LATER LOVESWomen of a certain age holding out for happily ever after
No. 1 General attitude.
Is his world sunny to partly cloudy? A reasonably optimistic can-do disposition will make it easier to handle life’s ups and downs. No one’s happy all the time, but don’t saddle yourself with a sad sack. How to tell? Count the number of smiles – genuine smiles, not eye-rolling smirks — in an hour of conversation. For a benchmark, find a happily married male friend and take note of his smile count. Research shows that a positive outlook opens up a vista of possibilities, compared with the limited choices available to negative nellies. Better to have one’s heart and mind embracing options rather than struggling to contain emotions such as fear and anger, which underlie negativity and crowd out empathy, creativity and lots of other qualities needed for good living and loving.
No. 2 Communications skills.
Ask what made his parents’ marriage work. The point of this is not really to determine whether it worked, but to find out how skilled he is at articulating emotions and attitudes. If your man is unable to tell you why his parents’ marriage was good, or not so good, then it doesn’t bode well for his ability to identify constructive or destructive behavior patterns and gut reactions.
No man will announce up front, “I have low self-esteem and when it is threatened I resort to intimidating women because if I attack you then I can deflect bad feelings about myself.” Your job is to ferret out whether this is what he’ll do one day, and if he can’t talk about his feelings, this is what may happen.
No. 3 What’s on his bucket list?
Does he have a plan? Does his use his time to further those goals? Does he have enough imagination, hope and executive skills to dream, strategize, and implement? By a certain age, a man ought to have a reasonably clear idea of what life will look like for the next, say, five years. If he doesn’t, he may fall short in some life skills.
Founts of wisdom such as Grandma, live-with-intention groups, and desk plaques advise: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Be an actor, not a reactor. So if you want to leave it all to chance, load up on tequila and cast yourself adrift sailing in the Keys. At least the Coast Guard can bring you back to shore.
No. 4 Will he devote time and attention to your relationship?
This is hard to tell early in a courtship, when we can’t take our eyes off the new beloved. Check it out by proxy by observing how much time he devotes to family and friends. Also, inquire how they spend this time, because we can be in the physical presence of a loved one yet totally isolated, craving an emotional intimacy that exists only in our imagination. Ask how he and his exes spent their leisure time. Time together is a pre-condition for connection, but so is the quality of the time. Pay close attention to his other relationships, because yours will likely follow a similar path.
No. 5 Is he capable of putting your needs ahead of his?
Another one that’s tough to discern early on. How to tell: Ask what activities he hated to do most with his ex, because the answer will reveal his ability to compromise. In a related question, ask whether they ever had a rough patch, and if so, how they resolved their problems and whether or not they saw a marriage counselor. His answer will tell you a lot about his willingness to put effort into a relationship and whether he is secure enough to agree to self-examination.
No. 6 Exercise.
They say our body spends the first half of our life taking care of us, and we spend the second half of our life taking care of our body. The sooner we get with the program, the easier (and longer) the second half will be.
White collar workers need exercise to counteract the effects of sitting, and if he’s blue collar, just as crucial is the need to heal from repetitive stress and hard physical labor.
Exercise is a sign of self-respect, and if he expends the effort to care for himself, this capacity may extend to other areas of his life, and that includes you.
No. 7 What’s on his menu?
A close relative of No. 6, food choices say a lot about someone’s level of education, self-care and ability to plan for the future.
We’re not here to engage in the paleo vs. vegan debate, but at a minimum listen to your mother and heap your plate with fresh fruit and vegetables, and find a mate who does likewise if you want to share a healthy old age.
For inspiration, see exercise guru Jack LaLanne, who took up the war against junk food early in life and remained productive, pain-free and fully mobile until the day before he died at age 96.
No. 8 What’s in his wallet?
Even the Federal Reserve weighs in on this one. According to a recent study commissioned by the Fed, people with similar and higher credit scores tend to form relationships that last longer than those formed by people with widely divergent or low credit scores.
The premise is that people with high credit scores are responsible not only toward their money but also toward their partners. Psychologists say that disagreements about money are the leading cause of stress in a relationship, so pay attention to these details before you commit yourself.
No. 9 Who and what are penciled in on his calendar?
Is he culturally attuned, enthused about the latest play, movie or local political event? Does he have projects that engross him? Is there a rich social life, with invitations to friends’ houses and gatherings at his? Or, when 5 o’clock rolls around, does he sit alone and mope or reach for the remote? You can always earn back money, but wasted time is lost forever. Besides, social capital and mental stimulation are intertwined and make for longer, happier independent living. Speaking of social capital, how many friends is he still in contact with from his youth? The ability to maintain friendships across the decades speaks volumes.
No. 10 What about his kids?
If he’s a father, does he have a good relationship with his children? If he has grandchildren, does he dote on them?
Frequent visits or phone calls are evidence of his capacity to care for others. Proof here is pretty easy: pick a benchmark for the frequency of contacts with family members.
Again, the quality of the interactions is as important as the quantity, and ideally, all the adults in the family will be capable of warmth and an easy, emotional intimacy with each other as well as their respective partners. The willingness of a grandparent to babysit for nearby grandchildren is also a view of the room in his heart for love.
No. 11 Charity and community service.
Pay no attention to lip service. Demand proof. Find out when he last served dinner in a soup kitchen. See what he does, not what he says.
Why is this important? It’s more than mere unselfishness. Think fractals, concentric circles and matrushka dolls.
Charity and community service broadcast that someone is capable of honoring a group or a cause greater than oneself. It speaks to that person’s ability to place the well-being of a social unit above the well-being of the individual. If he respects the social unit of a group or a cause, he’s likelier to respect the social unit of the couple. (That’s you and him.) Although he might never use such corny words, one purpose in his life will be to love, honor and cherish your partnership.
No. 12 Community involvement and rating women.
No, we’re not talking about the online dating pool within a 20-mile radius. This is about local government. Does he know the name of the mayor, the county executive, even the local dog catcher? Or is he quicker to recite the names of reality TV characters? Rating women is not about whether he thinks Halle Berry is a 10. This is about whether he knows that pronouncements from Janet Yellen and Christine Lagarde affect us all. This is the world we live in, and you might as well share it with someone who knows something about it.
No. 14 Open-mindedness.
If you have an idea, does he devote time to its consideration? Instead, if he ignores it or laughs it off, he could be close-minded, or he might not like the idea of a thinking, creative woman. Either way, be warned. Whatever his reasons, he’ll leave you feeling belittled and invalidated, and even worse, he may take pleasure in it. This one is easy to check: launch a trial balloon for a business idea, a course of study, or a new activity, and watch for his reaction.
No. 15. Apologizing.
Saying he’s sorry. Really, have those words ever crossed his lips, or would he sooner drink hemlock?
Ask him what was the one thing he apologized to his ex-wife for the most. His response will reveal whether he accepts responsibility or shirks it.
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is a great celluloid punchline, but partners with real-life staying power know that a heartfelt apology proves we have the strength of character to own our mistakes and may refrain from them going forward.
Courage is not my strong suit, but last night I let some show, and I’m glad I did. I gave a piece of my mind to a complete stranger who was loudly and publicly berating his female partner. It was at the local health food store, which is not where I’d expect to see...
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