I apologize in advance for those of you left out of this musing, because it's about finding the right man. It only applies to women (and possibly, gay men). It will not touch on finding the right woman at all (although much of it will apply). I've been a woman for almost 52 years now, therefore that is my area of expertise. I don't like it when men give advice to women about such things, and I am not going to presume to advise men. So there you have it.
Now, it has come to my attention that some of my friends have problems in the area of choosing the right man. Either they have already chosen the wrong one, and may or may not still be with him, or they are single and either looking, or about to make a terrible mistake. Or all of the above.
Don't sell yourself short.
I've seen it so many times.
Listen to me. I did the impossible. I married at 18, little more than a year after I left school, and made it work. We are as happy as pigs in shit after 34 years together. As I type he's lovingly making my breakfast. This is a good man.
He's not a perfect man. Forget that. There is no such thing. Are you perfect? No of course you are not, nobody is. We are all just who we are (and I'll come back to that.)
Based on my self-proclaimed success in a long term relationship I actually started to write a book on how to have a great marriage. The problem was, after I'd written the first chapter, I could see a wonking great problem. You see, the first chapter's advice in a nutshell was "choose the right man." And if you fail there, the rest of the book is useless. Seeing as most people who would read it would already be committed, the whole project was a waste of time.
So, while there are plenty of things you can do right or wrong to make a marriage successful (and I'll come back to that, too) none of it makes a ha'porth of difference (you can look up that quaint saying if you like) if you have not chosen the right person.
It should not be hard to do. It should be obvious whether you've picked the right one or not, but apparently, it's not. So, why is this? Why do millions of people choose the wrong person?
One reason is "settling". People who either have a low self-esteem or have had a hard time finding anyone at all, will take the first willing suitor who comes along. People also do this when house-hunting, and it is always a mistake.
Another reason is superficials. He's handsome, he's wealthy. There is nothing wrong with choosing a good-looking man (it'll save your kids a lot of heartache for a start) and money is always useful, but these are not the right reasons to select a man.
And sex. While it's obviously an important part of a relationship you cannot build a relationship around it.
But I think the biggest problem is a type of blindness that affects infatuated people. Instead of looking at the real guy, they build a fantasy picture up of him, which blots out his temper, his poor money choices, his laziness, or whatever.
I have seen this so many times, if I had a penny for every relationship I saw as doomed from the word go, I'd be living on my own island by now.
What you should be doing during those early dates is evaluating his character. This isn't hard.
You can judge a lot about a man by how he treats waitresses, old people, children, animals, and people he doesn't like. What you should see in all these cases is kindness and good manners. A man who tries to impress a date by bossing serving staff around should really have a big flashing red light above his head. It speaks volumes.
A man who wastes a lot of money on you should also raise a red flag, unless he's very rich. Generosity is one thing but if you hear him say "Oh it doesn't matter, I can pay the rent a bit late" RUN AWAY. That won't change.
It's great if a guy is good looking, and it's great if he compliments you, but if he is very vain, and has very high expectations of how you look too, there will be problems down the line. Shallowness isn't always obvious and you have to look for it. Shallow people belong together, so unless you too are preoccupied with that sort of thing, avoid this one.
His topic of conversation gives clues too. If at any time during your early dates - when a man would be expected to try hard - he actually bores you, that's just the tip of the iceberg. if he's boring for ten minutes now, he'll be very, very boring in years to come. Similarly if he shows no interest in your interests, dismisses your opinion, or tries to change the subject, that is just the start of things to come too. You do not need to share every interest, but your core values must be the same. If he thinks football is more important than justice, peace, and world affairs, and you don't, trust me, that will be a bone of contention later on.
He must make you laugh. Sharing the same sense of humour is critical. There will be times when that is the only thing that gets you through. It isn't enough for you to both enjoy the same comedian. He must be able to amuse you all by himself. He doesn't have to be a comic genius, just pay enough attention to know what you find amusing. If he just cracks lame jokes for his own benefit, he'll be of no use to you.
A wise old man once said there are three entities in any relationship, her, him, and the couple. They all need time. A relationship shouldn't suffocate you. If, in the early days, he demands a lot of attention, and never gives you any time to yourself, imagine how that will be when you live in the same place.
Most of all he should accept you as you are. Not just when you are at your best. And that works both ways, you see, because he won't always be at his best either.
What you should fall in love with is the whole person, not just the best bits. And you must allow for the fact that this person will change. As we age we not only get greyer, wrinklier, fatter, and in the case of men, balder, we change inside too. Our interests and priorities change. While you cannot accurately predict what a person will change into, there are clues.
Sometimes their positives increase, and their negatives decrease, and sometimes it's the other way around. Life is funny like that, but here are a few clues. Remember - at this early stage he should, in theory, be trying to impress you. This may well be the best behaviour you ever see. Therefore, chances are:
A man who is late for dates will probably be unreliable with timekeeping for the rest of his life, and there will be times that this is extremely problematic.
A man who loses his temper with you during a date will probably forever be argumentative, and may even become violent. (It should go without saying that you should never marry or co-habit with a man who shows any level of violence towards you, in fact you should drop him like a hot brick. It should go without saying, but....ay,ay,ay the time this gets ignored....)
A man who is not nice to other people is not a nice man, no matter how nice he is to you. One day you'll suffer it too.
A man who drinks excessively may offer clues to future behaviour, but most importantly of all, watch how he behaves when inebriated. That is his true character coming out. Never use the excuse "Oh, he was drunk". That's the real person, right there. If he's silly and giggly and mischievous and loves everyone, he's fine. If he picks fights or buys a round for the entire bar or tries to drive home, cross him off your list.
While you may be alert to bad behaviour you may not be alert to blandness. If a man is basically ethical and sensible, but is essentially what Billy Connolly calls "beige", and you have a colourful personality, there will be conflict down the line. Beige people get more beige with age. Colourful people get more colouful with age. While opposites often attract they rarely make it for the long haul.
Finally, you two must be able to talk to each other. You've heard all the advice about never going to bed angry, about expressing yourself honestly, about never rehashing historical wrongs in an argument, but people still get it horribly wrong. If I hear "I don't know how to tell my husband" I know the problem is not whatever it appears to be. This is not a marriage of two minds, and that, dear reader, is what you are aiming for. You should almost be able to read each other's mind.
You are both entitled to privacy, and I cannot emphasize that enough. If you are one of those women who asks him what he's thinking? STOP IT. Mind your own business. Just be sure that you have chosen a man who, if it concerns you, he will tell you.
I'm sure I've forgotten a few things here, and of course we all have things that are important to us personally that others are not the least bit bothered by. But I hope I've impressed upon those of you who needed to hear this, that this selection process must not be taken lightly, that it isn't impossible, and that it's vital you don't rush into anything.