The 10 Most Important Things I Learned From Dating Men I Didn’t Marry

June 22, 2012

Or: The Importance of Dating, Part II

Happy Friday, HUSies. I promised a post on the important things I learned from dating men before I met my husband. Most importantly, I learned I didn’t want to marry them. I don’t think they wanted to marry me either.

One of the problems with hookup culture is that very few people are getting a chance to do relationships with training wheels. As we saw in the previous post, during the era when people went steady they were essentially “playing house” as a pretend married couple. If and when those relationships ended, both parties walked away with a set of experiences and hopefully, lessons learned. Of course, some people get lucky and meet the love of their lives early on and live happily ever after. But most of us benefit from the opportunity to do a couple of trial runs. 

One helpful thing about the current SMP is that red flags are everywhere! Assuming you don’t grow immune to acts of douchebaggery, a young woman can learn a lot about who not to date, just by observing others. She doesn’t even need to make mistakes first hand! When you do date someone who makes it through the character filter, you’ll learn a lot about loving, compromising, resolving conflict and what you need and want in a mate. 

Here are the best lessons I learned while seriously dating men I didn’t marry, in no particular order. Yours will be different.

1. When one person is neat and one person is messy, the messy person should do all the compromising.

I used to be messy. My boyfriend was super neat. My messiness drove hms crazy. In contrast, his neatness was always a pleasant surprise to me, like elves had come in during the night and done all the work. I had to become a neat person, it seemed like the right thing to do. My husband is neater than I am, but on a scale of 1-10 I get a solid 7.5 for neatness nowadays.

2. Stoics and emos don’t mix. 

I’m on the emo end of the spectrum. I love pillow talk and mushy moments and romantic gestures. And when there’s conflict I want to resolve it quickly by talking it through. I need a man who has emotions and shows them. I can’t make it work with a strong, silent type.

I am also a sucker for glimpses of the boy he once was. I remember one boyfriend broke his arm, and for some reason I thought he looked so hot with that cast. It was like looking at a 7th grade version of him or something. Adorable. I also fall to pieces when I see a guy’s boyhood bedroom. 

3. Sexual compatibility is mostly about sex drive.

As long as two people are open to new things and invested in pleasing one another, I think what to do and how to do it are the easy part. The hard part, in my experience is when. We like to joke that guys want sex all the time, but they do vary. Some guys aren’t up for it when they have a lot on their mind. Some guys want it several times a day no matter what, especially early on. 

I went to college during an era when the sexes didn’t have much access to one another on campus. Finding a way to have sex could be a challenge. A car was ideal, but if you didn’t have one all sorts of furtive arrangements were required. This meant that having sex once or twice a week was doable, but there were no lazy mornings in bed followed by brunch. It wasn’t until I went to Europe with my boyfriend that I learned that given the opportunity to have sex six times a day, he wasn’t into it. There is nothing worse than climbing into bed for some sexy time and hearing a curt “Good night.” Of course, he thought I was a nymphomaniac. I thought that was a good thing! Our relationship didn’t last long after that trip. 

4. You have to laugh at the same stuff.

Most women say that a sense of humor is very important to them in a mate. But there are many kinds of humor, and many different facets of humor. I love sharing the same funny bone. I dated one guy who found The Three Stooges hilarious. I don’t. I dated another who didn’t appreciate John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks. I do. These small bits of incompatibility kill attraction for me. 

In a relationship I like a bit of silliness, inside jokes, goofy nicknames, etc. My husband and I trade funny tidbits every day, and have for 30 years. Laughter is the best tension reducer I know, and it’s not unusual for one of us to start laughing even during an argument. Of course, that only happens if the argument is stupid, but it’s a great way to diffuse anger.

For me, another critical element is the ability to laugh at oneself. I believe this is the genius of Larry David, Woody Allen and Lena Dunham. I love people who can do it, and I generally steer clear of people who are unable to do it.

5. 90% of the time eyes tell the story.

If you look into someone’s eyes and read their micro facial expressions, particularly during intimate moments, you will see a map of what they are feeling. If the eyes are dead or cold, the relationship is dead and cold. You should see a softening, a certain kind of lifting at the corners of the mouth, a longing, and a deep, penetrative gaze. Never marry anyone you cannot read this way. 

6. One significant lie in a relationship spoils it forever. 

Whether it’s cheating, his not being honest about his past, or some other major aspect of his life, if your boyfriend tells you a whopper, he’s just kicked away a chunk of the foundation, and your relationship is unstable. Before marriage, lying should be an immediate and non-negotiable dealbreaker.

7. If he’s jealous and possessive, the relationship is doomed.

If you are dating someone who feels threatened by your behavior or is insecure in your affection, stick a fork in it. You are either out of his league, too demanding of attention from others, or he can sense that you are not nearly as invested as he is. Some of this often comes up in the early days, and it can help to learn what the other person finds threatening. But if this continues over time, the relationship is not tenable. Either (or neither) party may be at fault, but the point is, it’s not a good match.

8. Passions are a must.

I like men who have strong opinions and strong interests. I recall being super turned off that my college bf had no opinion whatsoever about a Presidential election. I love it that my husband has informed views. I also love it that he is very loyal to the Red Sox (going back to a time when they sucked). Here are some of the things I have found sexually attractive in men:

  • deep love and abiding passion for grandparents’ summer cabin on a lake
  • loyalty to sports teams
  • deep and broad knowledge of music
  • a firm conviction that The Beatles are the greatest band ever
  • watching Godfather and Godfather II a minimum of twice a year
  • keeping the Bill James baseball encyclopedia on the night table
  • being a Big Brother
  • playing chess regularly
  • strong interest in reading history

The only way people can be boring is if they don’t have any interests or don’t talk about them. I’ve dated some boring guys.

9. Impulsive acts destabilize relationships.

Some people like to keep things edgy and unpredictable. I am not one of those people. Crazy plans on the spur of the moment are not fun for me. I’m not talking about skinny dipping, I’m talking about calling in sick to work and flying to the Caribbean on a whim for a week. Or buying a new car when you can’t afford it. Or quitting a job because “those people are driving me crazy.” Or any behavior showing a failure to comprehend that credit card spending will have to be dealt with at some future point. 

My idea of crazy is a Bloody Mary on a Sunday morning. Don’t pair up with a dopamine chaser if you’re not one yourself. 

10. When it’s right, it feels easy.

Everyone says marriage is such hard work. Meh. I think it’s easy if you marry the right person. If you have doubts, feel angsty, or have a lot of conflict in a relationship, end it. Opposites may attract but research shows they don’t marry well. If you find yourself having fights just to get to the makeup sex, the breakup is long overdue.

You should never, ever walk up the aisle if you don’t feel the urge to run up the aisle instead. You should be chomping at the bit to make your commitment official. One doubt is too many. It goes without saying you should be on the same page re children, including the timing, the number, and how you want to raise them. Never, ever leave a major issue to be negotiated after marriage, and hoping to change someone’s mind after marriage is a fool’s errand.

There will be challenges and crises in every life, including married life. Having a close relationship with your partner helps you weather them together.

It’s not about people being good enough for you, it’s about how compatible you are and how well you complement one another.

Every person you date has something to teach you. What have you learned from dating?