“A girl that can dog whistle.”
“One that can do crosswords.”
“Can sing harmony.”
“Must play guitar.”
A random Friday night fireside chat in Nashville proved to be incredibly illuminating. What each of us found alluring in a partner was a fascinating glimpse into our customized concepts and unique demands of true love. Our answers came instantaneously, but I’ve never read a personals ad that blatantly asked for such skills.
It’s a dirty pleasure, like licking Oreo cookie icing from the biscuit and leafing through the smudged copies of In Touch and Hello! at the grocery store. I love to read personals ads. Often, I am shocked at how cookie-cutter love-seekers are. “I love candlelight dinners.” Well, duh. Who doesn’t? Maybe someone who worked a graveyard shift at a candle factory, or somebody allergic to paraffin wax, but, c’mon!
“I love nature and long walks on the beach.” Again, who doesn’t? Maybe an agoraphobic or an albino. And really, you are only looking for someone with brown eyes between the ages of 31-53? That’s your criteria? My friend Kelly Whittet says she’s just happy to find someone with two eyes.
Canada’s best comic, Elvira Kurt, did a bang-on sketch a few years ago about dating and love. She remarked that we spend more time looking for sunglasses than we do for our partners. If someone expresses interest in us, we are sucked in by an insurmountable magnetic force. The force convinces us that maybe this is the very last person on earth who will ever want us again. Weeks later, the neat and tidy little Ikea life is set-up once again and yet another relationship is kick-started with cutesy pet-names and voluntary foot rubs.
But how do we keep the home fires burning when “psychologists report that the dizzying feeling of intense romantic love lasts only about 18 months to—at best—three years” (“How to Make Romance Last” by Helen Fisher, Oprah Magazine, December 2009). Should we just commit to a three-year term, or narrow the window to 18 months to guarantee mutual happiness? Would that be so wrong? If everyone could agree to a condensed timeline, the honeymoon would never end.
In the same article, psychologist Marcel Zenter, PhD (University of Geneva), “found no particular combination of personality traits that leads to a sustained romance—with one exception: the ability to sustain your positive allusions.” So, if you maintain that your partner is sex-on-legs, clever, handy, brainy, funny and ideal for you in every way, extended bliss is yours.
Helen Fischer has seen this phenomenon, better known as “love blindness.” She watched a couple she knew from college days morph into bigger, lazier versions of their fit and fab college identities. But, to each other, they haven’t changed at all. Fischer thinks of this form of “self-deception” as a “gift from nature, enabling us to triumph over the rough spots and the changes in our relationships.”
So, love is blind and dumb?
In August I had lattes with my pal Kim. I told her that I had once read that the thing you love most about someone initially, is the quirk you end up loathing the most in the end. I’ve left a few people sleepless over this comment. But, I know from analyzing myself and my relationships, that by god, it’s true! Try it, you’ll be alarmed.
Kim wondered if we should become more or less tolerant of what we want in a partner with age. Should we refine our Must Possess lists to a very tight and impractical checklist—or open up the strict guidelines to welcome new possibilities? I knew a Serbian who loved a Croatian, so certainly a vegan could love a butcher? And do I really need a girlfriend who spells well? Why have two in the family? There’s always spellchecker, or me.
Dax would like a guy that reads, with an accent, who preferably owns a Great Dane. Is this too much to ask for? And, if I find a girl who can’t dog whistle and cringes at the thought of sleeping with lions while on safari in Botswana, should I give her the brush off? If she doesn’t love dogs in general, yes. My theory is that if you don’t like dogs, there has to be a serious underlying human defect that I don’t want to be associated with.
I want someone who will stop and pick earthworms off the sidewalk so they don’t get stepped on. A girl who will take that long walk on the beach and throw washed-up starfish back into the tide. And I want a reader too—not just someone who can read my mind. Although that would be okay too. Someone who could read my mind perfectly would never, ever, under any circumstance, ask me to dance in public or sing karaoke.
When I was 16 I imagined I would be a hermit on a mountainside with a German pointer, a small garden with plum tomatoes, chives, elephant garlic—and an ocean view. (This is the year my mom gave me a dog-eared copy of How To Live On Nothing by Joan R. Shortney). I wanted, quite desperately, to be a three day paddle from civilization. I have similar fantasies now and again, but after reading Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer), the obvious message was “Happiness is best shared.”
The trouble with liking yourself as much as I do, is that you feel complete already. The Jerry Maguire compulsion to find someone to complete me somewhat vanished a few needier years ago. I am complete. But maybe I need a really funny and smart accessory who likes baked brie and chimpanzees as much as I do.
In Stratford this past fall, my mom elbowed me as we listened to our charming server describe the nose and legs of the chardonnay we ordered. When she stepped away from our table my mother suggested I needed someone like our server, “Someone nerdy and bookish.”
But do I want to date myself?
My problem is that I fall in love with people’s stories. Beyond dog whistles and somebody that can do a loon call with cupped hands, I am a sucker for a good bildungsroman. (Wiktionary definition: A coming-of-age tale tracing the spiritual, moral and psychological growth of a character from childhood to maturity.)
I wish all my friends would write autobiographies, but then I’d be in love with a lot of people at the same time. I guess it’s the vulnerability that I’m drawn to. The whispered secrets. The same rescuer in me that likes to save baby birds and abandoned dogs, likes to rescue stray girls too, the ones who haven’t been loved as they should be.
Jann Arden’s song “Everybody’s Broken,” would be the soundtrack for the movie of my life. On her website she writes: “We are all flawed. We are all broken. It’s hard to remember that we all have a story, that we all have a past, a present and an uncertain future. We all belong to each other. We are all in this mess together.”
I’m sure if I posted Jann’s song description as a personals ad, I’d have a line-up of heart-broken saps, the runts of the litter, the black sheep and the misunderstood—all wanting some unconditional love. But I’m thinking more along the lines of a gal with a few fractures—who had one “that got away,” but survived. A gal who isn’t jaded or bitter about love and thinks Love In the Time of Cholera could happen in this era too. (Just to prove those pesky psychologists who believe in three year bliss terms wrong). I need someone hopeful and happy with their lives, who still wishes on birthday candles, chicken wishbones and falling stars.
Rona Maynard blogged that “what passes for harmony in marriage, two hearts and mind in lockstep, is my notion of a snooze. Let’s hear it for the allure of difference!” In her post “How We Stayed Married For 39 Years,” she mentions a pair who have been together for 40 years—she a Catholic who enjoys speaking to the dead, and he an “atheist with no truck for the other side.”
So, here’s your chance to weigh in. Should we ask for more than brown eyes and an age group? Do we marry our soulmate or look for a Catholic/Atheist– Butcher/Vegan-type union? Do we side with the psychologists and take on a lifetime of honeymooning?
Or do we let love sneak up on us as it usually does and just hold on to its promise for as long as we can?
“How We Stayed Married For 39 Years” by Rona Maynard—
For more of Jann Arden’s personal examination of Free and the intimate stories behind the lyrics–