When I was in high school, my desires for a girlfriend were simple. I just wanted a girl who was attractive and was interested in me. Yes, I wanted someone who was smart, but when I look back on those I fell for, I realize I was willing to sacrifice that requirement as long as a pretty girl showed me any attention.
I certainly wouldn’t have considered myself shallow — and I still don’t see my young self as having been shallow. I confined my interests to girls who shared my own values, at least as far as I could tell, in a broad societal way. (At the time, that would have meant “a church girl who shares my moral views and is consistent with what she believes.”) So I wasn’t completely focused on just finding a pretty girl.
I was simply ignorant of what really mattered in the long run.
As I think about this tonight, I’m thinking of a couple of situations among people I know.
One woman wanted a husband who was very “impressive” and she got what she was looking for, but she’s miserable. He makes a lot of money. They live in an impressive house. He moves among “important” people. From the outside, he looks like a great catch. But she’s miserable, because except for the times when he wants something, she doesn’t exist to him except as someone to serve him. Her needs are non-existent to him. Everything in their world revolves around taking care of the needs and ego of this narcissistic man.
Another man I know wanted a beautiful wife and he got what he wanted. He married a gorgeous woman, but she’s empty on the inside. Most of her waking thoughts now are about preserving her fading beauty in one form or another. She shamelessly flirts with other men because her ego can never get enough attention. She’s not especially interested in her husband or his interests. She’s just a plastic-enhanced Barbie doll who’s worried about keeping her body one step ahead of the ravages of time. And the man finds that her looks are useless to him — and he regrets not marrying someone more average, but who might have had empathy and emotional depth. He’s miserable.
Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.
Maybe these cases sound extreme, but I think they’re common. Many people — maybe even most people — get tunnel vision about what they need in a mate. They believe they need a certain kind of success or money or looks or position or social status. By focusing on this one or two things, they ignore other things.
They’re impressed with the potential mate who can fill a role they’ve decided is important, but they fool themselves about things that matter. They ignore the fact that a man is a lousy father. They ignore the fact that a woman is a self-centered social climber. They ignore the fact that this potential partner doesn’t have an original idea in his or her head. They ignore the fact that there’s no emotional connection — and there never will be.
They throw out their chance to have all the things they will really need in order to get superficial things that don’t matter.
As recently as a decade ago, I was too concerned with what people might think about certain things. When I almost married a woman who I feared had serious psychological problems, I was more concerned with what others would think than with how it would affect our lives. I didn’t realize that at the time, and it took me a long time to see it.
I still appreciate a beautiful woman who takes an interest in me. I strongly appreciate beauty. I’ve been amazingly fortunate to have romantic attention from some stunningly attractive women — far better than a chubby, poor older fellow such as me deserves.
But what I really want is emotional and intellectual connection, not just beauty. I want and need someone who reads and thinks and is capable of talking deeply about ideas. I want and need someone who is willing to make mature tradeoffs in order to have the things in life that matter — someone who’s more concerned with our time together as a family than about the next fancy house and the extra hours away from home required to move up to a better neighborhood.
I want a woman who’s smart, who has emotional depth, who has strong empathy. I want someone with the capacity to talk and think almost endlessly about the evolution of our ideas and how we want to grow and express our ideas through art and creativity of various kinds. I want someone who is right there with me as we deal with the big questions in life, related to knowing God, how to live a good life, how to love fully and how to face death.
That woman might not be the most beautiful in the world. She might be overweight. She might have a problem with depression. She might struggle with anger or road rage or even uncontrolled bursts of hatred at times. She might not present herself to the world as having everything together. She might even be a little crazy.
She might have all sorts of issues. But that’s OK as long as she has the capacity for emotional and psychological connection that I need — for myself and for our children.
When I look at the things that I realize now I need, I look back in horror or at least mild dismay at some of my early dating choices. I was clueless at 20 about what I needed. I was barely wiser when I divorced 15 years ago and started dating again. But I realize that as I gain maturity and personal growth, my priorities become very, very clear.
It’s hard to find a woman suitable for me — and it’s even harder considering she has to consider my tradeoffs worth it as well. (I come with baggage and downsides, too. Seriously.) If you make a Venn diagram showing women who are at the intersection of “artsy/weird/nonconformist,” “intellectually liberal,” “politically libertarian/anarchist/voluntaryist,” “personally very conservative,” “spiritually compatible Christian,” and “wants to have a family with David,” the choices are very limited.
When I was in college and then even later in life, I would have honestly believed that I had a good handle of what I needed in a mate. I was wrong, though. I didn’t.
It might be difficult to find who I’m looking for, but the alternative — settling for someone who doesn’t fit — would be far worse than living alone. (I can point out many people who are living proof of that.)
So I keep hoping for the right woman to come along and show that she’s willing to make the same tradeoffs I’m willing to make. In the meantime, I’m just the male version of a crazy cat lady, but someone who’s grateful he’s not married to a woman with whom he has no real emotional or intellectual connection.
And if you happen to know the crazy woman who’s the perfect match for me, send her my way. I’ll be waiting for her.