Five Traits in a Mate That Are Not Deal Breakers

>> Wednesday, June 2

Found this article and the follow-up Stop Being So Picky on MSN. I wanted to post them and then offer my thoughts. Read, enjoy, and talk amongst yourselves. I'll be posting my views on these pieces shortly.

Five Traits in a Mate That Are Not Deal Breakers

Have you decided that you will only marry a man of a certain height, profession or hairstyle? The author of a provocative new book reveals why you're wrong about Mr. Right. By Lori Gottlieb 
A couple of years ago, I wrote a magazine article called "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough." In it, I confessed that, having found myself still single at 40, I'd come to an eye-opening realization: Had I known when I was younger what would make me happy in a fulfilling marriage, I would have made very different choices in my dating life. It was a hyperbolic essay with a serious message: Look for the important qualities in a partner, and let go of the stuff that won't matter five, ten or 20 years down the line.

I've never believed that we should stop looking for Mr. Right (we shouldn't!) — but I do think that by changing our rigid idea of who Mr. Right is, we're more likely to find the right Mr. Right. You can't just order up the perfect husband á la carte — I'll take a little of this, a little of that, less of this and more of that. A guy is a package deal, as are we. Recognizing that isn't settling. It's maturity. The key is to focus on the qualities that lead to long-term romantic happiness.

In my new book, I asked experts, including marital researchers, sociologists, neurobiologists, couple therapists, behavioral economists, matchmakers, clergy and even our mothers (God help us!) how to tell the difference between smart compromises (which lead to happiness) and settling (which doesn't). The answer is complex — and different for everyone. But here are five basic things I learned I should cut a guy some slack on before I assume he's not The One:

1. His height
Let me say upfront that I'm 5'2". With one-inch heels. And yet I always preferred to date guys who were taller than 5'9" (and so I could kiss them while barefoot, shorter than 6'0"). But one expert explained how limiting this was: "Let's say there's a 50 percent chance you could be with a guy who's 5'9". That's a height you like, but it could go either way depending on what else he brings to the table. There's probably a five percent chance you could be with somebody who's 5'4" — but there's a chance. Maybe if you spent an hour with Danny DeVito or Robert Reich, all of a sudden you would say, 'You know what? This is somebody I could actually spend my life with' — even though the height is never going to be ideal. On the other hand, take somebody who's unkind. There's a 100 percent chance you won't want to be with him. So I'm saying, what are the real irreducibles as opposed to the unlikelies?"

2. His online dating profile
A Northwestern researcher who studies online dating (yes, there are scientists who make a living doing this) told me that I shouldn't get too specific about my search parameters in online dating because in his research, he found that "there was a lack of correlation between what people said they wanted on a questionnaire, and what they actually pick when they meet a real, live person." Moreover, he added, don't rule out a guy because you think you know what it means that he misspelled a word or likes Madonna. You have no idea who this person is until you meet him. An online profile, he said, "is like reading the ingredients on a box of food and trying to imagine what it would taste like."

3. His occupation
Yes, alpha males are sexy and charming. But they aren't always the best partners for me, especially if they travel for work all the time, need to be the center of attention and don't have the same ideas about how to run a household that I do. As a dating coach explained to me, many women are attracted to super-ambitious and charismatic guys who are leaders — but it's hard to find a person who has that kind of personality and also makes time for you and is able to put you first when it counts. Now Joe, the cute elementary school teacher, on the other hand ... you get my point.

4. His age
The thing about being picky is you have to know what to be picky about. Apparently, I wasn't picky enough on the things that matter (shared values, reliability, "getting each other") and was too picky on the things that don't (his age). While I wouldn't want anyone to mistake my husband for my father, it's foolish to decline a set-up with a guy just because he's got less hair and more wrinkles than I do. This might sound beyond obvious, but many women end up dating guys with a chemistry of "9" and a compatibility of "5." The happiest couples, though, have both a chemistry and compatibility of "7." Would I be more naturally attracted to a guy who's my age? Yep. Would it matter that much in the scheme of things if he was 12 years older but still handsome? Probably not. Am I going to be more wrinkled one day and thrilled to be with a man who finds me attractive anyway? You bet.

5. How he compares to "my type"
One expert told me that when she first met her husband, she had no interest in him at all. He wasn't her type. He didn't fit her image of the kind of guy she imagined herself with. She was Ivy League-educated, and he was a potter. At first there were no sparks. Nada. But the more time she spent with him, the more she liked him. And then the sparks flew. They've been married for 20 years. "In America," she explained, "when a potter makes a pot, they put a glaze on it and put it in the kiln and know exactly what it's supposed to look like when it comes out. But when the Japanese make a pot, they put it in a wood-fire kiln that could be any temperature, and when they take the pot out, it's not always exactly like they thought it was supposed to look like. And they say, 'Oh, wow, this is what the fire did to the pot and it's gorgeous!' They believe there's no beauty in perfection. So instead of knowing what the person sitting across from you is supposed to be like, the question you have to ask is, 'Do I like it?' instead of 'How does it compare to what I thought I wanted?' People can surprise you."

Indeed. I ended up falling hard for a 5'6", balding, bow-tie-wearing guy I almost didn't e-mail on He wasn't who I had in mind, but he was who I wanted to be with. And that, of course, is the thing that matters most.

Lori Gottlieb, a frequent commentator for NPR, is the author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, just published by Dutton. Her memoir, Stick Figure, was a national bestseller.


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