Young Sarah was very methodical.
When it came to dating, I had a handful of long-term relationships with alternatingly awesome and awful dudes. That left me writing really emotional things in my 2007 journal like Bleh. No boys. and Why do I have to pick one?.
I wanted to figure out how to be happy in a relationship and why I wasn’t happy in my past relationships. So, obviously, I turned to capital-S Science.
What traits do I really want in a partner? And more importantly, which of those traits have my boyfriends had in the past… and which were they lacking?
After reading way too much of the Dalai Lama, I decided to make a list of the ten intangible things I wanted in a man I could respect, love, and marry. These are things that I wanted to be a given about any friend (honesty and humor) and things I really wanted in a partner that I could admire (responsibility and interest in a hobby or passion).
Some of my boyfriends had had these characteristics and I really missed that part of our relationship. Some of these things I had never experienced in a relationship, but I admired in men I knew and men from TV shows and movies. I think I went through quite a few drafts, but in the end I decided on these ten:
Feel free to steal from this list, but obviously we might have different needs in a relationship. Here’s what I had written in my journal (minus things in [brackets]):
- Funny/Witty – Smarter than me (sometimes). A witty match. Corny, dorky. Puns, lame jokes welcome. Insightful comedy. Not crude, lewd, or angry humor.
- Confident/Secure/Smooth – Okay with himself, knows what he wants and feels motivated and competent to get it (if he works hard).
- Literary/Practical Balance – Balanced between the abstract, creative, and hermit-ish and the practical, aware, and social.
- Unassuming/Pacifist – Confident in nonviolence, at least in theory. Strives to make those around him comfortable in a nonthreatening way. Powerful in his peacefulness.
- Chö – [A concept I nabbed from one of the Dalai Lama’s books] Ever-reflecting and willing to change. Analytical about “the way things are” and liberal about growth (physical, emotional, spiritual).
- Intensity/Focus – Not necessarily driven, but interested in things beyond himself and his life. [This might have been better captured as “curious”]. Has wants and desires — not satisfied with the status quo simply for the sake of tradition.
- Calming Effect – A strength and confidence that makes everything seem okay sometimes. Socially competent and fun for others to talk to.
- Capable/Responsible – I want to feel like I could leave him in control when I need a break and that everything will go smoothly.
- Honest – A given. Tells me the whole truth and has honest mental activity. Generally feels that there’s nothing worth hiding from each other.
- Demanding – Not content with me as I am. Interested in my infinite self and improvement. Challenges me to be a better person and grow. Not just supports growth, but encourages or initiates it. Asks questions.
Upon typing up this list…. wow. That gets personal. But there we are: I generally feel that there’s nothing worth hiding. So, up this post goes.
Are you ready for my favorite part? I took this list of traits and rated all of my exes according to which traits they had (and which ones they lacked, leading to the end of the relationship). Over the years, I had come close. But no cigar.
Looking back, it’s amazing to see the trends I held to without knowing it. Everyone I’ve ever dated was really, really funny in that sarcastic, witty way that I mirrored. Most of them were very responsible and capable in a Charleston Heston way, and I only learned later in life to look for the honest ones who didn’t have deep-rooted anger and who welcomed a spirit of change.
I don’t know that making this list and studying my past helped me decide to marry JHubbs, but I do think it helped me decide to give him a chance. The things he lacked — if it could be said he lacked them at all — were lower on my scale of “must haves.” They were things that could grow if he wanted them to — that have grown since we were married two years ago.
What mattered most, I think, was taking the evaluative approach. Not looking for the next guy or any guy, but looking for specific things I knew I needed from the man in my life. And most importantly of all, knowing how to express my appreciation of what he would bring to the relationship.