February 16, 2009

Happily Ever After


What sort of person should you spend the rest of your life with?

A recent survey looked at how men and women decide which qualities are most important in choosing a romantic partner. Researchers at the University of Iowa surveyed 1,100 undergrads--and then compared their answers to past surveys.

So, care to guess how important "chastity" is now, compared to back in the 1930's? Or how differently men and women responded to the same questions?


What Do Today's Men Want in a Partner?

Here's what the guys said (ranked from most to least in importance):

Essential characteristics:
  • Mutual attraction and love.
  • Dependable character.
  • Emotional stability.

Important characteristics:
  • Education and intelligence.
  • Good looks.
  • Ambition.

Desirable characteristics:
  • Good financial prospect.
  • Good cook and housekeeper.

Unimportant characteristics:
  • Similar political background.
  • Chastity.

And How About What the Gals Want?

Essential characteristics:
  • Mutual attraction and love.
  • Dependable character.
  • Emotional stability.

Important characteristics:
  • Education and intelligence.
  • Desire for home and children.
  • Ambition.

Desirable characteristics:
  • Good looks.
  • Refinement.

Unimportant characteristics:
  • Similar political background.
  • Chastity.

What? Men and Women Are Almost the Same!

OK, heterosexuals, you'll have to help me out on this one: I thought gender roles, expectations, and stereotypes were supposed to be alive and well out there in dating land. From the popular media, one would think that in terms of priorities, it's pretty simple: guys want hotties; women want successful Masters of the Universe. So shouldn't these two lists look a little more different from each other?

Are things really changing, or are undergraduates just lying when they take surveys?

True, "Good cook and housekeeper" did not seem to appear very high on women's lists; also women rated their desire for home and children higher than men did (fourth for women; ninth for men). But otherwise: remarkably similar.

So How Have Times Changed?

Love and attraction was not always ranked the most important item; back a few generations ago, it wasn't even even in the top three.

In the 1930s "male respondents were seeking a dependable, kind lady who had skills in the kitchen." And chastity was considered more important than intelligence; it was ranked tenth. Now, chastity is "dead last."

Men have also grown more appreciative of womens' earning ability: they ranked "good financial prospect" 12th in 2008; it was 18th in 1967, and 17th in 1939.

For women back in the 1930s, emotional stability, dependable character and ambition were the top three characteristics they wanted in a man. Attraction and love didn't come in until No. 5.

Women these days rank "pleasing disposition" much further down than they did in the old days. But researchers weren't sure what that meant. Are women ditching nice, amiable guys in favor of churlish louts? Or did the old-fashioned wording of "pleasing disposition" just throw women off?

So What Does Crabby Think of this Survey?

1. It's very cute! It's kind of adorable reading what young people think they are looking for in a mate.

2. However, when it comes to predicting the type of partner these young folks will actually choose? A survey like this is pretty much horseshit.

3. Here's the big fat loophole: "Love and Mutual Attraction" as number one. This means that despite a person's stated desire to find a mate who is dependable, stable, smart, well-educated, and ambitious, all those qualities go right out the window when an "attractive" person strikes up a conversation in a bar one night.

4. Young men really rate "education" above "good looks?" Color me skeptical.

5. Are these even the right questions to ask? Given the sort of mates people frequently end up with, more careful screening might be advised. It's one thing to say that "dependable character" and "emotional stability" are important; it's another thing to know what those traits actually look like in a real live attractive human being.

You may, for example, may want to consider:

  • Does Potential Mate get arrested with any frequency?
  • Does he/she lack boundaries, and have all kinds of weird scary friends and ex-lovers hanging around?
  • Always borrowing money?
  • Will sometimes hit on your friends?
  • Dictatorial and stubborn?
  • Mean to children, pets, subordinates at work, or anyone else with less power?
  • Jealous or possessive?
  • Frequent liar?
  • Physically violent, verbally abusive, or constantly angry?
  • Substance abuse issues?
  • Unexplained disappearances?
  • Always has to be "right?"
  • Frequently fired from jobs for "absolutely no reason?"

None of these are good signs! No matter how cute and charming a potential mate can be, wrong answers to these questions should be cause for alarm. Yet many folks who would swear that they are looking for an emotionally stable, dependable, spouse don't seem to know what this means. Instead they fall for inappropriate emotional trainwrecks, and can't wait to say "I do" no matter how many red flags are flying.

I Could But I Won't. Yet.

This is one area where I actually feel well-qualified to offer advice. I think 99% of having a blissfully happy long-term relationship is choosing the right person to begin with. Having found a Winner myself, it's tempting to set out a bunch of helpful criteria to help people end up as lucky as I am. (Other than the obvious disaster-avoidance ones above).

And I probably will one day, because I have a lot of thoughts and opinions on the issue and this post is already long enough.

But really, who cares what anyone else advises when it comes to matters of the heart?

The human physiological and psychological responses to romantic attraction are so damn powerful, no "helpful advice" is gonna have much impact. Yet as a bystander, does anyone else find it hard to just butt out when you see a friend or loved one stuck on someone wildly inappropriate?

Sigh.

So, for those of you who are looking, what qualities seem most important in a potential mate? And for those of you who have already chosen, were there any qualities which turned out to be a lot more important than you thought they'd be?

40 comments:

  1. This is low on the scale compared to other important issues, but if a man can't fix stuff around the house, forget it! It's such a turn off.

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  2. Okay this: "Frequently fired from jobs for "absolutely no reason?"" should be required reading for all young 'uns. I can't tell you how many men I've heard use this one! Warning flag, warning flag!! Anyhow, I'm excited to read your someday post about how you found love:)

    PS> The "emotional stability" thing cracked me up. Emotional stability is SO overrated;) Where's the fun in that?!?

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  3. My husband and I have a running joke about this, actually. For me, when I was "looking", my list included the following: Must be a gamer. (In my opinion, gamers should only EVER marry other gamers, because gamers are weird, fickle, and prone to making highly obscure jokes. Also, prone to spending lots of time sitting on the livingroom floor in smoeone's parent's house, surrounded by dice and pizza, and non-gamers just Don't Get It.) Must be reasonably presentable and clean. (Gamer geeks can sometimes use advice on what soap is.) Must be relatively intelligent with an above average grasp on good grammar.

    My husband fits all those categories, but he added one thing that I didn't think was important at the time, but set him apart from all the other gamer geeks I'd dated in the past.

    My husband calls it the Minimum Assh*le Factor. A man with a fairly low MAF is a "nice boy" and while they sometimes end up with a girlfriend, they get the "I feel like you're my brother" line a LOT... Nice guys finish last. Guys with a low MAF just don't give a woman what she wants. Guys with a high MAF, like say, abusive biker ex-cons, attract women who haven't figured out what the low end of their MAF tolerance is...

    For me, dating gamer geeks for years, I kept running into the problem that they were all TOO NICE. I needed someone who had more spine than to lay on the floor so I could walk all over them. I am opinionated and pushy and need someone who's just as opinionated and pushy as I am. My husband has MAF. Not that he *is* an assh*le, just that he has the potential to act like that, when I'm acting like a pushy b!tch.

    You know?

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  4. Hey Crabby,

    Great post.

    I agree with you that who you choose as a mateis very important, but...

    All things being equal (meaning that one's mate is a decent person, not abusive, reasonably compatible, etc., etc.), it helps to know that most of us, one time or another, suffer from what I call, "The Grass is Always Greener Syndrome".

    It's so tempting to think, after you've had a few words with your significant other, that someone else is a better match. In my own experience, this is almost never true. (Of course, this is dependent on being with a decent sort to begin with.)

    Another thing: Most of us (arguably, more often men than women, but women have this trait, too) are enamored with newness . So, once you've been in a relationship for a few years (or more), and a bit of familiarity sets in, others might start to look pretty attractive as potential mates.

    Anyway, I think being aware of these traits is helpful if a person wants a long, stable, happy relationship.

    Thanks for listening to my speech.

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  5. Great post!!

    I wonder how the list would change if the test was re-administered every 10 years?

    And, yes, I think they lie :-)

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  6. The ability to communicate effectively. My partner and I have never had a fight (after 5 years) and not because we are passive aggressive but because we talk through issues before they become tensions.

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  7. I'm looking forward to your future post on how you found love, too!

    No advice from me - after 14 years, I still keep a packed suitcase just in case he decides not to keep me! :) (of course, none of those clothes fit anymore....)

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  8. I read somewhere, ages ago, two things that I've never forgotten. One is that the thing that you find endearing when you're dating is likely to end up being the thing that drives you insane later. The other is that people who are married more than once are more likely to marry people who are dissimilar to them the first time and people who are more similar to them the second time.

    The thing that really attracted me to my first husband was his charming ability to be happy. I do not come from a happy family. But I learned that the flip side of that ability to be content was complacency; he was happy all the time because he really didn't care very much about anything. So nothing bothered him.

    I actually think that the best partnering advice of all time is, never think that you can change ANYTHING about someone else. If you can't live with someone just as they are, don't marry them.

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  9. Back in the olden days when I was "looking" I wanted a man who would help make decisions in life (so I would have someone to blame other than me), had a good concept of english (non spellers = kiss of death), and could make me laugh. (IF he happened to be a rich doctor, so be it!!!)

    Then it happened. I opened the front door and it really was love at first sight. Seriously. We were like single socks with static cling that had finally found their match! He proposed two weeks later. 19 years later, through thick and thin; he makes me laugh, is a reasonably good speller, and has never let the family come second.

    I think the fact he can still make me laugh so hard it really hurts is the biggest factor in our happily ever after. Life is tense, sometimes you need a breather!

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  10. Love trumps all. It sounds good, but it is quite sad given what some women--and men--put up with to not be alone.
    My advice, get to know yourself first and then have at it.
    Oh, and my guess is the people who took the survey lied.

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  11. Sense of humor and some knowledge of pop culture references would be in my top 3. I once dated a woman who had been homeschooled and had no television growing up. I didn't think it would matter at all, but the woman who doesn't have a clue about my "Goonies" references is not the woman for me.

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  12. Back when I was not looking, exactly, but at least keeping an eye open, I wanted someone or ones just as comfortable to be with as being alone. Never found any; I found people I dearly loved and enjoyed sex with, but did I want to live with them? NOT. I am a hermit, and I'm happy that way.
    I think Dr. J's right--this should be a longitudinal study. Even if they lie, the lies would change.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

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  13. My list isn't too detailed. I like to keep my options open. Having said that my core criteria include that he has a sense of humor, be within a decade of my age (I make a lot of pop culture references so my guy has got to understand them or we won't work), be loyal and dependable and puts the toilet seat down. Okay, maybe the last one can be negotiable. ;)

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  14. And in another survey referenced on that website, men also tend to marry those who resemble their mothers. Oh, what to think?

    I noticed that the participants where young undergraduate males at 3 universities. Not exactly a fair sampling of all males in that age group, to be sure. But I also wonder when the survey was taken and where. There's a big difference between having them fill out questionnaires at the student center in between classes, as opposed to asking them the same questions while playing beer pong at a party.

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  15. Wow, I'm finding your answers fascinating! You folks are so wise and self-aware. And, as usual, funny as hell.

    And Nina, that point about the futility of trying to change your partner is really important! So many people have the fantasy that they'll just "fix" the things they don't like. Err... not gonna happen!

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  16. I don't think the people in the study lied. But I don't think they were honest with themselves. It often happens with surveys of this type, that people will report what they think they want, but if put in actual situations, will do something completely different.

    For me, one of the biggest things is that a guy must have a sense of intellectual curiosity. It's the kiss of death for me if a guy didn't go to college, doesn't read, doesn't follow the news, and can't talk about current events or serious topics with any sense of know-how.

    Also, the no-spine thing. I don't like guys who are too arrogant, but that said, some guys just try too hard to please. I'm not looking for someone who's exactly like me and agrees with me in everything. I'm looking for someone with their own personality and interests who I'm very compatible with.

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  17. I'd say sense of humor should be high on this list, if not #1. If you laugh at the same things, you tend to share the same perspective on the world. If you can laugh at the same things, life it a lot easier.

    - Dave

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  18. I participated in another survey of a similar kind when I was in university - back in the day. I think I spent most of the survey thinking "What would my mother want me to say?"

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  19. I tend to agree Crabby! I think there are so many factors that could put a different twist on the formula used with the survey. A common theme in my book would be understanding each other and being open and accepting. Kinda silly? As my teenage daughter would say....."that is how I roll!"

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  20. Honesty
    Gainfully Employed
    Has his own vehicle or transportation of some sorts
    Own home
    Respects his Elders
    Respects Women
    Laid Back
    Funny
    Wants a family

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  21. In the Tank for my wifeFebruary 16, 2009 at 11:36 AM

    I agree that this list is about what people think they want. I do think guys do think they rate brains over looks, but the looks test is easier and sooner in the process; therefore, in practice average looking gals with high IQ's end up getting passed over and it appears the guys are only interested in looks. What I think is missing in surveys like this is the process. Step one is almost always "what does she look like", but with the internet/email world of today that could be rarly delayed. The process of "finding someone" is much more complicated, but the questions only ask about the hoped for final result. It therefore results only exposing fantasy not reality.

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  22. Ahahahaha I heart you.

    I haven't really got a clue what I'm looking for in a person. Hence why I'm not with anyone at the moment. I'll figure it out as I go along :)

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  23. Oh, and the kids in the survey were YOUNG. It's sort of like being asked what you want to do when you grow up, and you say a fireman or a ballet dancer. Who knows, really? People are idealistic about what they want, and then they meet someone, and common sense goes out the window. So it's not so much that they're lying or that they're not being honest with themselves... they just don't *know*. Or they're reflecting how they'd LIKE to make a decision... just like we all say, yeah, I read the labels every time, and I budget perfectly, and so on...

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  24. I agree with the "fired from jobs with no reason", and most of the other ones.

    But I'm conflicted on how far you one can take the money issue (did the S.O. just move and therefore has to find a job? Are they in school full-time? Does paying for them in terms of dates equal lending money? Have they just made a fairly big purchase, like a car?)

    Yes, money is important for peace and security, but I don't think it should preclude a relationship.

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  25. I tend to think that any study that asks people what they value is going to be inaccurate by default.

    People have shown, time and time again, that what they SAY they want in a partner and what they actually respond to can be very disconnected, if not completely unrelated.

    I'd venture that I feel core values are the most important in a long term relationship - you're both going to change, these will help determine if the changes you make leave you as people that have something in common or not.

    Shared interests and hobbies are really helpful - but fall under the "things that will likely be different in the future" heading.

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  26. Research for a while now has shown that men and women are not all that different from each other deep down in what they want. But, what you think you want and what you really want are two very, very different things sometimes!

    I think that attraction is huge - you have to have some va va va voom factor or your relationship will never work - it's hard enough WITH it! lol. but, that doens't mean it's conventional beauty.

    Survey's are biased - people like to report the best of themselves and think the best of themselves. So, the study is consistant with research that has been reported for a while, but doesn't mean it's how people react in every day life!

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  27. In the Tank for knowing root causesFebruary 16, 2009 at 1:13 PM

    There seems to be a bigger tendancy to under estimate the role of money in a relationship before getting married and getting in finacial problems after you could have avoided them. Money is a big part of life; any particular situation can be from a number of reasons, but how they got there and why is "need to know information" before any relationship can go "too far". Direct questioning may not be the best route to really find that kind of info. You often need to see their reations and how they resolve some situations before you really will see how people relate to money.

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  28. I'm wondering if the people taking the poll even knew what the term "chastity" really means.

    And David? A sense of humor is important, you need to find someone who's able to laugh, but you should never hook up with someone who will point and laugh. In the wrong circumstances, that will really kill the mood ;)

    These little qualifications are important :)

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  29. Similar political background not important???? Gimme a break.

    The things I like about ScottieDog are:
    1) he's hot
    2) he's reasonable
    3) he's clean
    4) he's a Liberal
    5) he's educated even tho as a borderline dyslexic he can't spell
    6) he's not demanding (except about sex)

    That being said, he's lucky to have me, because as my therapist told me years ago, I have "an unusual capacity for devotion."

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  30. Considering that the average age for first marriage in the US is 27 for men and 25 for women, and the typical undergrad is under 22, I'd say this list isn't terribly indicative of what kind of person these folks will end up actually marrying. Who they'll be happy with will in many cases be a different sort altogether.

    My big 3 are:

    1. Pulls his own weight: Works a job appropriate to his abilities and participates in household chores. I don't ask that a guy earn more than I do or work harder, but I refuse to be the breadwinner and housekeeper for someone who is unemployed or underemployed due to laziness. Been there, done that, and the jerk didn't even buy me a t-shirt.

    2. Intellectually curious: If I can't learn something from someone or engage in a thoughtful conversation, forget it. This goes for any kind of relationship.

    3. Gives me space: I'm an introvert and need a lot of downtime. I can't be with someone who belittles me for this or tries to force me to be what I'm not. Conversely, it's good to have someone who can sense when I'm getting too deep into myself and will gently pull me out. It's a fine line to walk, but I found the man who can do it and I love him for it.

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  31. I like to think that I have chosen so having committed, noting irritates me more than someone who claims to have no time to do things yet spends an inordinate amount of time on b.s.

    I have examples but won't bore you because they could fall under the category of wasting your time.

    I blogged about one relationship. The guy claimed he talked to a real fairy with wings (not related to being gay) once on a park bench in L.A. He claimed he could see things. Whenever someone gets into that sort of convo with me, I feel the sting of the red flag.

    http://janell-sufferingsuccotash.blogspot.com/2008/09/red-flag-relationship-game.html

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  32. Hmmm...for me it was meeting someone, who after I got to know him loved me for who I was, was my best friend and I couldn't imagine not being with.

    He isn't quite what I'd pictured in my head as "the guy" but he IS the right guy.
    I'm sure that makes no sense at all :)

    I think some of the answers on the quiz show how a lot of things still say the same. Guys still expect girls to cook and clean. Women want a family.
    I think for me a huge question for me would be if they shared my interests. I think it would be very lonely to be with someone who didn't "get" the things you love.

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  33. As someone who has almost willingly taken an oath of eternal singledom, I'm probably the wrong person to ask! I skipped the marriage boat the first time around, and now I've waited long enough to see my best friends become single again. Sadness. Not sure what I'm looking for, but I do know that when I find it, I'll know. A list tells me what I need at the grocery store, not what I need in a lifelong partner. :)

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  34. I laughed all the way through this post- totally fascinating (comments too!)

    And now for a (semi-related) rant. This is precisely why I hate shows on TV like "The Bachelor" and other dating reality crap. HELLO, it's so not real life. And I get that people don't necessarily want to see "real" life on tv, most people watch to fantasize about finding someone and jetting off to Paris...
    But still. I think it would be fantastic to see these girls (and guys) when they're sick. No makeup, pajamas, runny nose, grumpy. You say you want to settle down and have a family? Fine, go babysit a bunch of toddlers and see if you don't find out a WHOLE LOT about each other by the end of that night. Or how about a date where you have to work together doing something you REALLY don't want to do? I just think interspersing a little real life into these kind of shows could go a long way for people who have whacked out expectations.(not to mention do a huge favor to the people actually ON these shows.)
    end of rant.

    Other than that, I just wanted to say this post reminds me of how fantastic I have it.

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  35. Aw I just loved this post! "guys want hotties; women want successful Masters of the Universe" hehe that cracked me up most! And you saying how "cute" it was seeing who these college kids thought they wanted - hilarious and true!

    K - I'm all about loyalty, trust and what I call "being on the same page." It was very important that me and my now-husband (then-boyfriend of 5 years) went to the same college, graduated together, moved off together, etc. I liked going through 'the big stuff' together - like job hunts, first cars, getting cut off, etc. Good stuff! I felt like we were able to grow together & that was super important to me. Also - a shared sense of humor is SOOOO important. hehe Must be said again: great post!!

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  36. Hmmm... being a married person I'm not looking but can I still play? (I'm also 38 if that skews my list.)

    I'd say my top three would be:

    compatible sense of humor
    respect for each other's differences of opinion
    continual willingness to develop/improve as a person

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  37. The problems with that survey is that a) the participants are only given a list of possible answers, and b)the participants are posting intellectual answers. So, what you end up with with is a list of idealized traits. Not the tangled web of emotional interactions that goes into picking a partner...

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  38. So, as someone slightly above the demographic of the survey (I'm 24), my list would be:

    1. Overeducated liberal intellectual. I know that's really three things, but they add up to a distinct personality type.
    2. Outgoing and dynamic personality. I don't have the patience for shy guys.
    3. Ambition. I also don't have the patience to drag anyone else through life kicking and screaming.
    4. Likes travel and craves new experiences.
    5. Desire for a similar lifestyle, which in my case means no kids and a comfortable income level.
    6. Is willing to put up with my crap. I am a pushy crazy bitch sometimes, but I have no intention of changing.

    And of course the obvious physical attraction, but that's not something I can pin down in words :)

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  39. I'm an ACA so I married my dad 3 times= men who were distant, covertly aggressive, financially tight (2 of them) and all control freaks.

    The last one is the best of the lot, he's trying to tame his character defects, which takes a lot of effort and courage.

    What I find funny sad in retrospect is that he said on our first date that he believed rigorous honesty, mutual respect and trust were the best foundation for a relationship. Turns out that's what he wanted in a partner, it wasn't ever meant to be reciprocal. He's got a ton of great qualities but tired of the crappy stuff and I'm probably moving out for a few months in a few days.

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  40. I got married right in the middle of the intended demographic (I was 20) and am still married today at almost 27. What I thought I wanted? Someone terribly romantic (to match my streak). What I chose? Someone not so much. He may not be everything I "wanted" per se, but he is everything I ever needed. Number one quality: he's not a "yes" man.....like others have said, he has a spine.

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