight traits. Five of those traits I try to learn about before the date. The remaining three I think about after the date.
Before the first date, I try to determine the following: Does he make me laugh via text? Does he live in L.A.? Does he like his job? Is he down to go backpacking? Will he get on the phone?
Years ago, after my miserable two-year marriage — he walked out barely two years to the date of our marriage, and remarried a colleague within the year — I found the acronym PEPSI, and used it think more seriously about compatibility with potential partners.
I stayed divorced and single for six years.
I had a few marriage proposals, one very serious.
But I didn’t want them, from those people, one from a man I had had a huge crush on in my 20s after I profiled him for a Toronto magazine. Oddly, later, we dated seriously for about six months, but there was a large age difference — that didn’t bother me at 24 but did at 39.
I did want to re-marry, even though my first husband was unfaithful, which broke my heart.
I have spent a lot of my life alone and, while I’m pretty independent, I much prefer having someone loyal and loving to share my life with.
I knew a few women like me who kept striking out and finally made a list of what they most wanted in a partner.
Everyone thinks: cute, smart, rich.
After a few decades in the trenches it’s a lot more like: funny, smart, kind, flexible, accomplished.
I wanted a unicorn — someone virtually impossible to find in New York City — a man who was both highly accomplished but also modest about it.
Someone able to be deeply serious and responsible about the matters of adult life (bills, savings, health issues) but able to laugh a lot.
Someone generous emotionally, able to easily express affection, something I struggle with.
I found Jose online while writing about online dating for a women’s magazine.
We would never have met otherwise — even though we had people who knew us both.
This was then part of my thinking if I met a man who seemed interesting.
So, how compatible, really, were we?
P for Professional
E for Emotional
P for Physical Attraction
S for Spiritual
I for Intellectual
There were some serious doubts on both parts.
P met the bill, both of them.
E…well, two very stubborn people!
He felt I wasn’t nearly spiritual enough for him, a devout Buddhist. I told him that seemed mighty judgmental.
I feared he wasn’t intellectual enough.
Yet here are, 21 years later!
Some of the qualities I think essential in a life partner include a phenomenal work ethic, a spirit of generosity for himself and others, awareness of the world and how it works (and doesn’t), a commitment to making others happier.
Resilience is huge. We’ve been through a lot of stuff — deep family conflicts, his turning full-time freelance, his diabetes diagnosis, my breast cancer. I wanted someone with a spine and a heart!
We each arrive to the quest with our own specific deficits and needs, our strengths and weaknesses.
But knowing who we are and what we value most is a good start.
Commitment is key.