Once upon a time I was a high school girl who’d never had a boyfriend, and therefore I knew absolutely everything about relationships and how a grown man in love should act. My friend Athena and I sat next to each other in math class and math class was boring so one day, instead of scribbling about algebra, we tore a sheet of paper out of my notebook and made a list of characteristics we hoped to find in our future husbands. When Athena married after college, I patted myself on the back for my tendency to hold onto what should be random ephemera, found the list and made a copy for her so we could laugh over the specific traits we thought we did or did not want.
Over ten years later I can’t recall more than a few of the lines we wrote – I hadn’t even thought of “The List” until I read Jenny’s blog post about her own list. Then a few weeks ago I was in the car with Athena (who, unlike me, is still married) and I brought up our single-line, fully-filled page of husbandly requirements and we giggled at the ones we remembered. “Must not smell bad,” I think one went. “Cannot be a police officer, fireman, lawyer or doctor,” said another. I guess I was worried about the potential for bodily harm and serious amounts of overtime.
What I can vividly picture, however, is my neat handwriting declaring, “Must truly love me,” at the end.
I couldn’t know, that day in math class, that some twenty years later I’d be divorced with children, and that a list with more than 50 relationship makers and breakers was serious overkill. But now that I’m dating again and have a whopping eight months of post-divorce dating behind me, I think I have a better idea of what I would look for in a potential mate, if I’m ever fortunate enough to find love again.
You might assume that my list would be longer after divorce, but it’s not – after you’ve been married to someone who couldn’t hide his dissatisfaction with you, it becomes easier to distill attractive traits down to a simpler number.
The funny thing about making lists like this after a divorce or breakup of a long relationship is that they read like histories of what went wrong with the last dude. You see it in online dating profiles men write all the time. “Must be loyal. No cheaters!” Code for, “My ex-wife ran away with the bartender from our son’s graduation party.” “Must be willing to show affection,” means, “By the time we broke up, my last girlfriend had been withholding sex for five months.” “Looking for a woman who is financially secure,” signals that the last woman he dated was more interested in his wallet than his personality.
Without further ado, I bring you another list.
My Revised List of Traits I Find Attractive in a Man
1. Must not smell bad. Hey, this one is valid.
2. He must own a car. Don’t laugh. As I said in my comment to Jenny’s post, the first two guys I went out with last year didn’t have cars. They lived the city life and had no kids, so the expense was not necessary. But I don’t live in the city. I had to drive to them. That got old quickly, for real. I hate to be so environmentally unfriendly about this, but it’s kind of a need for suburban life.
3. He must treat my children well. No brainer. Any man who’s not exceptionally good to my kids, when he eventually meets them, is of no worth to me. He should treat all people well. I find honest kindness (not the variety where he’s only nice to someone so he’ll get something in return) to be one of the most attractive personality traits a man can have.
4. He must be secure. I’m not referring to financial security – I was married to a man who earns a more than decent living and it made not a lick of difference when it came to the quality of our relationship. A jerk with a good job is still a freaking jerk. What I mean is I want a man who won’t put me down because he feels bad about himself. A man who isn’t jealous. A man who isn’t intimidated by an intelligent woman (true stories – I’ve read more than one dating profile where the man actually says he’s looking for a woman who’s smart but not as smart as he is, Mr. Thoughtful asked me what my ACT score was on our first date and was then somewhat hurt that mine was higher than his, and my ex-husband spent much of his meanest moments trying to make me feel dumb). I want a man who knows he’s in control of the direction of his life and doesn’t play the victim.
5. He should be physically active. Staying in good shape takes a lot of effort for me – I’m never going to be effortlessly thin and I’m not looking for physical perfection in a mate. But I happen to enjoy working out and hope that doing so keeps me around long enough to pester my kids into their 70s or 80s. As I’ve been dating men who are older than I am as it is, I don’t want them to have an even greater likelihood of passing away in the very near future. Plus I’d love to have someone to run my 5ks with me, even if he’s faster or slower than I am. Who am I kidding? He’d definitely be faster than me.
6. He must be my friend. I should have made this number one (though the smelling decent is pretty important) because it’s the most significant aspect I’m looking for – lust may eventually lose its sheen but friendship is forever. Without that connection and commonality there is no foundation. I wrote as a teen that my future husband must truly love me, but love cannot exist without friendship, I’ve learned. You can’t love someone you don’t like. Shared interests, similar ideals, goals for the future that align well… all necessary.
7. He must have his own life. A man with friends is attractive to me because it means other people besides me like him. It means that when he’s out with his pals I can have a girls’ night or read at home alone (oh, who am I kidding, I’d probably be online). If he’s got interests that means he can share his experiences with me when we meet up again and that he’s passionate about more than me (because, of course, I’m passion-inspiring). I want to be with someone who wants to spend time with me, and I with him, but then we go off and do our own things every once in a while, too. Because 100% togetherness would honestly drive me insane.
8. He needs to have good teeth. I’m sorry, this is shallow but it’s the only physical requirement I have. I used to think I was only attracted to tall men, which is slightly ridiculous given that I’m five foot nothin’, but Tiger cured me of that. I once believed I needed a man to be broad shouldered to be hot in my eyes but my ex and Mr. Thoughtful were on the slight side and I still thought they were cute. But the teeth… I can’t lie, bad teeth are a major turn off to me. I’d rather kiss someone with braces.
9. No smoking. No way, no how. Social smokers or those who smoke only while drinking do not get a pass. Ick. I’d rather kiss someone with bad teeth. Er, maybe.
10. His glass should not only be half full, it should also be an awesome, beautiful glass. Life is amazing – there’s no reason to pretend it’s sunshine and unicorns and rainbows all the time and obviously there are going to be times where he or I are down, but overall the world and the people in it are incredible and I’d prefer to be with someone who feels the same way. Look for the humor and beauty, not the gloom, and you’ll find it. In other words, mopey Eeyores need not apply.
Bonus points: Unpretentious. I am snobby about very few things in my life. I will drink cheap wine and beer, I buy clothes at Target, I paint my own toenails, I know that education and intelligence aren’t built by college degrees alone and I listen to music that most 13 year old American girls would love. It’s okay for my future mate to have preferences and be passionate about random things, so long as he doesn’t look down on those who don’t place the same value on those things he loves. I can put up with his obscure music, bitter craft beers and his distaste for social media if he’ll not roll his eyes when I send a Snapchat of my homemade pedicure to my friends while drinking wine I chose solely because the label was interesting and it cost $7.99.
So where is this guy? Have I already met him? Will I meet him this year? When I’m 92 and kicking it at the assisted living facility? What does his list look like? Do I fit his requirements or does his say, “Must love big dogs, skiing and cigars?”
Image by Matt Anderson used under creative commons license (I added the text and borders).