Before I met my husband, I gave a lot of thought to the qualities that I was looking for in a man. I knew that marriage was going to be very important to me, but I knew that I was never going to settle for just anyone. The man I married would have to be special.
But I realized, early on, that everyone thinks that. Everyone, especially girls, grows up believing in a magical soul mate that will fulfill their every wish and delight their heart completely. I understood that if I really wanted to meet someone that special, I would have to figure out what qualities and attributes comprised "special", before I even met him. How else would I recognize him when I did meet him? I knew I had some serious thinking to do.
As I've said before on my page about how to find your prince or princess, shared values and character are crucially important. But the values I addressed on that page dealt primarily with a person's attitude towards love and marriage. I figured there must be some sort of objective rough guide, some general guideline for personal characteristics and character traits.
And there is. Little did I know at the time that all the crucial qualities needed in a potential marriage partner happen to start with the letter "S". I call these The Esses, therefore, the things that your intended must have or be in order to have a successful relationship.
Do not mess with a married person. Ever. It's not worth it, as anyone who has helped another commit adultery will tell you. Adultery isn't honorable, and you can never enjoy love or sexuality when you know what you're doing is wrong. More pragmatically, it will necessarily put questions in your mind about your partner's faithfulness to you. If he or she can betray their spouse, there's no reason to believe they won't do it to you.
Some people rationalize it by saying "Oh, he's going to leave his wife". Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, he won't. On rare occasions, adulterous affairs result in divorce and remarriage, but in the vast majority of cases, the marriage stays in tact and the affair becomes an embarrassment he can't get far enough away from.
But what about those who are actually separated, with no betrayal involved at all? Some people feel safe with someone who is separated or contemplating divorce. This too can be a big mistake. It takes more than separate beds to end a marriage, and very often separated people still have strong feelings or even love for each other. They are often confused, and not sure yet whether divorce is a certainty. You risk your heart when you get involved with someone who could very easily return to their spouse or continue to carry a torch for them for years. Separation is simply that, and in an era in which most people don't even understand or respect the finality of divorce, hoping to find an available heart among the merely separated is just asking for trouble.
Make sure your love is completely, totally single. If she's divorced, make sure she is absolutely, one hundred percent over her former spouse. If not, you could have a heartbreaking road ahead of you.
Does he have to be Einstein? No, of course not. But intelligence is a tremendous asset in life, and a wonderful attribute in a spouse. It helps to have a thoughtful, clever, reasonable person to go through life with. It's nice to be impressed by someone else's mind.
But even if your love isn't a particle physicist, the term "smart" can also refer to his or her common sense, or their ability to think things through and act on sound judgment instead of flights of fancy. Someone who has to be coached and coddled through even the easiest of life's challenges won't hold your heart for long. It's much easier to admire someone who uses what they know, who builds on life experience and who lets reason guide them in all things.
Iyanla Van Zant, a guru of love and relationships and self-improvement, has a saying that most people can relate to: When you see crazy coming, cross the street.
What she means is that too often people get involved with an attractive stranger and learn, gradually and with some bewilderment, that this person is nuts. Their behavior, which seemed slightly quirky or endearing at first, develops into full blown insanity, and you find yourself wondering how you're going to get out of this. It can be anything from mild paranoia to the steadfast belief that the CIA is on your trail but if you put tin foil on your head it will deflect the intello-lasers that the spies are trying to beam into your brain. Whatever it is, if it makes you uncomfortable, if it makes you question this person's grasp on reality, this is not the person for you.
We're all a little nuts sometimes. We all have aspects of our personalities that could use a little tweaking. But while it's perfectly alright to have a spouse that drives you insane sometimes, it's not okay to have a spouse who is insane.
I should perhaps put a qualifier in front of that - similarly sexy. In order to have an ideal marriage, you have to find someone who likes sex as much as you do, whatever that might be. If you're content with once-monthly lovemaking, it makes no sense to marry someone who gets amorous three times a day. This sounds obvious, but the number of sexually incompatible couples who ignore this and marry anyway is truly staggering.
Sexual compatibility is crucial to a long term, happy marriage; it's pointless to think of marrying someone who does not share your views or attitudes towards sex. Sex - or the lack of it - isn't the marriage breaker in this case, the mental and emotional distance it causes is. Your partner will either feel put out or put upon, neither of which fosters a loving environment.
This is one of the main reasons I think it's ridiculous to wait until your wedding night to have sex for the first time. You should know, long before you think of marrying, whether the person you're with will be interested in the kind and frequency of sex you like, from this day forward. Many people find out too late that their spouse doesn't satisfy them, or isn't interested in satisfying them, and no matter how you may try to deny or dismiss it, it's important for the success of the marriage.
I'm not suggesting that you look for a man who weeps on a regular basis, or one who gives up every shred of masculinity in order to be the 'nice guy' he thinks women want. Neither do I mean a woman whose heart goes out to everyone and everything and who can't live her own life calmly. By sensitive I mean someone who can be sensitive to a particular problem or issue you're facing, and treat you appropriately. Someone who knows, for example, that you feel shy around strangers and who therefore tries to bolster your confidence whenever you have to meet new people. Or someone who knows that you feel self-conscious about some physical feature and who therefore never teases you about it, or criticizes you for it, but rather tries to help you get over it. Being sensitive is really just being empathetic. It doesn't mean that your partner will encourage your over emotionality or embrace your irrationality - it simply means that he or she has enough grace and compassion to understand and accept your imperfections.
Someone who is insensitive - who makes you the subject of public jokes, or who laughs at your insecurities- either doesn't love you or doesn't understand the special contract between lovers, the agreement of trust and compassion and fair play. You won't ever have a satisfying relationship with such a person, and will never feel truly loved.
This is a tough one. It might appear as though the above category should be applied here. Perhaps it should, to a degree, but the bottom line is that you take an enormous risk getting involved with someone who has a substance abuse problem. A risk you shouldn't have to take in order to have a happy marriage.
I am not trying to condemn people who have these problems. I do believe that people with such issues deserve a second chance if they really want to clean up their lives, and a little compassion if their efforts sometimes seem in vain. But I also know that alcoholism and drug abuse has ruined lives. I know that most people drink or do drugs with the express intention of turning off or outright killing their minds, to escape the reality of life or to deal with intense emotional problems. This can't possibly lead to happiness in life or in marriage.
You may want to help them through whatever problems they have, which many good friends do. But it's a much better idea to help them as a friend than as a spouse - the spouse part can come later, if they clean themselves up.
You should know that if you choose to get involved with someone who has a problem staying clean or sober, that you and whatever children you may have are in for a tough journey.
Your love doesn't have to be rich. He or she can live in a little basement apartment and live off of potatoes for a year, it doesn't matter. What matters is that they have the desire and the ability to care for themselves, no matter what. If you get involved with someone who depends on others or has few life skills, you will find yourself in a rather parental mode pretty quickly and will therefore lose respect for them.
A guy should be able to sew on a button or clean the toilet. A woman should have at least a basic understanding of how her car works or how to change a fuse. I am not being sexist here, I am merely pointing out areas in which many people abdicate self-sufficiency and turn over responsibility to someone else. This kind of learned helplessness can permeate every other area of life too, so that soon a man can't figure out what clothes to wear by himself and a woman has no idea how to fill out her own tax return.
If your lover is self-sufficient, it can take a lot of pressure off you to constantly provide that which they need. We all like to help the ones we love from time to time, but when our own problems or challenges become overwhelming, the last thing we need is the added responsibility of caring for another person who is fully capable of caring for themselves. A marriage partner should never be thought of as a child - no one wants to be married to a child.
Sense of Humor
Every time a newspaper publishes a list of the top ten things people look for in a mate, "sense of humor" is almost always in the top three, mixed in somewhere with looks and intelligence. That's because being around someone who is lighthearted and fun, someone who can see the lighter side of life and make you laugh until your sides hurt is a true blessing. It's easy to be ultra serious all the time, bogged down in the troubles of life. But if your husband does a wicked Sammy Davis Junior impression that knocks you flat every time or if your wife has a razor wit and deadpan delivery, tension in your life can be so much more easily swept away. A great sense of humor makes someone charming and easy to be with, which is vital when you're considering marrying someone.
The only proviso to this is that his or her sense of humor shouldn't ever be at your expense, or truly tasteless to the point of making you question what secret hatred lives in their hearts. Humor can also hurt, and often sarcasm or ridicule masks a real animosity or prejudice that can deride people or values that you hold dear.
There is no more misunderstood, misused, or mistrusted word than "selfish". Just saying it conjures up vile images of a heartless idiot who steps on people to get what he wants. This is not what selfish means. Perhaps a better word is "self-ful", meaning someone who knows their value, who wants to live for their own sake without interfering with others, or being interfered with, and who refutes any attempt to be drafted into some sort of miserable collective, at the mercy of everyone else's desires but his own.
A selfish person pursues happiness. This kind of person wants the best in life, wants to work hard to achieve the things he wants, and knows that whatever troubles come, they can be dealt with. A selfish person never gives in to the unreasonable demands of others, a selfish person does not live his life for someone else's sake.
It's important to understand that being selfish - being rationally self-interested, as Ayn Rand put it - is a crucial characteristic of happy, successful people. It allows them to be their best, to strive for good things and enjoy their success. It allows them to see mankind with benevolence and generosity. It is the very essence of the human being - the only self-realized, fully conscious and reasonable species on the planet.
Conversely, a selfless person is just that - without a self. Real love is based on real people responding to each other, and can't possibly survive in the absence of the self. Either you'll tire of the saint you're living with or else you'll grow frustrated with how often he or she gets stepped on and does nothing in self defense. Selfless people often don't care about themselves...how then can they care about someone else?
You have to be able to trust each other. You have to know that this person is not only honest with you, but that he or she values honesty as a character trait. You have to know that you can believe what he or she says; too many people get or stay involved with people they know are untrustworthy, and set themselves up for years of heartache. Find out how important honesty and integrity - moral sincerity - is to them. Find out if they would commit a crime if they knew they could get away with it, find out if they behave a certain way in front of their friends and yet stab them in the back as soon as they're alone. Discover what their morality is, and determine whether they value honesty as much as you do. You can't be in love with a shell of a person - you must know, for certain, that you can trust what they say and believe in what they do.
When you start to think about it, there are plenty of other "esses" that could be added, depending on what your particular values are: successful, svelte, solvent, sensible, sophisticated, serious, social, sensual, shy, spiritual, shapely, seductive, sporty...the list goes on and on. But I think the above ten are universal, things that everyone should look for in a potential mate before veering off into whatever other esses they find appealing.
After I met and married my husband, one of my friends asked if my list had changed. I answered no - he is all of the above and then some, he brings joy and comfort, excitement and adventure to my life, and I am delighted to have found such a distinguished mind and kind heart to be impressed by.
One category did change, however, now that I think of it. He is no longer single. But it doesn't matter, because the "s" for single has been replaced by an even better one - spouse.