It happens to most men sooner or later: he’s dating someone, things are going well, then wham! The woman does something small and seemingly inconsequential that makes him fall for her — hard. You may be asking yourself, What is that special element that changes his thinking from “She’s fun” to “She’s The One?” Well, it turns out that men are more than happy to walk down memory lane and reveal those pivotal moments — and Catherine Cardinal, Ph.D., dating expert and author of The Cure for the Common Life, explains what women everywhere can learn from their stories.

Sign #1: “She got my weird sense of humor”
“Not long after we’d begun dating, Anneli unexpectedly showed up on the set of a short film I was making. The scene we were shooting was… uh, how can I put it? A little bit crude. I’ve dated women that have been kind of uptight about stuff that I think is hysterical, so after the scene was over, I didn’t know what to expect. I was relieved — and kind of surprised — to see that it made her laugh. In fact, she was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her face and she could barely breathe. That’s when I knew I had a good one. Two months later, I proposed.”
— Matt Ballard, 39, New York, NY; married to Anneli for six years

Related: What men really want in a girlfriend

Love lesson: A shared sense of humor is essential
Let’s face it, no matter how much you love someone, your life together will get dull if you can’t laugh your way through it. “Choosing someone who is not rigid and who can let go with a good belly laugh, especially over the same things you find funny, is a win-win situation,” says Dr. Cardinal. “It ensures you’ll have an animated, lively life.” And how great is it to know your mate finds you fun and entertaining? In other words, she gets you!
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Sign #2: “She challenged me to do the right thing”
“I knew Marianne was The One when she encouraged me to work through a tough situation I was having with a coworker. She allowed me to vent, but she also challenged me to see things from another perspective and not take the easy way out by ignoring the situation, which was my impulse. Because of her influence, I was able to approach my coworker and get a better understanding of where he was coming from. After that, I knew Marianne would never be someone who walked behind me, but someone who would always stand next to me.”
— Ken Kish, 37, San Clemente, CA; married to Marianne for 10 years

Related: Five fights every couple should have

Love lesson: Disagreements can help you grow closer
It’s easy to unconditionally support someone’s every decision. Challenge your date to live up to certain standards, though, and you’ll gain even more points by showing you’ve got a backbone — and that he or she will become a better person as a result. “Anyone who encourages you to face a challenge is more likely to be a consistent, predictable partner — and one who realizes that unless you grow, you both get held back,” says Dr. Cardinal.

Sign #3: “She allows me to pursue my passion, even though it takes time away from being with her”
“I knew Marnie was a cool woman when she never gave me grief about being a surfer. That was a big deal because my previous girlfriend was always mad when I went surfing instead of spending every nanosecond with her. The clincher? Once, Marnie drove eight hours with me from Atlanta to Florida just so I could get in the water. After that, how could I not fall for her? Even now, she’s still OK with me taking off to the beach every weekend. She lets me do my thing because she knows it keeps me centered and happy. I don’t know many guys — or any surfers — that get away with that!”
— Dirk Aulabaugh, 40, Los Angeles, CA; married to Marnie for 14 years

Love lesson: Respecting someone’s interests creates greater intimacy
Everyone needs a personal passion or two; otherwise, life can become unfulfilling. Allow your partner to find inner satisfaction this way, and he or she will be happier with life, him- or herself and with you. “As far as spending time together, remember this: It’s quality, not quantity that matters,” says Dr. Cardinal. A person who values you, makes the most out of the time you spend together and doesn’t whine about separation is a grown-up. That’s someone to plan a life with.

Related: Tips to deal with an overly demanding girlfriend

Sign #4: “She’s not put off by my bad habits”
“Marissa is the only woman I’ve ever dated that doesn’t get grossed out by my bad habits. I’ll put the empty orange juice carton back in the fridge, and I’ve been known to make certain bodily noises at inopportune times (like when I’m standing right next to her). I knew she was a keeper, though, while I was clipping my toenails in bed one night. A toenail flew out and hit her on her eyebrow! Most girls would have freaked out, but she just laughed and playfully punched me in the arm. Obviously, I have some bad traits… so for her not to hassle me about them? I’m the luckiest guy I know.”
— Danny Murphy, 35, Clarksville, TN; dating Marissa for seven years

Love lesson: Accept your partner — flaws and all — and that person will love you for it
Each of us has a version of cutting our toenails in bed and wants to be loved in spite of it: it’s all part of being human. We’re not saying women shouldn’t speak up if something truly bothers them, but that they should do so gently, pick their battles — and be at peace with the possibility that he may not change. “Tolerance is vital in a relationship,” says Cardinal. “We all have bad habits, but with tolerance, you’ll share days together that feel safe and comfortable.”

Sign #5: “She preferred takeout and TV to a night on the town”
“I knew Dana was special when she took a seven-hour bus ride from NYC to come visit me in Richmond, VA. That may not sound like a big deal, but let me tell you, anyone who’s spent the night on a Greyhound can attest to how uncomfortable it is. But she did it for me and she did it without complaining. As if that wasn’t enough, when I picked her up, she told me she’d rather get takeout and watch eighties movies all weekend instead of going out on the town. Now we have two kids and a mortgage… and I love her more than I ever have.”
— Marcus Ashley, 38, Austin, TX; married to Dana for nine years

Related: How women cope with relationship changes

Love lesson: Men go gaga over low-maintenance ladies
It’s clichéd but true: high-maintenance women who need to be paid attention to every single moment will wear a guy out. “You shouldn’t have to tap dance for your mate!” says Dr. Cardinal. So before you insist on receiving flowers every month or going to the most expensive restaurants in town, ask yourself: Do all these trimmings really matter if you’re with someone you truly adore? And trust us, he will adore you all the more when he sees he can kick back and just be himself.

Kristin Bailey Murphy has written for and

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