Let's talk lists. You know what I'm talking about here. The ones in your mind that you use to decide if someone is worthy of consideration or not. They are quite commonplace amongst anyone Gen X or younger, and unlike in previous generations, they have gotten much longer and thus much harder to fulfill.
Now I'm not interested in going back to the days where the lists consisted of the following questions:
Most men: Is she healthy enough to have children? Can she cook and clean and keep house?
Most women: Does he have a steady job? Or will he be a good provider?
Obviously, there might be a few more conditions on these "traditional," pre-women's liberation movement lists, but not a whole lot. Or perhaps it might be more true to say that the "perfect man" and "perfect women" narratives still existed, but played much less of role in how people chose their partners.
The liberation from a single, dominant model of relationship built upon marriages where men were the power brokers, and women mostly stayed at home was a great blessing in numerous ways. The fact that people today have the option of choosing something like that model as one of many ways of being together is, in itself, a positive sigh in my book.
However, all of this relationship diversity has grown up within a consumerist culture that emphasizes the biggest and best, and tells us that there are always more to choose from just around the corner.
The man you are with snores? Go ahead and dump him. You deserve silence while you sleep.
The woman you are with gained 10 lbs? Go ahead and dump her. You deserve that Barbie Doll figure at all times.
Honestly, when I read some of the lists in profiles online, it sounds like what they want are designer lovers. Straight from the Assembly Line of Hot to you.
I found this mostly tongue and cheek list of traits desired in "The Perfect Man." Although the particular author seems to be just entertaining herself and her blog audience, some of the real lists I have seen aren't all that far off in terms of their improbability.
Wes Anderson’s genius
Adrian Brody’s style
Zach Braff’s quirky humor
Chris Sharma’s athleticism
The Dalai Lama’s compassion
JT Holmes’s fearlessness
David Duchovny’s wit
Mark Ruffalo’s looks
Ben Gibbard’s way with words
Josh Halloway’s dimpled smile (the smile could melt the clothes right off my back. um. did I just say that out loud? my bad.)
Johnny Depp’s enigmatic eyes
Robert Downey Junior’s everything (let’s face it)
Ryan Reynold’s body
Aaron Nace’s creativity
Zach Condon’s gypsy ways
Jamie Oliver’s skills in the kitchen
Ray Lamontagne’s voice
Jude Law’s accent
Michael Franti’s heart
Tom Robbin’s vivid imagination
Quentin Tarantino’s intellect (seriously, the guy is a MENSA member)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s sex appeal
Ed Norton’s activism
Also, a smidgeon of badass either in the form of Wolverine or Tyler Durden
And a whole lotta Cusack (here he is, the king of lists, in High Fidelity)
Now that’s what I call a tall order! I’m sure I’m missing the Clooney’s and the Damon’s and the Gyllenhaal’s of the world but there are only so many men you can fit in one man.
This isn't just an issue for women. Consider this actual list from NFL linebacker Dhani Jones:
quick-witted, yet possesses a calming motherly quality
tall, slender (but she can be a little bit thicker)
from a great background
Exotic, maybe light brown/olive complected/mixed background
stands firm behind her man (but not in front, perhaps beside)
wants a huge family
can talk to a homeless person or a wealthy person
she can play in the mud in the morning and go to a black tie event at night
she’s ok on her own but she loves her man
independently wealthy helps
So, do any of you reading this blog even come close to either of these lists? How could anyone really?
People talk a lot about not wanting to "settle," which I believe is an understandable, and even useful notion if it's placed in proper context. The problem is that, what many of us mean by "settle" is really "I'm afraid of choosing the wrong person, so I'll keep my options open and my list long and difficult to reach." Not wanting to settle is often code for afraid to commit, to take a risk with someone. And when it's not that, it's often about attachment to superficial qualities that really don't make much of a difference when it comes to actually building a successful relationship.
When I think of what I'm not willing to settle for, it tends to be about deeper values and ways of being in the world. I'm not willing to be with someone whose life revolves around entertainment and gossip. I'm not willing to be with someone who ignores the welfare of others, or who places too much stock in material possessions. That's the kind of stuff that I have on my list. And even then, I have had to learn to be careful with such a list because it's not always apparent right away whether someone "fits" or not. Determining things like integrity, commitment to asking the "big questions" in life, kindness, and respect for others, to name a few examples, takes awhile. And no one is perfect in any of these areas, so it's more about sussing out someone's patterns than it is about finding a "perfect match."
In the end, we all fall short of each others' lists. And yet, we all also contain much more than anyone's list could ever draw out. So, the way I see it, if you're going to have a list to help you decide whom to date and be with, make it about the most important qualities - the ones that make or break relationships - and leave the Assembly Line of Hot list to fantasy land. Which is where it belongs.