*cue soft lighting, red wine, and Frank Sinatra music*
I was recently on a date where the gentleman across the table leaned in and said part charmingly, part with low-key exasperation, “I don’t know what you women want. You’re all so…different.” It was an odd moment for me. I presume this women-are-mysterious sentiment arises fairly often guy to guy. You know, water cooler talk. But it was the first time I had been the recipient of such a declaration. And it made me wonder. Is he right?
Yes and no.
When I first started dating as a twenty-something, what I wanted from a partner was pretty straightforward — chemistry, charisma, and overall hotness factor. I tended to gravitate toward dynamic individuals; men with the ability to achieve much, interact well, look great, and spark attraction. I was status-struck. The shy guy would never even hit my radar. I was looking to be swept off my feet by a larger-than-life character. Part of me still wants this.
As I became more seasoned in relationships, I realized this framework was one dimensional and didn’t get me what I truly wanted. I kept involving myself with men who were dynamic individuals but weren’t treating me well long term. See, my original framework had everything to do with the guy and who he was — and *nothing* to do with how he interacted with me. The man of my dreams quickly became the man of my nightmares. I have since learned that how a man interacts with me is more important than who he is in isolation.
I don’t presume to speak for all women. I only know my own evolution on attraction. Looking back though, I can say with confidence that what I want now was what I wanted back then — I simply lacked the awareness to recognize it or the words to articulate it.
But I do now. It’s two things. And let me tell you, I look for them early and often. This benchmark has enabled me to cut through the riffraff with rapidity and find amazing men much faster. Women, let’s not buy into the delusion that high-quality men aren’t out there. What we lack isn’t options, rather a framework to discover them. Here is mine.
In the early stages of dating, I look for emotional intelligence and emotional availability.
Let’s unpack what these look like in action.
Emotional Intelligence is the capacity and ability to care for self and others.
Emotional availability is the capacity to make space for others.
In sum, emotional intelligence is I know how to care for you. Emotional availability is I know how to make space for you. Both are needed. If you have the ability to care for me but don’t make space for me in your life, that’s a problem. If you make space for me, but you don’t know how to treat me once I’m there — also a problem. Both emotional intelligence and emotional availability are required to make things work. No amount of chemistry can make up for a lack on either side. Long term, that is ;)
And why do I seek these things in the early stages, you ask? The early moments with a person are the biggest predictor of future action. Not their words. Or intentions. Certainly not my fairy-tale perception of their untapped potential. If someone is emotionally intelligent and emotionally available early on with the little things, chances are they will be later on as well, when it really counts.
I realize I may have rubbed some of you the wrong way with the mention of ‘emotional’ anything. Men aren’t emotional, you’re thinking. Another woman trying to feminize men. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What I am saying is that I like men who can bear the weight of challenges. Who don’t cower from hard things. Who can stand in the space of discomfort and be present and available in that space. Men mature enough to separate me from them, to embrace self-reflection, to pursue growth with self and others, and to believe the best version of themselves is ahead. This is the spirit behind emotional intelligence and emotional availability. It’s not watching Hallmark movies on the couch — it’s showing up to the relationship when things get hard. I can think of no stronger and more valuable trait a man can possess.
Because sooner or later, things will get hard, harder than you and I could ever imagine. Job loss out of nowhere. Sudden reverse of finances. Terrible news from the doctor. The last thing I want is someone who, in that moment, avoids and distracts, tries to tell me why I should be happy, or disappears altogether. In essence, someone who can’t bear the hardship with me. Because the only thing worse than being “single” when shit hits the fan is being alone in a relationship.
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