A good man is hard to find
March 12, 2013 2:18 PM   Subscribe

There are a lot of questions on here about early dating warning signs, but I'm curious to know what are some early dating positive signs that people have gathered in their relationships for picking out emotionally healthy partners. I'm particularly interested in men who fit this profile. Because I grew up in a dysfunctional family sometimes a good man seems like an elusive creature, and it's hard for me to even visualize how he would appear or come across at the beginning.
posted by timsneezed to Human Relations (56 answers total) 195 users marked this as a favorite
They are able to demonstrate active listening from the very first conversation.
They encourage you to pursue goals you have set for yourself in a way that you find helpful.
They have their own set of friends and hobbies.
They match your interest level from phase to phase without thinking too much about it.
They crush on celebrities their own age.
They're fantastically cool and a musician and a unicorn.
posted by skrozidile at 2:24 PM on March 12, 2013 [19 favorites]

When I was first dating my husband, I was actively making plans to move abroad for several months, and the plans for my cat's housing fell through. He offered to take care of my cat - even though we'd only been dating a few weeks and he and I lived a thousand miles apart and I'd be in another country for ten months. And immediately I knew he was a keeper. And he is.

Other signs:
- He asked questions of me and listened to the answers.
- He was genuinely sad when I told him about my sister's messy divorce.
- He was friends with his ex-girlfriends, but not too friendly. Mostly civil and still curious about their professional lives, and friendly but not friends with their new boyfriends.
- He has never once displayed jealousy towards my friends, exes, or family.
- His apartment was clean the first time I went there, and he'd had no warning I'd be coming.
- He was totally supportive of me moving away, even though we were just falling in love.
- He expects me to grow and improve myself, and has the same expectations for himself.
posted by Capri at 2:28 PM on March 12, 2013 [27 favorites]

I have had the pleasure of dating a good number of very high quality dudes. A few of the following are pretty me-specific, but the attitude would translate.

-When I say something like, "I'm thinking about shaving my head," they respond by saying something like, "hey, cool," and not, "oooh, no, I like girls with long hair!"

-They don't give me shit about not drinking.

-They let me talk, ask me what I think, and don't bug out if I say something "weird".

-They find things that I'm interested in (based on listening to me) and say, "hey, this [related thing] is happening, want to go do this?"

-Show absolutely NO territorial/jealousy-type of behavior when prior boyfriends come up, and never, ever engage in slut shaming.

-Say generally kind things about family, friends, and prior girlfriends, and if it's negative, frame it in a "because of these concrete reasons" or "but I was blah blah, too" kind of way.

-Get on well with my dog.
posted by phunniemee at 2:34 PM on March 12, 2013 [15 favorites]

Three things that you need to ask:
  • What do they do when you ask to put out the trash? Do they agree and never do so? You got to yell at them like their mom? Hassle them over the obvious? Putting out the garbage is a mundane action that indicates future, potential drama. Promise me the damn moon? Right, how about just helping me clean-up?
  • How do they treat you when you are sick? We all get sick and we will get sick, inevitably; better find out how you are going to be treated.
  • Can you love the mother? Because you will need an ally and if she is the sort to get involved in your business then a cushion of love will make things go more smooth.
Once I decided that it is not a question of finding Prince Charming or even settling for Mr. Not-So-Scary but about interactions and actions things became easier. Also, never get hung up about being someone's first and only love. The better position is to be someone's last love.

posted by jadepearl at 2:35 PM on March 12, 2013 [18 favorites]

What do they do when you ask to put out the trash?

This is a good one.

If you guys are hurrying to get somewhere, and you're doing something, a good guy will say something like, "how can I help?"

If you're making dinner or cleaning something and he's just kind of hovering (because at this point he's not really at home in your house--theoretically if he's been to your house a bunch of times he'll pitch in on his own), he'll say, "what can I do?"

For instance, this weekend I baked something for a party, then went to go hop in the shower asking my dude to take something out of the oven when the timer went off. When I got out, he had cleaned all the dishes and was playing fetch with my dog. I would have never asked/expected him to do the dishes, but we had both benefited from the baked things, and it was really nice of him to step up and do it.
posted by phunniemee at 2:39 PM on March 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

Observe his interactions with others -- does he have a habit of being routinely kind? Is he considerate and appreciative toward waitstaff when you eat out? How does he treat animals? What happens to his mood when something doesn't go his way? If you have different views on something, does he respect your position?
posted by Corvid at 2:43 PM on March 12, 2013 [10 favorites]

He was:

-Consistent: in word and deed. To an almost saintly degree, a standard I can never reach.



-Courageous: meaning, he isn't afraid of standing up for his values (the whole "consistent" thing), standing up to others, confrontation, or dealing with unpleasant or emotionally difficult things. He's not afraid of the bad stuff in life. I would run, fast, at the first sign of someone trying to worm themselves out of or avoid an unpleasant situation, whether it was with friends, family, or myself. It's not a great personality trait.
posted by peacrow at 2:43 PM on March 12, 2013 [16 favorites]

Also, when he orders food in a restaurant and it comes back wrong does he:

-Make a big ol' stink to the server and demand it be comped? (Too hot.)
-Eat it anyway even though it is not what he wanted? (Too cool.)
-"Hey, sorry, I ordered this without onions." "Oh, I'll take it back for you." "I appreciate it." (Just right.)
posted by griphus at 2:47 PM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

Signs my husband was a good one:

He established his own boundaries and was willing to stand by them, even early on in the infatuation period.
He was willing to own up to it with good humor when he made a mistake.
He worked hard to be able to spend time with me -- he didn't require or expect me to do all the scheduling or sacrificing.
He was always nice to my dog, even though she was old and smelled weird and was kind of a pain in the ass.
posted by KathrynT at 2:49 PM on March 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

While there's a lot of good stuff in here, i think something to really consider is how much some people put out the absolute maximum amount of effort for the first few months to seem as awesome as possible, and then kinda settle back in to being their normal selves.

Obviously there will be people who instantly gonged for not even trying, or people with whom you can't even tell because even if they are they're still throwing up flags...

But somehow i think it's a lot easier to create an "easy negatives to see" list than an easy positives simply because of this. No one is really ever intentionally on their worst behavior, but a lot of people who actually aren't that great will go out of their way to hide it at first.

I've known more than a couple people who have gone through a lot of relationships that last the couple month "honeymoon" period with someone who seems great, only to have the back side of everything come out afterwards.

These are all good things to look for, but don't be surprised when they don't last, or some time passes and the cracks begin to show.
posted by emptythought at 2:54 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

My now-partner exhibited the following signs very early on:

- When I mentioned that I had been previously married, he was literally the only guy I had dated in the five years since my divorce whose first response was positive curiosity ("oh, that's interesting -- what was being married like? Did you enjoy it?") rather than negative ("oh, how terrible -- did he cheat on you?").

- He spoke warmly of female friends and ex-girlfriends (and didn't make any sexist remarks about women in general), and responded without jealousy or suspicion by my speaking warmly of male friends and ex-boyfriends/ex-husband. Ditto for how he spoke of his family and how he reacted when I spoke about mine.

- He explicitly said he wasn't interested in playing games and backed it up (i.e., he called me the day after our first date to say how much he enjoyed himself and asked if we could get together again soon; a few weeks into dating he said he was interested in being exclusive and asked if I felt the same way). But at the same time, he didn't try to take over my time or get too possessive.

- He tipped well (but in a non-ostentatious way) and was totally polite/friendly to all service staff we ever encountered.

- He never acted threatened by the fact that I had gone to college and he hadn't, have a different type of career than he does, etc., and displayed curiosity about my background, education, line of work, and interests.

Within a few months, this was also a big one:

- The first time we had a conflict about something, he said he wanted to talk about what was bothering me directly, so that we could figure out a solution and move ahead. This was TOTALLY ALIEN to me, to the point that I actually thought he was making a sort of deadpan joke. So it actually took me awhile (maybe 6 to 9 months) to get used to; my own conflict style was so dysfunctional, due to my own family baggage, that he really had to work with me so that we could establish a method of having disagreements in a healthy way. The paradigm-changing moment for me was when I was escalating some petty fight, and he reached across the table (we were at a restaurant) and said to me, "sweetie, I'm on your side."
posted by scody at 2:58 PM on March 12, 2013 [102 favorites]

_ he ask you questions about yourself and really listens to your answers
_he remembers what you said and surprises you with things you previously mentioned
_he notices your unique quirks (chewing on your lips when nervous or twirling hair) and asks you what you're thinking about. He uses that knowledge to help understand you better.
_when the dinner burns or some other mishap, it becomes a shared joke for future stories, as opposed to a major issue.
_he is openly affectionate (hand holding), physical touch around both family/friends and strangers
_he speaks proudly of you to others
_he encourages you to follow your dreams and pushes you gently when you hold back from fear
_he gets along with you, your friends, your family, your kids, your pets
_he even gets along with his old girlfriends, and doesn't act jealous over your old boyfriends
_he is comfortable in his own skin
-he's crazy about you and tells you so
posted by bringonspring at 3:03 PM on March 12, 2013 [36 favorites]

With Schmoopy we took it slow. But a few of the things that stood out as signs that this was a Good Thingtm:
  • Comfortable disagreeing, without taking a difference of opinion as a challenge.
  • Making time for one another, even when it isn't "easy"
  • Had at least a few friends they've know for a decade.
  • Friends of the opposite sex.
  • Confessional, murky, distasteful stories from the past are interesting in helping understand the person, not an excuse to push them away.
  • Had knowledge of more than One All Encompassing hobby, or job... You know, conversational ability!

  • posted by DigDoug at 3:07 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

    - Kind to waiters and waitresses; a good tipper.

    - Totally fine with both paying for meals and being paid for.

    - Curious about everything; willing to follow me to museums; willing to teach me about his work.

    - Works to make the relationship better, especially in terms of conflicts.

    - Open about his own family and past relationships

    Haha mainly though it's the endless cups of tea in bed with a splash of milk, that is killing me with true and blinding kindess*

    *Reader, I am going to marry him.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 3:09 PM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

    I think what hasn't been mentioned yet is that he doesn't blame other people for his misfortunes. He would start blaming you for them at some point.
    posted by Okapi at 3:13 PM on March 12, 2013 [33 favorites]

    you say early dating, so in my mind, that's like the first couple of dates. i feel that by that point, i have a pretty good idea whether or not i want to keep dating you. i spent most of my late 2011/early 2012 going out on first dates (37 of them!) so i feel like i am an expert on harshly judging dudes.

    my "oh, i will go out with you again" indicators:

    - good tipper. my first date venue of choice was almost always a bar, and i got to see how much they tipped at the end or if they tipped the bartender if we were ordering single drinks. bad tippers or people who were just shitty to the waitstaff never got a second date.

    - therapy mention. my current boyfriend, who is awesome, casually mentioned his therapist and i was immediately impressed. knowing you've got some issues to work through and then doing it, taking charge of your life and your feelings and reactions, is a huge bonus, plus he's crazy well-adjusted.

    - confidence. it drives me crazy when people are self-detrimental on a first or second date. it's ok to be a little like 'oh yeah, i'm totally a crazy cat lady spinster haha' but to be like 'i never do anything right and oh yeah, i'm ugly and no girls like me' is just a huge turn-off and makes me feel like i'll have to be his cheerleader for life, and if things don't work out well, then he'll blame me for his shortcomings.

    - dog-petting. a few separate dates, we went to local parks and hung out where there were lots of dogs. i liked it when dudes petted dogs - it made me feel like they were ok with animals in general, and i think it's a marker of a kind heart.
    posted by kerning at 3:17 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

    Oh, and to chime in again: this is a book that helped me a lot when I was working to develop better skills around conflict and communication and to develop better expectations for healthier relationships in general, and it contains the following observation that may be useful for you:
    A person is a candidate for a relationship when he is able and willing to give and receive love, to handle feelings, to make a commitment, and to keep agreements. He can show attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and "allowing" in ways that are pleasing, satisfying, and noninvasive. He can forgive and let go of his ego long enough to work problems out amicably and fairly most of the time. He follows a reconciliation (not retaliation) model in his interactions. He loves you for yourself and not as the latest women to fill the slot in his life marked "female."
    These aren't things that will all be immediately and explicitly evident on a first date or two, but I think they're indicative of qualities (compassion, empathy, warmth, emotional health/stability, reliability, etc.) that can be demonstrated in various ways early on, as numerous answers here show.
    posted by scody at 3:22 PM on March 12, 2013 [22 favorites]

    Response by poster: Bonus points for signs that tell the difference between polite and kind. There's probably a strong correlation between the two but I've met a number of people who are superficially polite but ultimately weak, conflict avoidant or unkind.
    posted by timsneezed at 3:25 PM on March 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

    Polite is saying "thank you" to the server when he brings your drinks as ordered. Kind is saying "thank you" just as politely when the server messes up your order and tries to fix it, and assuming that the server must just be having a bad day.
    posted by scody at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2013 [27 favorites]

    Bonus points for signs that tell the difference between polite and kind

    I was actually going to come in to say simply kindness. A lot of the above are great examples of kindness, but the specifics will vary tremendously with who YOU are and the context of your dating, etc.

    You can tell if a person is kind. There are surely sociopaths that fake it well, but in general, I think kindness is one of those ineffable things that humans have a sense for. Politeness always feels like they are doing the bare minimum, something people do out of a sort of obligation. Kindness is something you exhibit because of who you are and how you see the world and it is independent of other factors. You can be a very kind pessimist, for example.

    I think it's like jazz and Louis Armstrong. If you find yourself thinking hard about whether they are kind or not, searching for evidence, then they probably aren't.
    posted by Lutoslawski at 3:30 PM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

    The first time you go on a date with somebody notice how they treat the waiter, because that's how you're going to be treated in six months.
    posted by Confess, Fletch at 3:31 PM on March 12, 2013

    Bonus points for signs that tell the difference between polite and kind. There's probably a strong correlation between the two but I've met a number of people who are superficially polite but ultimately weak, conflict avoidant or unkind.

    To me, a big difference between polite and kind, is whether there is substance to a person's word. Do they offer something and follow through? Does a person understand the difference between saying something, and having actions that correlate to words? Politeness is the utterance - kindness is the follow-through.
    posted by raztaj at 3:32 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

    Polite is: Going through the scripted motions; knows how to say "please" and "thank you"; holds doors open for you and for random passersby and older folks, etc. Nothing wrong with polite!

    Kind is rarer, and I think it's more a series of interrelated behaviors toward strangers and friends alike: he deals gently and encouragingly with those who are not as good at X or Y as he is (my incredibly kind partner is SO GOOD at playing sports with those far less talented than he; from his constant stream of praise for them, you'd never guess that they're barely challenging him at the game - and in fact I'd never know it from his remarks afterward, either); shows compassion and sensitivity by imaginatively extending himself into other people's shoes; shows concern and care for his friends (necessary addendum: HAS friends whom he thinks about, talks about, and contacts regularly); hears someone's in need and considers, enthusiastically, the ways he might be of help to them. Volunteering, or being involved in his free time in some kind of community oriented toward making life better for people, generally tends to be a good indicator of this kind of person.

    Also, while there are MANY kind people out there who are, for one reason or another, isolated, you asked for signs, and so I'll say that many of the kindest people I've ever known either were loving and attentive children, OR loving and attentive siblings, OR had deep friendships that had lasted for years by the time I met them. Basically, in terms of signs, it's a good one when you meet someone whose history shows he can make and keep and care for relationships over the long haul.
    posted by artemisia at 3:54 PM on March 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

    Adaptability, tolerance, dealing well with setbacks. If someone can tell you about something that didn't go well or disappointed them, without sounding like they are still stuck or resentful, that's a good sign.
    posted by BibiRose at 4:01 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I disagree with some of these statements: I don't care if a guy takes out the trash (I usually forget myself) or holds the door open for me (I'm a grown woman and am capable of opening doors) or is good with waiters (some people are socially awkward and are still fantastic one-on-one).

    On my first date with my husband, he made eye contact, asked me questions, listened to my answers and responded with stories about how my experiences were similar to and different from his own, asked more questions. When something went wrong -- the place we'd planned to get dessert was unexpectedly closed -- he made a joke about it, suggested an alternative, didn't let the interruption affect the evening's flow. At the end of the night he did not suggest we go home together, but he took both my hands, took a nervous deep breath, and said, "I've really enjoyed spending the evening with you. I like you a lot. I hope I can call again, because I'd like to see you again soon." And then he called the next night and we talked on the phone for an hour.

    Good signs from that experience: eye contact, engagement, genuine interest, humor, adaptability to setbacks, willingness to be vulnerable, and follow-through.
    posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:08 PM on March 12, 2013 [13 favorites]

    There is a secret, or as close to it as there can be. I will tell you it.

    But first I will tell you that nothing is foolproof and that this is a fallible metric. They all are. But this is, I believe, your best shot at it.

    I will also tell you that there is no such thing as an objectively good person to date. It is, and always will be, a function of how your particular brains mesh or don't. So take all of this advice, including my own, with a grain of salt. One person's dream is another's dud. Mystery Date lied to us.

    As I've said before, there are no cheat codes to find out if someone's a waste of your time or not. The only way to find that out is to waste some time.

    Don't worry, the secret is on the way. It's at the end of this comment, but read the whole comment, please.

    One other thing - this is not the secret but you should know it - is how he treats waitstaff and children. It is okay to lose your patience with kids sometimes, they're crazy. But a man should never, ever treat with contempt anyone who is less powerful than he. Really, he shouldn't treat anyone with contempt at all, but there it is.

    Now for the secret.

    If he is just as engaged with you, just as interested in you and just as affectionate after he comes as he is before he comes, you've probably got something good on your hands.
    posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:11 PM on March 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

    He was always nice to my dog, even though she was old and smelled weird and was kind of a pain in the ass.

    This is a good one. I have a cat who hates everyone but me. He will act friendly and rub on your leg, but he doesn't want anyone(except me) to pet him. The nice guys sometimes try to start petting him and then when he swats or hisses, they back off and then it sort of becomes a joke. The point is, they respect the fact that my cat is the way he is and they don't try to "put him in his place" or whatever.

    I told one guy about my cat and he made a comment about how he would hit a cat who behaves like mine...so he never made it far enough to actually meet my cat.
    posted by fromageball at 4:12 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

    I don't know if this gets filed under "kindness" or what, but when you're sick, if the guy can look you in the face and cheerfully hand you more tissues/Tamiflu/a bucket instead of reacting to the gross crud coming out of every pore and the fact that you haven't shaved in five days....keeper.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 4:16 PM on March 12, 2013

    I remain impressed by how my now husband acted in the first 5 minutes of meeting me. We'd arranged a date via OKC to meet at a local art house theater on a Sunday morning. When I walked in the theater doors, he was sitting facing the doors so he couldn't miss me, and I couldn't miss him.

    It was refreshing to meet a man who didn't play the game of pretending to be busy, or gazing deeply at a movie poster, or reading the free weekly newspaper, or answering Very Important Sunday Morning Emails. He was excited to meet me, and he couldn't hide it. So much so that he turned a chair around to face the door so he wouldn't miss me. This honesty of intention made me want to open up to him right away.

    It was a such a small action, but one that's illustrative of his personality: integrity from top to toe. His actions line up with his emotions.
    posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:29 PM on March 12, 2013 [36 favorites]

    Here are some common traits of stand-up men that you will notice early on:

    - Being able to plan an evening without your help. I don't mean ordering your dinner for you, but things like choosing the show, procuring the tickets, and figuring out how you're going to get there and back. Guys who rely on me for this stuff ("I dunno, what do you wanna do?") are either bad at logistics or afraid of getting it wrong. Both incompetence and timidity eventually become unbearable.

    - Having friends that are unlike him -- female, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. Men who hang out only with other men like themselves tend to become narrow-minded and entrenched.

    - Capable of feeling passion. There should be something that lights his eyes up when he talks about it, and that thing shouldn't be something escapist like a video game, SF series, or website. It should be something real. You want someone who lives in the real world.

    - History of volunteering. Again, just a good indicator of of a sympathetic, unselfish character.

    - Laughing at irritations instead of getting inconsolably angry. If he works all day on a souffle and drops it on the floor, what happens after he yells DAMMIT! Everyone yells DAMMIT, but some people get furious at the universe instead of either eating floor-souffle or ordering a pizza (after texting friends a picture of the floor with the caption DAMMIT.)

    - Telling stories where he's the bonehead. In my experience, everyone enjoys telling and listening to stories about boneheaded behavior with terrible results. Egoists only tell them about other people. The people you want to be with occasionally tell one about themselves. You do not want to be with someone who thinks he is incapable of making mistakes.
    posted by cirocco at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2013 [38 favorites]

    I'm going to put in another vote for "has long-term, healthy relationships with a number of people." I dated a charming guy who cooked me meals, treated waiters kindly, told funny stories about his misadventures, told me how attractive I was, and never complained. However, I eventually learned that he was being sued not only by his ex-wife but also by his adult kids, was on the outs with his own siblings, and had only one long-term friend, who he saw something like once a year. The next one is going to have to tell me all about his many friends on the first date.
    posted by ceiba at 4:45 PM on March 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

    The best men I've had the honor to be involved with shared a common trait: they were ready, willing, and able to empathize with my lot as a woman. Without making a big show of it, they managed to make sure I felt safe and respected. They were scrupulous about punctuality and communication (so I wouldn't have to worry or wonder); they chose activities for us that allowed for the getting-to-know-you phase to flow naturally (rather than angling for the getting-into-your-knickers phase, e.g. going to a bar). They gave compliments that weren't overtly sexual ("I love your sense of style" vs. "I love how your ass looks in those pants.").

    They all seemed to have a sort of old world dignity, and restrained passion, that I don't see so often these days.
    posted by nacho fries at 4:55 PM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

    Um, not clear from my posting: He turned out to be self-centered to a painful degree.
    posted by ceiba at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2013

    Makes plans as cleanly as possible without faffing.

    Shows up, ideally on time, keeps me informed if not.

    In general, doesn't make the whole meeting up thing needlessly complicated. It's movie tickets, not logistics and infrastructure planning for the 2024 World's Fair.

    If delayed or needs to cancel, takes the initiative to reschedule/make up for lost time while making it clear that he does in fact *want* to see me and he won't do this all the time.

    Is at least polite all the way through. Seriously, just the uncomplicated basics like showing up and saying please and thank you are a good start.

    Is confident, assertive, doesn't need to be cheer-led (as mentioned above) nor is overbearing or dominant. Doesn't try to dominate me, doesn't act doormatty or drippy. (Too hot/too cold/just right)

    I mean there's always a risk that a psychopathic type will play a role and hold it down for a long time, but then there's not a lot you can do about liars of whatever kind except wait them out.
    posted by tel3path at 5:24 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Oh my, where do I start with my fiance?

    The biggest thing, I would say, is that he is invariably kind. I've never known him to be mean-spirited or spiteful. He is always polite to waiters, simply because it would never occur to him to be otherwise.

    He has a knack for keeping friends. He writes long hand-written mails to and gets replies from a middle-aged female family friend that are genuinely interesting and not merely perfunctory politeness. He has friends from school, friends from college, friends from grad school. Some are male, some female, some from Europe, some from the US, some from India. When one of his friends became pregnant, he was genuinely interested in how she was doing, and she trusted him enough to tell him the details of her difficult pregnancy.

    He keeps in touch with the members of his far-flung extended family, sending cards and emails on important occasions. Every few weeks he'll get me a random small present for no reason at all.

    He was genuinely excited to get to know my parents and extended family. They all love him.

    He never spoke ill of his ex-girlfriend and was on good terms with her when they broke up. In fact, he rarely speaks ill of anyone. It's not that he's living in some rosy la-la land where everyone is nice, he just doesn't tend to gossip about people in that way (something I'm guilty of sometimes myself).

    He didn't flinch when I said that I was a feminist. He was genuinely curious about feminism. He didn't consider himself a feminist when we met, but when I told him I had no intention of changing my last name, he looked surprised and said why would you?

    He doesn't keep score. I do a lot of the cooking and he does all the cleaning, but sometimes I like having him around in the kitchen prepping things for me, while I cook. He never seems to mind this. He almost invariably takes out the garbage and makes the bed. In the mornings, he makes us hot tea first thing while I grab a couple more winks. He wants us both to have good careers and insists that he will share equally in the parenting duties so that we can both succeed.

    He is happy as I am at my accomplishments. He was waiting outside the exam hall to see if I had passed a difficult exam, and jumped three feet in the air when he found out I had. He pushes me to keep trying all the time.

    He is cheerful. He's rarely in a grumpy mood for long, and he will let you know if he is.

    Along with all this though, he's definitely not a pushover or a martyr or a doormat. If he doesn't want to do something, he'll definitely let you know. He speaks plainly and doesn't bottle things up to be passive-aggressive about later.

    Basically things with him were simple and natural from the very beginning. He is just a lovely person and one could sense that from the very beginning.
    posted by peacheater at 5:32 PM on March 12, 2013 [18 favorites]

    OMG yes - as happy as I am about my accomplishments. Crucial!
    posted by tel3path at 5:34 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    And always speaks well of people. If telling a story in which he was genuinely wronged and therefore can't speak well of everybody, still doesn't cross a line into needlessly disrespecting others, even when it's difficult or impossible to find anything good to say about them. (this kind if story should be saved for after a number of dates, not rolled out in the first few!)
    posted by tel3path at 5:44 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    One thing you often find out about right in the beginning, that has always been a good sign to me - lots of his good friends are women who are not conventionally attractive, he treats them very well and there is nothing weird going on between them.
    posted by cairdeas at 5:58 PM on March 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

    Early on: lets me pay for myself on initial dates without batting an eye. Doesn't comment about my car or driving abilities (I drive a manual; many men feel the need to say something about this). Tips well. Shows active interest: calls, pursues dates, doesn't try to play it cool. Has women friends whom he genuinely likes as people (versus hoping they will eventually have sex with him).

    I knew my current boyfriend was the right one when he let slip something mildly embarrassing during our second date, and when I told him later that evening that I found it adorable (versus weird), he said "Thank Christ" with such genuine relief -- he was sincerely worried that I would be put off by it. He wasn't posturing or trying to impress me. I was so charmed by his emotional forthrightness.

    Later on: I had the flu for a week and he brought me ginger ale, soup, tissues, cough drops, and two kinds of cold medicine; cooked for me; did all the housework; and made rice pudding as a surprise. So see if you can arrange to get the flu -- fool-proof test of character!
    posted by baby beluga at 6:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

    Oh, here's another one. I didn't think of this at first because this was in the context of interviewing for a job, not dating, but I think it is extremely relevant. In my interview with the person who turned out to be the best boss I ever had, I was a little concerned about the longevity of the company, since it was a startup. I asked a series of somewhat intrusive questions that I was expecting to get really guarded, carefully worded answers to. I expected it to be like pulling teeth. Instead he gave me a series of shockingly thorough, candid, and responsive answers to my questions. I had an immediate sense that his reflex in these situations was to honestly tell the full truth. This turned out to be true, and he turned out to be a great boss, a great person overall, and a great husband to his wife. So I would say that's one thing that is a really good sign, if you ask someone a kind of hard question and you get a gut feeling that their reflex is to do their best to tell you what you want to know.
    posted by cairdeas at 6:11 PM on March 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

    I'll butt out after this, but since my previous comment seemed to have been appreciated i figured i'd throw it out there too.

    A lot of these don't seem general as much as they seem like little things you filed away when you were already attracted to/liked someone. Some of them i could even easily see being read as negative, weak, clingy, over eager ETC. i'm not going to start quoting posts and breaking them apart, but i just think some introspection as to whether this is good general advice or just a list of things you like about someone you still love or had the hots for.

    After all, re reading the OPs question for the second time, it wasn't "what do you like about someone you decide is a positive person" but "what are good general things to look for". Some of these get awfully specific.

    Maybe this isn't something i should be calling out? but it bugs me. Feel free to call me out if you think i'm out of line.
    posted by emptythought at 6:42 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    One time when I was just starting to date my husband, I got to the movie theater a little early and stood on the corner to wait. I saw him coming from several blocks away, but he didn't see me. During that walk over I saw him do a couple of sweet things - help someone with a wonky stroller, help pick up some objects that toppled over from a homeless man's cart. On a busy Manhattan street during rush hour, he was the fastest to notice and the fastest to offer help as everyone else hurried past. He did those things swiftly, cheerfully, and when he finally got to where I was, surprised to see i was already there,he didn't mention a thing about the nice small urban deeds he'd done. That's when I knew I'd met a good man.

    Yes a lot of the things people are listing above are quite specific. And there are a lot of variations - waiters, old cats, exes. But I think they all crucially boil down to - How does someone act towards a person or creature he doesn't *have* to impress? How does someone act when he thinks no one's watching? The ones who are sweet when there are no pats on the back, no brownie points, no martyrdom, or no witnesses are the keepers.
    posted by sestaaak at 7:08 PM on March 12, 2013 [24 favorites]

    Not just for potential SO's: when something goes wrong, assigning blame is a low priority, whilst also accepting responsibility for his mistakes.
    posted by kjs4 at 7:09 PM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

    Late to the party here, but when we first start dating, my now-husband would send me e-mails at work asking what he could make me for dinner. I was charmed by the fact that he was thinking ahead, wanted to cook for me and wanted my feedback.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:46 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    I've really struggled to learn this, so good for you in asking this question. A few things that I noticed that my current boyfriend does that indicate that he's a "good guy":

    - He encourages me to take my time even I'm running late and to get what I want even when I'm indecisive.
    - He talks out issues and problems with people in his life, including me. Similar to scody's story, I didn't realize that this was even POSSIBLE.
    - He doesn't think it's a burden to reassure me and doesn't get angry with me if I feel insecure
    - He cleans up my shit. Literally. The toilet overflowed and he just cleaned it up and didn't make a big deal out of it.
    - He takes it for granted that women are as capable as men, that women are people, that women have sexual desires, that women have ambitions and goals

    Some of the things people mention above are about a guy really being into you, and some are about a guy just being a good person. Both of these are very important.

    The above are about him being a good guy. The below are about him being into me:

    - He tells me that he is into me. He doesn't pretend that he's not.
    - He doesn't pick up on cues from other women. He's not looking for something else.
    - He is vulnerable with me and allows me to take care of him and wants to let me in.

    NOTE: I don't really like the characterizations above about how a good person will be nice to pets, or have a good relationship with his family -- mostly because I FAIL those tests completely myself. I am really uncomfortable around animals for a number of reasons, and I have a non-existent relationship with my family (also for a number of reasons). I might become comfortable with animals over time, but there are good reasons why I am not, and I am never going to be close with my family. So I HATE being judged based on those qualities, that are not my fault, and say nothing about how kind or good I am as a person.
    posted by 3491again at 7:52 PM on March 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

    A lot of great comments in this thread. The one thing that I thought of that hasn't been mentioned so much is also assessing how you feel about yourself when you're with this person. A good sign is that you feel smart and funny and beautiful and relaxed and excited to be with him. (A little bit of jitters is normal, of course.) You feel like you don't need to change anything about yourself, but you feel inspired to learn and grow and become a better person all the same. You feel engaged when he talks; you feel appreciated and supported when you talk.
    posted by capricorn at 7:55 PM on March 12, 2013 [37 favorites]

    Many great answers! I agree with sestaaak--how do they behave when no one's watching? I have an example of someone I haven't dated, but know to be a remarkable man. I was at a birthday party for a family member at a rented space. Someone had dropped their cake on the floor and there was some icing smeared in the carpet. I just happened to be idly looking in that direction, and noticed the man in question stop, look at the icing on the floor, go hunt for a napkin and then stoop to wipe it up (and this is an elderly, incredibly tall dude we're talking about, so must not have been easy for him!) He's not a neat freak or anything, just a guy who was honestly trying to make life easier for the person who would eventually have to clean all of this up. It was so touching.
    posted by indognito at 8:18 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Finishing my first movie quote during the first series of dates.
    posted by tilde at 8:49 PM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

    "what are good general things to look for". Some of these get awfully specific.

    They are specific illustrations of general traits and qualities, which is all anyone has to go on when you're first getting to know someone. Treating waiters nicely = respectful of people regardless of status. Calling ahead to find out what you want for dinner = considerate of others' needs and preferences. Having nice things to say about ex-girlfriends = can relate to women as something other than sex partners. Etc.
    posted by scody at 9:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

    So much good stuff already!

    The only thing I can add is to look at how he handles the mundane and tedious parts of being an adult. Does he pay his bills on time? Does he take care of his things? Is he able to make long term goals? Does he take care of himself?
    posted by cat_link at 10:18 PM on March 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

    Based on lots of my friends, I'll add this: is he financially able to provide for himself?
    posted by CathyG at 11:34 AM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

    Based on lots of my friends, I'll add this: is he financially able to provide for himself?

    FWIW, recognizing this as a prerequisite is keeping me out of the dating pool at the moment. So I'd say a guy should hit that mark at least.
    posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:35 PM on March 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

    NOTE: I don't really like the characterizations above about how a good person will be nice to pets, or have a good relationship with his family

    Agreed. Particularly on the point about having good relationships with his family. I know too many great people who came from terrible upbringings, and who (wisely) opted out of maintaining bonds with their immediate kin.

    And to suggest that having good family relations is a marker of a good partner is frankly a bit tone deaf in this particular context, given the OP's statement that s/he was raised in a dysfunctional family.
    posted by nacho fries at 5:13 PM on March 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

    Lots of good advice here: also note a lot of it can be faked by sociopaths or can be learned by clueless, self-centered , immature dolts.

    Don't have one "signal" indicating for you "this guy is perfect because he likes puppies/asked me about my day/held me after he came etc.".
    posted by lalochezia at 11:28 AM on March 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

    lalochezia brings up a really good point. I would say that the ones involving really long lengths of time are the hardest for anyone to fake, like having really good lifelong friends, good family relations, etc. I'm not someone who has wondrous relationships with many of my family members, so I'm not saying that in a shaming way.
    posted by cairdeas at 11:39 AM on March 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

    I was the girl who got him to eat (and learn to love) sushi.

    In a more general sense, he was really open to trying new things that I liked because he wanted to like things I liked and have that shared experience with me.
    posted by like_neon at 5:31 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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