Chuck Your Dating Checklist

In this new series of essays, married writers reveal what they wish they'd done differently during their dating days. Lesson #1: Chuck the checklist ASAP!

Therese J. Borchard

or many of my single years, I had a lengthy checklist of what my dream guy should be like: Tall, sophisticated, would sweep me off my feet by reciting lines from Walt Whitman. A natural philosopher and die-hard romantic, my husband-to-be would enjoy deep conversations about the meaning of life while gazing at me with those piercing brown eyes. (It's not like I'm picky, or anything...)

So I went out and—though you may find this hard to believe—without too much trouble, found a
My brain said, “Yes, this is the right kind of guy for you,” but, at a gut level, something wasn't quite right.
few guys who made good on 99 percent of these criteria. And my brain said, "Yes, this is the right kind of guy for you: Your spiritual and intellectual equal," but, at a gut level, something wasn't quite right. One guy I dated was a brilliant theologian on his way to a tenured position as a professor at an Ivy League school. Yet the simple task of grocery shopping took him hours because he couldn't decide which brand of peanut butter to buy. Another guy I saw composed exquisite poetry, but was a nightmare at social functions since he'd sidestep the small talk and immediately launch into a dissertation on Dante's The Divine Comedy.

My relationships with these men didn't lead to marriage, but I didn't give up. My checklist was always in my mind's eye when I sized guys up. I reasoned that I simply hadn't found the right romantic, well-read intellectual. He was out there, and when I finally met him, our relationship would be electric.

Then I met Eric.

"Oops," Eric said to me the first time I met him, looking down at his fly, which was open. "Looks like the horse is out of the barn."

I laughed, and we talked some more, but I wasn't exactly dying to give him my number. After all, Eric had graduated from a mediocre college in Indiana. His clothes were wrinkled. Sophisticated, he was not. Even so, I figured it wouldn't hurt to go out with him a few times and have some fun while scouting out the real deal.

Months passed, and Eric and I kept going out. I was conflicted all the way; my checklist was still there, waiting for me to get real and move on. Just about every time
Eric, who met not even one of my requirements for Mr. Right, had the ability to amaze and delight me.
we got together, Eric would say something that would remind me of the gulf between us. Like the day I told him I had always dreamed of hiking the Himalayas. This was met with an eyebrow furrow and a "Why would you want to go anywhere without good water pressure and dependable toilets?#63;" Or, the day I nervously took him to meet my very religious mom. I'd prepped him for this, but he promptly informed her that "holy was out; happy was in." Spiritual enrichment, or any type of enrichment for that matter, did not exist in his world. He'd rather practice his golf swing than ruminate about the meaning of life. Why was I wasting my time with someone who was so obviously not my ideal?

The why only became clear to me as I spent time with a good friend who'd found a guy who—check, check, check—had just about everything on her list. They had that perfect, clone-like state that I craved. Each spoke five languages and was very ambitious. Their breakfast conversation? Business strategies for developing countries. But then one day they asked if I'd seen a certain PBS documentary on the Civil War, and I admitted to laughing myself silly watching a SpongeBob SquarePants rerun with Eric instead. They reacted with a mix of astonishment and horror—and that said it all to me. Finding that man of my checklist dreams would seal my fate. Someone who was my mirror-image, who loved philosophy and poetry, would keep me on a path with few surprises. Eric—who met not even one of my requirements for Mr. Right—had the ability to amaze and delight me (often in very childlike ways, I'll admit).

That's the thing about checklists: They may help us better understand who we are and what we want. But they can never capture a real person—or account for the incredible combustion that happens when two people get together and allow themselves to fall in love.

Therese Borchard is the co-editor of I Like Being Married, a compilation of love stories. But don't let that fool you, she admits there are plenty of days when she doesn't like being married.
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