When I was about 14, I made a list. It described the attributes of my perfect man. I hid it away, ready to pull out when (if) I ever met someone who I thought could be marriage material. I wanted to get it right.
Five years later, when I did finally meet someone who seemed to be Mr Right, I must admit that I rushed in and accepted his proposal before I even remembered that there was a list to be checked. I found the list when I was packing up my life to go and be his wife. Amused, and utterly convinced that I’d made the right choice, I compared Mr Soon-to-be-Mine to the Mr Right I’d concocted in my youth.
He ticked very box.
He even met criteria I thought no one ever would, and which I’d left off the list as being “too much to ask for”. (Honestly, can you really hope for a MacGuyver-type who does a killer John Cleese imitation AND knows all the words to every episode of the Goon Show? Yet that’s what I got! I’d have settled for “has once heard of the Goon Show.”)
In retrospect I may have put other items on my list which I could never have imagined as a teenager. Things like “loves doing dishes” or “picks up after himself”. I imagine I’m not alone there.
My point, though, is that I knew what I wanted, and I recognised it when it stood in front of me. Before I accepted Papa Bear’s proposal, there had been other contenders for the role. I’d nearly settled for a trainee teacher (I love academics) and a wanna-be fireman (brave!). I was diverted by a banker for a while, and even considered and actor/veterinarian. I didn’t really think I’d ever get everything on my list, and in a way that list was an insurance policy. Because I so adamantly did not want to get married, the list gave me a way out of every relationship. And then it didn’t.
We’ve been married for 16 and a half years. Of course we’ve had our share of trials, but we are still in love, and our relationship gets stronger all the time.
Not all of my friends are so lucky, and I recently found myself contemplating the nature of love. I believe that a big part of why we’re good together is because we’re a good fit. And a big part of being a good fit is intentional planning. The men I didn’t marry didn’t meet some key criteria that, to me, were non-negotiable. There were things like, “he must be able to spell”, “he must love to read”, “he absolutely may not demonstrate violence”. Those things might seem obvious to you, but each of the men I turned down (except perhaps the vet) barely read anything, couldn’t spell, and demonstrated violence in subtle ways. And as soon as those things became apparent, I lost interest. It wasn’t a rational act as much as a visceral reaction.
My less fortunate friends find themselves married or involved with men who are distant, unkind, uninvolved, and even violent. Men who don’t read or even value the written word. Men with little clue about what parenting involves or that it ought to involve them. I am astonished that they could have chosen those men in the first place, as I would have run a mile in the opposite direction from that kind of attention. I actually did. They kindly point out to me that they didn’t choose. They fell in love. It just happened.
How could that just happen? This single “fall” has the power to create a lifetime’s worth of joy or bring a seeming eternity of lonely misery. How can we leave something like that to chance? How can we let willful, capricious emotions – possibly created in a moment’s intoxicated weakness – take charge in such a critical aspect of our lives? Is it not far too important to allow a few months of chemical reactions to set us on a course for the rest of our lives??
And yet – didn’t I fall in love? Didn’t Papa Bear and I declare our intentions within days of our meeting? Didn’t we get engaged barely a month after we met? Wouldn’t we have been married a whole year earlier if the law had allowed it? And here, at last, we reach the culmination of my musings. Could it be that I rewired my brain when I made that list? I don’t know what I would have selected without the list, although the near-misses give me a fair idea. I knew my training and experience had set me on a course for self-destruction. I wanted better than that. And I got it. I got better than I dreamed, and better than I ought to have had.
I believe that marriage is hard work, and that any two people willing to put in the effort required can make any marriage work. I also believe that we foolish humans self-sabotage, and if we don’t take thoughtful and definitive steps to identify and circumvent our own personal brand of sabotage, we will be powerless against it. So my musings lead me to think that that little list of mine saved my life, and laid the foundation of my children’s happiness. I wish I could give them more, but I can give them love, safety and security. And that is more than most.
How about you? When looking for a mate, do you base your choices on how he (or she) makes you feel? Or do you know what you’re looking for? And how important is knowing when it comes to falling in love? Do you think you can programme yourself to make smart choices? Please tell me what you think.