"21 Things I Want in a Lover" is a song by Alanis Morissette in which she list different qualities that she would like her partner to have. I like the idea of such a list and agrees with Alanis not only on many of the characteristics that she mentions, but also such a list is itself quite appropriate because, after all, "I have a choice in the matter." But a good friend of mine Skyped me the other day. She is in her 60s and never got married. She warned me quite seriously that I should not be too picky because we all have a "dating shelf life" and soon I might wake up and find myself much less marketable. Another elderly female friend had a similar warning, saying that it is easier to find someone if you are in your mid-life if you had had a wife before; i.e. if you are a widower or divorcee. She explained that if a man reaches a certain age (which apparently I'm swiftly approaching) without having gotten married yet, women think that there must be something wrong with him, otherwise he would have been "caught" long ago.
So while I could easily make my own list of 21 Things recent circumstances, including platonic and intimate encounters, have forced me to rethink what it is I want from a life partner.
One important thing, I realised, is respect. I am not talking here of respect in the patriarchal man-as-head-of-the-house type of respect. I'm merely talking about respect of me as an individual. Respect admits that I am a free agent. If my partner respects me for who I am, then my partner will never force me to do things I'm not comfortable with, at the same time will my partner try and allow me the freedom to do those things that are important to me. In the past I used to think it of absolute importance that my partner and I have the same religion and ideas about God. I've come to understand now that respecting my views and allowing me to live out my faith is actually more important than sharing my ideas about God. A person can share your religious views, but still hinder your spiritual progress if the person do not respect you and where you are on your spiritual journey. Similarly, I used to think that my partner and I ought to share the same dietary preferences, keeping in mind that I'm mostly vegetarian. But I've seen a number of healthy relationships where one partner is a vegetarian and the other is not, and the relationship is still successful because the two respect each others preferences. Respect, I now believe, is absolutely crucial for a truely healthy relationship. It goes without saying, of course, that the respect should be mutual. I should have the same type of respect towards my partner as my partner has for me.
#2 Unconditional, non-judgemental love
The other thing, which goes hand in hand with respect, is unconditional, non-judgemental love. Most people do not truly love, in the purest sense of the word. True love is unconditional. Unconditional love, I believe, is the only true form of love, for it is wholly unselfish. It is a love that unfetters, rather than restricts, that makes free, rather than imprison. This is the type of love trusts; it is not jealous. Jealousy is a sign of insecurity or selfishness -- both characteristics of an immature, false love. A "love" that is inward focussed, rather than outward focussed. True love, also, does not judge. Non-judgemental acceptance, I have realised, is probably the most redeeming quality in a person that I admire. The individuals I care for most, the people I truly allow into the deepest layers of my soul, are those I know will love me regardless of my worst secrets, my most foul blemishes. Since I have such individuals in my life already, I don't need judgemental individuals in my circle and I definitely do not want such a person as my life partner. An unconditional, non-judgemental partner will always think the best of me. For example, were I to say something that my partner thought insulting, my partner will think that I have maybe miscommunicated, and instead of going on the defensive, will try and resolve the misunderstanding. This type of love requires a self-knowledge and maturity that comes with experience, I know. Again, as I hope to receive such unconditional, non-judgemental love, I expect of myself to give it too because, again to quote Alanis "This is the only kind of love, as I understand it, that there really is."
Humbleness is another characteristic that I have always found very attractive. Humbleness is not to be confused with a bad self-esteem or a low self-image. In fact, it is particularly those individuals that are both confident and humble whom I find particularly attractive. Humbleness is the ability to admit when one is wrong, to say thank you for a compliment without becoming proud or boasting, to be thankful for one's blessings.
Another characteristic that I believe to be of utmost importance in the person I hope to share my life with is honesty. Yes, truth often hurts, but if conveyed in respect and love and with a humble attitude it is a wonderful balm. There are times, of course, when truth should be withheld until the hearer is at a place to hear it, and this requires sensitivity and wisdom. While I can accept the former, deliberate deception and falsehoods (lies) are poisons that never has a place in a loving relationship. I truly do not believe that we have to say everything, have to share everything with our partners. The Principle of Respect, already mentioned, requires me to accept it with love and trust if my partner feel not to divulge some things to me. I should trust my partner to share with me those things that I need to know. Respect and unconditional love should make room for untold things. At the same time, non-judgemental love should accept whatever my partner does wish to share with me. I do, however, believe that there are some things that need to be said, some secrets that cannot be kept, but I believe each person should be free to decide what that is for themselves, and that they should listen to their conscious and to the promptings of the Divine Spirit on such matters.
#5 Sexual attraction
It is an unfortunate necessity that I should include a carnal aspect on this list, but mutual sexual attraction is important. I am very much a sexual creatures and although I have found deep heart-to-heart connection to somewhat defer my sexual urges, they do not replace this primary bodily need. It might be that as I grow older this requirement will diminish, but to be honest, as of yet, I can get just as lustful as I when I was an adolescent, and since I try to keep a healthy and active lifestyle I do not foresee this to change dramatically in the next couple of decades.
#6 Appreciation of creativity
A creative sense is, for my particular constitution, a must. In the past I might have expected my partner to also be creative and artistic as myself, but I do not hold this as a standard any more, as long as my partner has an appreciation for creativity. Notice that I'm not saying a mere appreciation for art. No, it must be an appreciation for the artistic impulse -- my partner will, after all, be living with an artist and us artists can become quite odd at times. We go through seasons of strangeness (melancholy, mania, apathy, bliss, etc.), that doesn't befall other people to the same frequency. Although I'm quite a "balanced" creative soul, a mere indulgence of an artist's creative waves may not be enough, I think, to live with one. It needs to be an understanding -- an appreciation -- of the creative mind and its cycles. To put it in the words of Alison Krauss: "Some folks seem to think I only got one problem: I can't find nobody as crazy as me."
#7 Comfortable friendship
A comfortable friendship is an often overlooked quality, but it is a crucial one. After all, it is the thing that will make us want to spend time with each other and be comfortable in each others space.
After contemplating my list of seven things over a couple of days, I came to the conclusion that there is another quality I wish for in a life partner: my partner should inspire me to be a better person. The key word here is inspire. People can tell you to be better, nag you to be better, try and manipulate you to be better, but such attempts at changing someone will only cause superficial changes. I have no interest in such a relationship, which would of course be against my earlier point of unconditional, non-judgemental love. No, my partner's love for me, and my partner's own life and example ought to be the things that inspire me. If your partner inspires you to personal betterment, how can that not be a good thing, a good relationship?
For now this is my short list of qualities I want in a partner, mightily reduced from my previous check-list that my friend warned me against, and which, according to her, made me much too picky. I think, however, that this shorter list doesn't make it any less difficult to find a match! *sigh*
Of course, there are other things that will create the initial spark, for instance a beautiful smile, diverse interests, a sense of humour, a healthy lifestyle, nice legs . . . but let me stop here before I start making check lists again!