It’s amazing how much my “ideal boyfriend” list has changed over the years. Just to give you an idea, here’s a sample of what I’ve looked for in the past:

Perfect boyfriend list circa high school: Cute. On lacrosse team. And, like, totally likes me. Perfect boyfriend list circa college: Has a great job. Social. Lives in same city. Perfect boyfriend list circa my late twenties: Big heart. Faithful. Fun. Potentially a great dad.

Even now, with all we know of love and life, when women start listing what we’re looking for in a guy, it still usually starts with his looks, his location, his job, or OK, maybe his sense of humor. But the truth is that any man — any height, any place, any job — can be the perfect boyfriend if he expresses the qualities that women really want. The things that speak to our hearts and affect us on a daily, weekly or monthly basis: The things we often forget we want in a man until we see a Nicholas Sparks movie.

So I dug into my past experiences (good and bad) and talked to other women about what they’re looking for to come up with an ideal list. If we put one perfect boyfriend on order, here’s what comes with the package.
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The perfect boyfriend…

…gives us butterflies in the beginning (Frequency: 1x a week, at least for the first three months). I have a friend who’s been seeing a man for three months she describes this way: “He’s really nice and he’s really good to me, but sometimes I have trouble looking at him because he’s really weird-looking… but, you know, we’ll see.” Some people think you don’t have to be all that attracted to the person you’re dating. I’m not one of those people. (And let’s be honest, who really is?) The ideal guy is either immediately attractive to us for his obvious physical attributes (say, dark-haired and tall, skinny with glasses, exotic and graceful), or because he appeals to us in other ways (the way he talks, the way he walks, the way he kisses, the way he works). Either way, those fluttery feelings in the beginning of the romance are important. Relationships get hard, and one way to endure the rough patches is having a little spark of high-school puppy love to fall back on. The perfect guy provides that.

…makes us laugh (Frequency: a lot). There’s a reason “sense of humor” is consistently at the top of every woman’s love list. If you can’t laugh together, really, what’s the point?

…shows us affection in tender ways (Frequency: minimum 4x a week). My current squeeze was recently playing with my hair for the duration of an entire episode of Grey’s Anatomy (speaking of, is it too shallow to want the perfect boyfriend to watch Grey’s Anatomy with you?). I was in such heaven, it made me realize how important it is to be touched in ways that aren’t always pre- or post-sexually-charged. For instance, guys, you know that clever idea you have of offering us a “backrub” when you really intend to slowly sneak your hands around and… well, we know that trick. I’m just saying, every once in a while, the perfect boyfriend would give us a plain old backrub.

…comes out with our friends and plays the role of token adorable guy (Frequency: 1x a month). Like a designer coat you get for a steal, what’s the fun of talking about your big find if you can’t show it off? A perfect boyfriend isn’t just perfect when we’re alone; he’s perfect in public, too. Years ago, I dated an event planner who, every once in a while would say, “Let’s take your friends out.” He’d book a table somewhere, hail the cab, pull out our chairs for us, order us drinks, and tell hilarious stories about some recent party fiasco. I couldn’t help beaming with pride when a friend would lean over and whisper, “Oh my God, he’s adorable.” For most women, our friends are our family and a big part of our lives, so we want our boyfriend to fit right in and make a great impression while he does it. What’s the fun of having the perfect guy if no one in the room goes home just a teeny bit jealous?

…agrees to go splitsies when we order food (Frequency: at least every other meal together). You know, you guys can have half of our chicken sandwich if we can have half of your burger? Your French fries are my French fries? Provided we don’t go too Tofurkey with our choices, it’s an admirable trait if a boyfriend shares a meal with us—literally.

…surprises us with thoughtful gifts and gestures (Frequency: 1x a month). This is where those flowers come in. Or a new CD we wanted. Or a sweet text-message at 11 a.m. Big or small, it really is the thought that counts. While visiting my guy in Los Angeles for a month, I mentioned a few weeks in that I was feeling a little homesick for New York City. When I woke up the next morning, he was standing there with two lattes—and a copy of The New York Post, which he’d spent 45 minutes driving around trying to find. The gift itself cost him two bucks, but was priceless in boyfriend points. “Half the fun of a little gift is just knowing that the guy is thinking of you when he’s apart from you,” points out my friend Sue. “It almost doesn’t matter what it is, it’s just the fact that he thought of us while he was doing it.”

…compliments us on things other than our looks (Frequency: 10x a month). In a movie I can’t help but reference weekly, Something’s Gotta Give, Jack Nicholson’s character tells Diane Keaton’s character, “You’re the funniest girl I ever had sex with.” Perhaps he could have phrased it a bit better, but there’s something magical about a man who notices the more profound, valuable qualities in us—who says things like, “You’re so interesting,” “You’re so intuitive” or “You’re so smart.” Looks fade, so we want a boyfriend who sees the pretty deep down.

…but, yeah, he also tells us we’re beautiful and hot, like, all the time (Frequency: Seriously, all the time). It just makes us feel really good. And the return a boyfriend gets on this is quantifiable: The more beautiful we feel, the better girlfriends we are in return.

…gives us cards with stuff written in them (Frequency: Birthday, anniversary, and holidays). Gifts from a boyfriend are great, don’t get me wrong. But it’s truly gratifying when said boyfriend also gives us a card with something heartfelt or sweet or cute written inside of it—you know, something more than just our name, his name, “Love” and a little punctuation. It’s not required, of course, but it goes a long, long way.

…calls us on our questionable behavior (Frequency: Well, not too often). My friend Kim mentioned an attribute she appreciates in her current boyfriend. As she puts it: “He calls me on stuff.” Kim is a tough chick who installs her own air conditioners and goes on vacation alone. But when she gets a boyfriend, she says, “I tend to turn into kind of a weepy, girl-tied-to-the-railroad-tracks type. The other day I asked him to get up and get me a drink, using this weird baby voice, and he was like, ‘Whoa, what’s with the voice? Now you’re pushing it.’ He was right,” she says, “I wasn’t being myself. And it makes me respect a guy when he puts me in my place when I veer off-course.”

…makes us trust him completely. (Frequency: Always). I dated a guy years ago who was big on guys’ and girls’ nights out. Which was fine, except that when he’d zip up his jacket and I’d say, “See you later,” he’d say, “Sure, unless I meet some other hot chick who wants me to come home with her, ha, ha, just kidding!” Guess what? Not funny. A perfect boyfriend makes a woman feel safe and secure. As my friend Todd puts it, “Trust is the titanium casing of a long-lasting relationship. Without that strong force field, you can’t survive. It’s what makes you a working team.”

…thinks it’s adorable when we’re our all-alone-selves in front of him. (Frequency: Always). It’s rare to find a man who finds it charming that you wear decade-old T-shirts to bed, can eat a whole Domino’s pizza by yourself, and spend Saturdays watching Laguna Beach marathons. And that’s what makes him so special. Assuming we agree not to push it (“I love that you don’t care if I don’t shave for weeks!”), the ideal guy would make us feel loved and accepted when we’re being our most natural selves.

Oh, and by the way, my perfect boyfriend is also cute. And, like, totally likes me.

Amy Spencer is a freelance writer who has written for Glamour, Real Simple, New York magazine and Maxim, among other publications. For the other side of this story, read Be the perfect girlfriend….