Ten years ago today, I met the man who became my husband. My current husband, that is, not my “practice husband” or “starter husband” or “man I married when I was young and dumb and thought that came next on the flow chart of life.” My true husband. There is a big difference between what we think qualifies a boyfriend or handsome prince or romantic lead, as opposed to a man. A boyfriend is a boy. Why isn’t there a word for manfriend?
We read an article recently about the “unicorn boyfriend.” A grown woman doesn’t want a unicorn because unicorns hang out with virgins. That ship sailed a long time ago, honey. Wait around in the magical forest, if you can find it, for forever and a day, if you have that long, because unicorns are vanishingly rare. You might meet Sasquatch instead – a great day for Instagram but maybe not such a great day for a picnic and flower garlands. Unicorns are hard to find. Men? Men are out there once you learn to spot them.
After my divorce, I had a checklist. It was a written checklist, with actual check boxes. The reason I had a checklist was because I read a lot of self-help books while I was trying to get to the bottom of why I married someone who was mean to me. (See: “Only Date People Who are Nice to You.”) Would you like to know what was on my checklist? Of course you would, even though it’s not in my best interest to tell you, because it’s hella embarrassing.
· Can beat me at Scrabble
· Does not have mustache
· Does not have kids
· Under 30
· Not sports fan
· Good speller; knows how to use semi-colon
· Reads same books as me
· Has good dental hygiene
Pretty specific, huh? The funniest thing about this list is that the next person I wound up dating after my divorce had toothbrushes everywhere. He would brush his teeth while he was driving. He had a toothbrush next to his bed and a toothbrush on his desk. He would walk around the house brushing his teeth. When we set our manifesting rays we must be very sure they are aiming in the most salient place!
Love came for me and beat down my door. I met this guy who was so inappropriate for me in so many ways, or so I thought, yet I found myself seeking his company almost without realizing it. He was nearly eight years older than me. He was a single dad with a pre-teen. He loved football and hockey. He couldn’t beat me at Scrabble, he wasn’t a great speller, and we generally didn’t read the same books, yet he was an aerospace engineer who could do calculus in his sleep and read robotics textbooks for fun. This was confusing, yet instructional. How dare I judge someone who was on BattleBots and spent his college years working on satellites? He did have great dental hygiene, though…
My checklist changed. We tend to get hung up on all the wrong qualities, like height or profession or favorite activities or taste in music. (I believe I was once dumped by a music snob over an album I bought when I was 19). These things don’t matter. Part of the fun of a new relationship is introducing your favorite things to someone who may never have encountered them. You teach each other about your perspectives, your outlooks on life, your personal philosophies, your predilections. I introduced my man to Indian and Ethiopian cuisine, and he taught me all about gardening and the athletic mindset. (I definitely got the better end of the deal). A certain level of openness is helpful, but when your tastes don’t overlap, you can choose to shrug it off and just indulge those tastes on Alone Days. One of my consolations during my husband’s many business trips is to go to the movie theater alone and watch horror films, and that’s okay. Maybe even awesome.
What belongs on a checklist?
Number One: Character. I require honesty. A man has a value system. (A boy may not have thought it out yet). It’s vital to explore that value system and make sure it aligns with yours. If his is more fully formed, you may find yourself impressed with him. If you respect him, keep him around; if you can’t respect him, what do you want out of him?
Number Two: Friendship. The day I met my husband, we quickly fell into conversation and went back to work intrigued with each other. It wasn’t long before we were lunch buddies, then platonic friends. Of course, all our coworkers were completely convinced we were having an affair LONG before it occurred to either of us to wonder why. Suddenly we were inseparable. He’s the first person I want to tell whenever even the most minor thing happens. We have a million inside jokes and we’re constantly texting and emailing each other and sharing news articles. We’ve had about as many 10-second phone conversations as we have had 4-hour phone conversations. He has made me laugh until I fell on the floor and no more sounds would come out. We’re both curious about everything and interested in each other’s interests. These are the things that remain when youth and strength and beauty are gone.
Number Three: Physical chemistry. I like his smell, particularly on the back of his neck. We were attracted to each other at a primal level that was immediately obvious to everyone around us, even when we weren’t aware of it ourselves. Quite frankly, people who don’t have physical chemistry might consider just being friends. It’s either there or it isn’t. The day I hugged him for the first time (because he helped me move to my new apartment even though he had a separated shoulder and a broken thumb), I felt… SPARKLES. I thought, “Oh shit. Sparkles.” It was like I stepped into an intergalactic portal and I was going to be beamed up. This was not according to plan!
Number Four: Reliability. A man does what he says he’s going to do and shows up when he said he would show up. Anything less is immature. A boyfriend does whatever he wants. A manfriend does what he wants, but knows not to promise anything he doesn’t truly intend to deliver. My husband’s life motto is “Don’t Deviate.” It was his plan to convince me that there could be something more between us. He succeeded. If only the Postal Service delivered the way he does. He’s impressed me over and over and over again. I’m the president of his fan club, of which there are many members. What belongs on your checklist is a list of the qualities that impress you to that degree.
To sum up: Our relationship isn’t about me. It’s not his job to cater to my every whim and make me feel like a princess. It’s his job to be himself and my job to accept him as he stands. I love our marriage because I love him, and I feel like it’s a privilege to hang around with him. I like him. He’s an awesome guy. The fact that he does actually cater to my every whim is somewhat beside the point.
I am a professor at an exclusive private academy. The school crest reads QUOD NON POSSIM FACERE. Nobody there understands Latin, though, so all the students wear a yellow t-shirt with the slogan I COULD NEVER DO THAT. There are no sports teams, because nobody comes to practice. There are no clubs, because nobody ever shows up. Everyone is single, because nobody ever asks anyone out. There are no grades, because nobody ever submits any work for grading. It’s a pretty easy job, really. I didn’t expect my workload to be so light, because enrollment is so high. In fact, the student body consists of almost everyone in the entire world.
It’s positively weird how many people will respond “I could never do that” to almost any topic. It’s right up there with “It’s the texture” as a reason why someone hates a certain food. Run a marathon? I could never do that. Public speaking? I could never do that. Pick any common resolution off a list and carry it out? I could never do that. Why do we do this? Take skydiving for example. Both of my brothers are really into it. Obviously, a lot of people find this too scary to try (including me). Why not just say, “Really? Tell me more”? It’s not like the default option is for someone to go around strapping parachutes onto people’s backs and stuffing them into planes if they don’t say the magic phrase “ICOULDNEVERDOTHAT!” quickly enough.
I think anyone can do anything if the desire is there. In fact, most people can probably do most things even when the desire is not there. Learning to drive was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I failed my driver’s test twice, once for running a red light and once for driving on the wrong side of the road. I finally passed at age 29, after my third learner’s permit was about to expire. It’s an incredibly complex skill that requires navigating among hundreds of distracted people who can turn you into a giant fireball just because they can’t stop texting for ten minutes. Hundreds of millions of people drive every single day and completely forget how hard it is.
We think it’s too hard to learn a foreign language, even though we did it effortlessly in infancy.
We think it’s too hard to save money, even when all the best things in life are free.
We think it’s too hard to get fit, even though being unfit makes everything harder.
We think it’s too hard to get organized, even though being disorganized makes everything harder.
The simple fix for this knee-jerk reaction is to recognize it. Instead of shutting down strange new ideas, we can just pause for a moment and test out the idea. “COULD I do that?” “What would it be like if I did that?” No commitment required – we can take a mental sample of infinite numbers of things, learning from the experiences of others.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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