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And I Love Her
January 7th, 2011

Earlier this week I attended a business dinner with several colleagues.  With the social lubrication of a drink under our belts the conversation veered from professional to personal realms.  Younger members of the group complained of approaching 30th birthdays.  Older members of the group traded war stories of raising teenagers.  And eventually one member of the group told the story of how he got together with his wife.

This man is usually all business, so it was refreshing to hear him speak so candidly about his personal life.  Since he was a bit older (40-ish) when he married, embedded into his story was the following synopsis of how his selection criteria in a potential wife changed as he aged:

When I was in my early twenties I thought, “She’s beautiful.  And I love her.”

When I was in my mid-twenties I thought, “She’s beautiful and she’s funny.  And I love her.”

When I was in my late twenties I thought, “She’s beautiful and she’s funny and she’s smart.  And I love her.”

When I was in my early thirties I thought, “She’s smart and she’s funny and she’s rather pretty.  And I love her.”

When I was in my mid-thirties I thought, “She’s smart and she’s got a solid career and she’s funny and she’s really somewhat attractive.  And I love her.”

When I was in my late thirties I thought, “She’s level headed and I enjoy her company and she’s not altogether bad looking.  And I love her.”

And when I hit 40 I thought, “This is really someone I can work with for a long time.”

I suppose if I were this man’s wife and I wanted to choose the most objectionable interpretation of his story I could be offended that he seems to be implying that it was only after he lowered his standards six or seven times that he found himself interested in marrying me.  But having heard his little litany firsthand I can vouch that this isn’t how he meant it at all.

Rather, what he meant to convey was how foolish we can be in our youth.  When we are 22 appearances are paramount.  But by the time we turn 30 we need more.  We need someone we can relate to, someone who can have a conversation, someone who is fun.  And as we age further we need more still.  We need compatibility.  Give and take.  Balance.  Trust.  Fulfillment.  And a thousand other things that mere beauty can’t deliver. 

If you think about it his standards actually increased over time.  Finding a beautiful man/woman?  Not so hard.  Finding a man/woman you want to build a life with?  A Herculean task.

What I find curious about this little phenomenon of evolving tastes is that it takes us so long to figure out what really matters.  Do 20-year-olds not care about a decent conversation?  Do they not care about a good laugh?  Do they not care about common interests and values?  Or is it that at such a young age the need for real compatibility seems so far off that in our youth we indulge ourselves in the qualities we know can’t matter as much when we start to look at “forever”?

I like to think that I had a better-than-average head on my shoulders back then.  In retrospect, I know I didn’t.  So I suppose the fact that I ended up with a handsome husband is either a function of dumb luck or hard work.  Actually, I think it’s a bit of both.

5 Responses to “And I Love Her”

  1. ayala Says:

    A Herculean task indeed! When we are young ,we tend to choose with our heart. Even if there is something wrong we believe in change. When we are older we are not as flexible because we learned that most of the time people don’t change. We also learn what love should be.

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I love this piece. Full of humanity and insight. I do think our desires and priorities shift and in many ways become more substantive. This post makes me smile because in many ways (if I am being honest) I fell for Husband because of his looks, but with time, I have realized how lucky I am that he is in fact warm and smart and loves a good conversation. Maybe I had an instinct about these things back then as I was losing myself in his blue eyes? Perhaps I am giving myself too much credit :)

  3. Cathy Says:

    I’m thinking that you landing a handsome husband probably is not dumb luck. But, the fact that you’re still married, that most definitely is a product of hard work.

    I think 20-year-old’s have a romanticized version of reality when it comes to relationships. Experience teaches you so much. I think knowing there is no “perfect”, only perfect for you is something learned over time.

  4. Dana Udall-Weiner Says:

    Such a moving post. I’ve been thinking about the fact that, in many ways, I get much less attention for my looks than I used to. My days in bars and clubs are long over, and now I find myself most often with a babe in arms, looking a bit frumpy and sleep deprived. And in most ways, I am fine with the diminishing attention, because now I value the other parts of myself much more than I value my looks. My husband comments less than he used to, as well. At times I miss it, but I do believe that the deemphasis on appearance is mostly a good thing.

  5. Kimc Says:

    Depth is partly a function of experience. When we are young we don’t have the experience to be very deep, so we go for looks and other shallow qualities. As we ourselves get older and deeper, we look for deeper qualities in others.
    One of my favorite quotes, from the book “Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, is “Depth comes from commitment, not the other way around.”
    There is also the factor of hormones: someone said when we are young we choose with our hearts, but I think it might be more accurate to say that when we are young we choose with our hormones. There are various studies that show that people are hormonally attracted to people with different potential genetic problems from our own. When hormones lead, we can be attracted to people whose personalities and values are completely inappropriate for us.