Another blogger recently posted a very eloquent piece on self-fulfillment that is quite moving. She writes about a list that she created over two years ago but forgot about until just recently when she discovered it again. Her list details personal needs and goals that she hoped to achieve during what was then a low moment in her life. That she has been able to realize all of that she hoped to achieve since that time is quite heartening to read.
Her post reminds me of a very different list of my own that has been folded up in my wallet for over four years. In my own case, I know that it’s been there but I’ve avoided looking at it. Last spring I bought a new wallet and duly transferred all of the contents from the old into the new without as much of a glance. Until now I haven’t been much in the mood to revisit its meaning to me. But my fellow blogger’s post lit a spark, as good writing will do.
I created my list during the long separation period of my previous marriage. I remember writing it during a boring conference call while sitting in my office at work.
I was in the middle of a serial dating period during this time. I met nearly all of my prospective Juliets online, and each one in their own unique way was wholly unfit for me. The evening before I wrote the list, I had received a kiss-off email of epic proportions from my most recent disaster. Karma has a way of balancing the score because I had been on a stretch where I had been the breaker-upper. So I had this one coming. However, this particular woman didn’t just toss out the usual trite platitudes about incompatibility. She decided to be specific and tell me exactly which character traits of mine were ones that she found troublesome. I can only imagine what she’d have uncovered if we had gotten to a fourth date.
So feeling lonely and sorry for myself, I sat in my office and decided to write out the qualities I desired for the perfect woman I had yet to meet. I scribbled them down, put it in my wallet, and continued to feel sorry for myself the rest of the day. That evening I remember going to my watering hole and showing it to a fellow mid-life crisis bachelor who I had gotten to know well at this bar. A player, this guy both impressed and appalled me each time I watched him in action with women. Where I used very subtle self-deprecation and humor, this guy used lines that I wouldn’t have dared attempted. He and I had nothing in common except gin and girl watching, but it was enough for friendly bar stool banter.
“Damn straight!,” he remarked after looking over my list. “You gotta go for the best otherwise you’ll hate yourself later.”
I suspected even at the time that he may have known a thing or two about self-hate, but it still felt good to get some validation from a guy in a nearby foxhole. He laughed, I laughed, and I put the list back in my wallet. This wasn’t a night for well martinis; I made sure to have rail.
The following week I went to see a therapist whom I had been seeing regularly for about a year. “Ms. Witty” had gotten me through the difficult early days before I told my ex that I wanted to end the marriage, then through my moving out of our house, and finally well into the period where I was living on my own. Looking back on it, there was no way I could have navigated any of those waters without her help.
One of the reasons Witty was so good was that she used humor as a means to get across her thoughts. She also didn’t spare from utilizing sarcasm if the situation called for it. One of her regular admonitions to me — that I continually broke with such regularity that she even found it to be hilarious– was that I totally refrain from getting into any serous relationship until I was completely healed from the wounds of my 20+ year marriage. “Date, sure, no problem,” She used to say. “But just don’t get serious with anyone — you’re not ready yet!” Yet, I consistently failed to listen and would end up in situations that only fueled the sarcasm and laughter from her even more. It wasn’t tough-love, it was more like mocking-love.
At this particular appointment, somehow the subject came around to my writing the list of qualities that I was looking for in a woman. I began to read through the list, stopping for the occasional snorting sound emanating from Witty. “Okay, sorry, no, please, continue.” And then there would be more snorting followed by her eventual laughter. It got so I was starting to laugh pretty hard myself, though I’m better when I play the perfect straight man. We laughed and laughed as we analyzed each one. Sure, sexy is a good quality; who doesn’t want sexy? Things then got a little off the rail, though, when we combined sexy with being able to cook. The laughter continued.
Eventually the laughter stopped, and Witty as always would bring it all home just before our session was about to end. This time, however, she did so in practically a whisper. I was told that all of these things I’ve written are fine as basic desires. But they don’t make a relationship. They’re just ingredients that help form a healthy relationship.
She asked me what was missing from my list. I stared back and had no answer. Still whispering she said, “Trustworthiness. And it should be at the very top.”
I’ve kept this list in my wallet to remind myself of how shallow I was when I wrote it. But it also tells me how far I’ve come since that period of my life. The list reminds me that there are incredibly important qualities that need to be offered to those with whom you are close, and that those same qualities need to be returned in kind. Without trustworthiness there can be no foundation for a relationship.
Incidentally, my lovely wife nails each and every one of those “qualities” from my shallow list. I’m a very lucky man.