What steps can I take to meet a family orientated partner?
November 18, 2013 4:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm an early 30s male, I have spent the last few years living a very self-centered life, hopping around short term casual relationships. I recently had a change of priorities, and want to prioritise starting a family. The gist of the question is about compromise. What kind of traits should be prioritised in a partner?

I wonder if it is healthy to think strategically about things like mental health, values, wealth, independence? None of these used to matter a jot to me before, I only cared about the spark.

Recently I've been dating someone who was perfect on paper (or in my case, spreadsheet) but there was no spark at all. If I could have fast forwarded to the point where we had a 2 year old kid, I would have done. But I just couldn't stick with it, and split it up.

The kind of person I have sparked with, tends to be the kind of person who has no intention of starting a family in the next few years. My attraction seems to hinge on things like, quality of sex , youth, nomadic freedom, and professional abandon! So this jars with my new priorities somewhat.

There is a middle ground of course, but I can't seem to find it. I'm older and no brad pitt and should adjust my expectations, but I can't find the grey area. So I guess I'm asking, what is the 80/20 rule for turning this around?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The thought of a partner calculating how viable I was for babymaking on a spreadsheet makes me want to choke on own vomit while falling out of a twenty story window. Please don't fall into the trap of thinking women are either fun toys to take wild risks and have fun non-procreative sex with, or boring sedate brood mares. They're all women, that is to say, real humans who have an emotional need to be loved for exactly what they are and who have the ability to change/develop/mature, exactly as I hope you do.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:07 PM on November 18, 2013 [162 favorites]

The kind of person I have sparked with, tends to be the kind of person who has no intention of starting a family in the next few years. My attraction seems to hinge on things like, quality of sex, youth, nomadic freedom, and professional abandon! So this jars with my new priorities somewhat.

A million people will probably tell you this, but... do you really think all women who want children are bad at sex? All women who want children hate travelling? All women who want children have boring jobs?

Bro. You are a person who wants children and unless you are chasing people who are nothing like you, there is evidence directly before your eyes that "those kinds of people" do, in fact, want children. Women are people too.

How do you meet the women you date?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:15 PM on November 18, 2013 [22 favorites]

There's no magic way to predict this or look for it.

I am a single parent for the last 11 years, so I definitely was on the lookout for family-oriented partnerships.

I met another single parent, but it turned out she was kind of jerk who had no interest in my kid.

Now I'm with someone who was, in certain ways, a pretty freewheeling, feel good kind of person who had no intent of having children, but she's bonded intensely with my daughter, frequently makes us all dinner or folds our laundry, enjoys saturday morning group housecleaning time, and is lovingly and on her own volition helping raise my daughter. She herself wouldn't have predicted she'd be here now.

Don't undersell chemistry, shared humor, and attraction. Those things can get you through a lot, and you'll need to call on them if you start a family with someone. They increase your motivation and desire to help your partner achieve their dreams.

One caveat though: drop the youth thing. You're less likely to find a partner who's into family or willing to compromise about it if you're only looking at the young ones.
posted by latkes at 5:20 PM on November 18, 2013 [16 favorites]

This isn't something you can plan out in advance. Someday you'll meet an awesome lady who is all of these things and it won't seem like a compromise at all. Right now I think your first step is to just need to meet as many women as possible for the purpose of practicing getting to know women as multi-faceted human beings. Then start thinking about what you want in a partner.
posted by bleep at 5:20 PM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

You're still living a very self-centered life (to use your own words). Nothing in your post indicates that you're looking for a life partner, someone to love and be loved by, someone who completes you and who you complete. That's what makes a great family — not someone with the right genes, wealth, etc.

So stop thinking about finding a strategic alliance (that went out in the 1800s) and start thinking about human relations. This means seeing women for the whole human beings that they are, and not as made-to-order mothers.

This will be essential practice for being a good father. You can't raise children well if you see them as filling some sort of niche or need in your life, instead of as the tiny and beautiful and whole human beings they are.
posted by Capri at 5:31 PM on November 18, 2013 [43 favorites]

There's no real rule. I get what you're saying though. I had an aversion to having a family in my 20s, mellowing to an objective interest in having a family in my early 30s, but only because it was "time." As the years passed, though, my priorities changed, and through a lot of work on myself for many reasons, and some time, it happened when I was 35.

I dunno... There's spark, and there's love, and there's sparky love, and there's complacency, and the eternal fact that I don't know who I am going to be in five years let alone be able to predict who someone else will be. The qualities you list, mostly the "nomadic freedom," may skew your pool towards the "no kids right now, please" category, but you honestly never know.

If you want a family, which it seems you do... Including the wife and the 2.5 kids, and all the joy and sacrifice that those come with, then the change needs to come from within. People (especially children) do not translate well from paper to reality. Being a part of a family is being part of a team. For those who want it, it's equal to a rewarding career. Moments sublime coupled with drudgery and fear, and all that jive.

To answer your question, If you really focus on developing and growing those qualities which will be called upon in raising and being part of a family, those things which will allow you to be a great husband, supporter, lover, provider, friend and father.... your priorities and the things that make you "spark" will also likely fluctuate. We usually seek what we want, and if you can't shake the freewheeling, no strings love thing, maybe you're just not ready yet.

If so, that might change tomorrow, next year, or whenever, but it's not something I think can be forced, based on my experience in my life anyway, either upon someone else or yourself.
posted by Debaser626 at 5:38 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ergh! I was a theater major and very into having fun! But when I had my son, I turned into an Earth mother who breastfed, made all the baby food from scratch, and basically devoted the first two years of his life to being there for him.

So I was very free and hot in bed and my current husband tells me I am the sexiest woman he's ever known. My kids had food, love, music, do your chores, learn to cook, and more music, and love and open talk about everything. Laughter. Learning how to grow things, thank you for picking me those dandelions, young sir!

I'm horrible on paper. But my family loves children and cooking and education and reading. The core aspect to our family is empathy. We teach and laugh and eat and if someone gets hot under the collar, we let it slide a bit and then we feed them. So maybe you should learn to cook.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:44 PM on November 18, 2013 [16 favorites]

The kind of person I have sparked with, tends to be the kind of person who has no intention of starting a family in the next few years

Right, so, now you'll have to work on building yourself up to be the sort of person who's actually attractive to people who want to start families...

You're asking what might be available to you, with no concern for what you have to offer (not counting the mild and useless self-deprecation about looks). This isn't a good place to approach this stuff from. Why would anybody want you as part of their family? Once you have a good answer to that, the rest of this should sort itself out a bit more readily.
posted by kmennie at 5:51 PM on November 18, 2013 [26 favorites]

I swear, this nearly exact same question came up on Ask... last week? There were a lot of responses, so brace yourself.

Women are people, just like men are people. We're not objects or pets.

What you need for a successful relationship (I'm in one, and one that hopefully is about to include kids) is shared values (ie. having a family) and spark. Pretty much nothing else matters. NONE of what you listed are mutually exlusive. It'll all be tied up together in messy ways you don't expect. She'll have contradictions. She won't always be who you expect, or what you think you want.

You be the man/partner she wants, and she'll turn up: you get what you deserve.

Health, mental health, youth, and wealth are all transitory: they come and go on a dime; some just go over time, for everyone always. These things don't last. You want someone you can be old, crazy, poor, and sick with.

I defy ALL your ideas: I'm good at sex, have travelled a lot, want a family, intend to travel with kids, am super left-wing, am solidly middle class, went to art school.... I am a PERSON. A whole person. Just like you.

Kids and families thrive in all sorts of places outside of the Stepford Wives set. Yuck.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:01 PM on November 18, 2013 [17 favorites]

You need to A) learn to distinguish between personal qualities and external trappings, and B) understand that women are fellow human beings, not some separate species.

By qualities, I do not mean things like hobbies, wealth, etc. or the other things that you list -- those are all external trappings. I mean actual human qualities -- things like compassion, curiosity, resilience, kindness, independence, etc. (If you find yourself a little stumped by this, a personal values assessment might be handy.)

Note that none of these things will automatically say anything about whether someone is particularly well-traveled, or if they're good in bed, or if they're financially comfortable or share any of your hobbies or anything else you think might matter. This is not to say those things aren't important in their own way -- it's nice to share pursuits and passions -- but it is to say that in and of themselves, they say nothing about what kind of human being someone is, and therefore they say nothing about what kind of relationship you might build with them. Lots of assholes have traveled the world, you know? You can have great sex with someone who has a great job and loves all your hobbies, but who is also inconsiderate and unreliable and has a lousy sense of humor and who treats the less fortunate with contempt.

Forget the spreadsheets. Forget "good on paper." Forget your assumptions about what women are "like." Cultivate the qualities you value in your own life, and relate to others -- male and female alike -- on the same terms.
posted by scody at 6:16 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Women are people, just like men are people. We're not objects or pets.

I don't understand why this criticism is coming up. Why are people all jumping on OP because he inferred that those who possess specific qualities of sex , youth, nomadic freedom, and professional abandon seem to not have the quality of wanting to settle down and start a family.


OP is just looking for a partner who has traits which he thinks would clash with the traits that initially attract him to a person.

That said, I tend to think the qualities that attract you to a person are 100% normal. It just seems you are growing from your 20s to your 30s.

I don't necessarily think that you are barking up the wrong tree or anything, but its just that you're seeking people whose priorities are not what you claim your new priorities are. Or it just may be that those same traits you seek will turn into a willingness to have a family or a willingness to have more stability in one's life.

What kind of traits should be prioritised in a partner?
Depends on what you want.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:23 PM on November 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

I don't understand why this criticism is coming up. Why are people all jumping on OP because he inferred that those who possess specific qualities of sex , youth, nomadic freedom, and professional abandon seem to not have the quality of wanting to settle down and start a family.

Because he (one assumes) has those traits as well, yet wants to start a family. But he assumes women aren't capable of feeling the same way.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:28 PM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

The thought of a partner calculating how viable I was for babymaking on a spreadsheet makes me want to choke on own vomit while falling out of a twenty story window.

OP, you don't make me puke. I think that calculating risks and probabilities of success is smart. You only have one life and it is yours. Some people are more family-oriented than others. For example, you are now more family-oriented than you once were.

Your question mentions "spark" three times. This is a temporary emotional reaction. I recommend that you stop chasing it unless you want the serial monogamy that passes for normal these days. (I assume that is not what you want since you want to start a family) Spark chasing is good for the cultural meme as exemplified in pop songs like this, where a high school flame is somehow better than the loyal mate who grew old with you. Don't chase a "spark", and in turn, be careful to avoid other spark chasers.

Hopefully, you will get some good advice from men who have had successful long-term marriages. I consider myself a member of that camp. I have some other thoughts I would like to share with you, if you would care to send me a MeMail.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:33 PM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Look for a person with matching values who you have great sex with, then ask yourself "can I love her through the changes? "
posted by SyraCarol at 6:34 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm reading too much into your question, but this has a very simple answer:

Stop dating women who are significantly younger than you.
posted by Sara C. at 6:40 PM on November 18, 2013 [26 favorites]

I don't think the OP is out of line in setting out to determine what qualities in a life partner are important to him, in preparing what I'll call his "Laura List" named in honor of my friend Laura. How are you going to know that you've found the person you want if you don't know what specific qualities you are looking for in a partner?

Laura listed every quality that she wanted in a man, as specifically as possible, considered it carefully, adding to it, taking from it, finally coming to what she was looking for, as best she understood it. Not too long after that, she met her life partner, who has almost all of it, down to the nuts and bolts.

She's a huge believer in it, recommended that I do that same thing, which I have not, or have not stuck with anyways, as it seemed/seems preposterous to me, something that belongs on the Oprah channel. Meanwhile, she's over there with Paul, and everything isn't perfect but it's pretty damned good, and very close to what she had on her list.

Makin' a list / checkin' it twice / gonna find out who's naughty and nice ...
EDIT: Laura reports that Paul is both naughty and nice.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:47 PM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well, now, what about good advice from women who have had successful long-term marriages? I consider myself one of those, coming up upon 10 years married.

The thing is, those qualities you talk about are not mutually exclusive. I am career-oriented, love to travel, spontaneous, sexy, athletic... I'm also a very active member of the PTA, sometimes wear mom jeans and spend a lot of time worrying about sleep, healthy food and screen time. I'm a good parent *and* a good spouse, *and* a fun person.

I wasn't all those things when I met my now-husband. We grew together. Of course we started with a spark. Don't most people? It deepens and grows into a flame, over time, with care.
posted by gaspode at 6:49 PM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Mod note: Folks please stick to answering the question and not arguing with each other, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:50 PM on November 18, 2013

I personally prioritise sense of humour. No one is perfect in every regard (or at least, near-perfect people are rare and quickly snapped up) but if you can laugh together that can get you through a lot.
posted by molloy at 6:56 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Recently I've been dating someone who was perfect on paper (or in my case, spreadsheet) but there was no spark at all. If I could have fast forwarded to the point where we had a 2 year old kid, I would have done. But I just couldn't stick with it, and split it up.

That is...a very very odd reading of how families work. Because if it was hard pre-kid? Post-kid isn't gonna be easier. Having kids is not cement for a broken relationship.

The media tropes of ball'n'chain and bad sex and no travel are just that - tropes. They aren't actually real. Do you know anyone who is married? Have friends? Because post-marriage we're travelled, moved interstate for jobs, I've changed career paths, we still have a spark and love each other fiercely. We also bought a house, had a kid, and a bunch of other things.

I sure haven't stayed young, but that's a really really daft 'quality' to look for in a partner. Same with 'consistently high sex drive' because wow, illness/pregnancy/whatever is guaranteed to modify that as well.

Delete the ephemeral stuff - youth, ability, looks, all that shit because that doesn't last. Work out the bedrock first. Which may mean working on yourself more than anything. I've said it before in askmefi, but if you go into a relationship with these reductive, gender essentialist 'rules' about behaviour then the partner you find is likely to believe them too and you've just locked yourself into something you apparently do not want but believe other people enforce.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:02 PM on November 18, 2013 [13 favorites]

Me answering this is a total joke because as far as I'm concerned family is hell, but what the heck.

What you're reminding me of now is the Miles Vorkosigan book series. Miles tends to spend most of his time off-planet being a spy/adventurer/soldier dude, and he mostly dates galactic (i.e. foreign), independently minded soldier women. Which would be great except that Miles is nobility where he's from, and where he's from is a backwater planet that's incredibly sexist and backwards with regards to women. He can't marry anyone who doesn't want to someday settle down and have babies on his backwater planet, and the independently minded soldier women he dates are all, "I love you, but I am NOT gonna settle down there."

Eventually due to life circumstances Miles has to change jobs and retire to back home and do less travel, and he does what you're doing: he has to change who he goes for. So he goes for a hometown girl (i.e. one who grew up in the same culture he was in and thus isn't totally disturbed at the idea of living there) with a son already and who has a more "settled" life that will work with marrying him. They seem to do just fine, with a bit of crazy drama going on here and there. I think you want someone who is SOMEWHAT settled and wants kids, but they don't have to be like, totally boring either.

Anyway: when you talk about wanting younger women with a nomadic lifestyle, I'm thinking that if you mean 23-year-olds who are couch surfing or have jobs where they travel all the time--yeah, I think you need to start passing those up. Go for women who are at least in their late 20's and have regular jobs. Though you can still have some adventures--pick someone who at least likes to travel. My aunt and uncle had 3 kids and seem to travel the world constantly, so it's doable once the kids are big enough. And much as I hate to be all About A Boy and say "go hang out at the single mom's group, lying that you have a kid," it might behoove you to run with an older crowd instead of, I dunno, college students or whoever you are seeing.

And above all else, have out the "I want kids pretty soon" talk on the first date, and if anyone says anything less than "Me too," don't date them any more. That is something you need to get out of the way ASAP once you're like, over 22, I think.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:09 PM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I wonder if it is healthy to think strategically about things like mental health, values, wealth, independence?"

Yes, it's healthy! This is exactly the kind of gut-level analysis you must do, and if we're being honest, we married folks all did at least some iteration of before we picked someone to settle down with forever. By "wealth" I think: "not going to ruin my credit" and "on the same page as me about handling money." By "mental health" I think: "does not deal in denial about issues" and "open to seeking therapy if we need it." By "values" I think: "we have a similar sense of humor" and "similar levels of educational attainment." I fail to see why any of this is so controversial - seriously, we all do some version of it.

I'm at the age now where many of my college friends are getting started on their second marriages. The ones who divorced all say they knew at the time that something was not right about the relationship, but they ignored those feelings and married anyway because well, they were about the age you are now and felt like the larger society was saying "time now to transition into serious relationship land" because you're in your 30s. I reject that.

So I commend you for knowing you could not stick with your last relationship and for ending it. THAT is precisely what you need to keep doing. Fail better. Keep dating. Leave when you get to a deal-breaker point. Drill down more on what you mean by "spark." Ask yourself questions like: Did you know the last one did not have it when you started dating, or did it occur to you a little later? What were the signs? Ferociously analyze what went wrong.

You have not met the right one yet. When you do you will feel like you've known her forever and it will just make sense. (yeah, the cliches are all true.) Hang in there.
posted by hush at 7:39 PM on November 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

I agree completely with hush, above.

Quite a few answers so far are taking a very bad-faith interpretation of the OP's question, and putting all sorts of words in his mouth that he did not say. Assumptions out the ass.

It is absolutely healthy and wise to think strategically. And if busting out a pivot table in a spreadsheet helps clarify your thinking, and helps you sort priorities, and ultimately make a decision that is best for you and your future partner, ain't nuthin' wrong with a little Excel action. It sure beats the whole "the heart wants what the heart wants" silliness...keeping your wits about you while dating, and keeping an eye on the long game, is smart, not crass.

If you are looking for specific qualities to add to your spreadsheet, I'd input: negotiation skills. Relationships are all about negotiation. If you pair up with someone who is good at give-and-take, finding common ground, and focusing on the shared mission (vs. always having to be right), you will have a partner you can work with.
posted by nacho fries at 7:50 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

One word: fortitude.

I think dating for the "spark" is always the right thing to do, and you should keep up with it; dating for some checklist of "good mate" qualities is never a good idea and leads to unhappy marriages. You're going to spend the rest of your life with this person, by all means find someone you're attracted to who you have great sex with and can stay up all night talking to.

But having a baby is not romantic. It is a test. A wonderful, exhilarating test, but a test nonetheless. Is your partner the person you would most want to be with while undertaking an iron man marathon in the pouring rain and mud? Would you be made stronger by her presence, and would you make her stronger in turn? Would you take turns helping each other, strictly out of love and with no expectation of getting anything out of it?

I can't overstate how much both of you will need to be able to rely on each other. She will have moments where she just can't deal anymore and so will you. In a good relationship, these moments will bring you closer together and create lifelong family bonds. A bad relationship won't survive them.

She won't be perfect; no one is. But if you have love (the longer-burning form of spark) and respect and you trust her utterly, maybe you should give it a go.
posted by annekate at 8:11 PM on November 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

I don't see any evidence that the OP is looking to find a woman. Everything in the question is gender-neutral, so it's just as likely *he* is looking for a *him*.

So, with that in mind, I'll say that this doesn't change things too dramatically, except that in my experience, I think there are far fewer young gay men looking to start families than young straight women. Not that they don't exist or that they're rare--there are just fewer of them.

If you want to date men who want children, think about meeting partners through organizations and activities that are focused on making life better for kids: GLSEN, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, etc. You'll be able to initiate conversations about having children in that context without it seeming awkward and forced. Plus, you'll meet men who are civic-minded, which can't be anything but a big benefit.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:20 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is no set of traits that will point you to a partner that is family oriented.
The end.
People with good family values and who are good parents come on all colors of the spectrum.
Seeing as how you're prone to overanalyzing things, you may want to date some single parents to gather that data for yourself. Heck, you may even want to choose one because hey, their fertility is proven and you can guage their parenting values ahead of time... Since you like overthinking things.
Having children is the ultimate test of any relationship. If you dont have a rock solid conection and attraction with someone you see being mad about long after the children have come and gone, it's not going to be a good time despite how good they look on your spreadsheet.
Pick a partner for you based what you want in a woman, not a catalogue mommy for your future children.

My credentials: I'm a head to toe tattooed and pierced freedom loving crazy artist girl who's also a devoted mother that home birthed, breastfed, homeschooled, read to my kids every night and love home cooking, saving money and doing the laundry.

The traits that you're attracted to absolutely can make a good partner and mother, so don't negate that. Your desires are important.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 11:03 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're attracted to good sex, nomadic freedom, and professional "abandon." (what is that, by the way? no-holds-barred commitment or willingness to quit?)

That could jive alright with having kids. Maybe she stays home, takes care of the kid(s), and when you're off work from your job as a teacher, you all spend summers in Alaska. Maybe she gets moved from city to city every few years, so you all move a few times while the kids are growing up. Maybe she becomes so famous that she makes bank selling pottery out of her retreat in Hippieville, Colorado where you guys also have a large vegetable garden and participate in lots of local community organizations. You can set up any life you want if you can agree on what that looks like and figure out how to logistically and financially pull it off, so you don't need to search for someone who wants a stereotypical minivan lifestyle.

It might make more sense to figure out how your dealbreakers might change if you had kids. E.g., a tendency to lash out angrily might be a bigger deal.

It seems to me like your tasks are:
- start to set up your life so you could have kids
- save money
- think about what kind of dreams you have and which you might be able to actually pull off
- talk to people who attract you about their dreams for the future, then (here comes your spreadsheet action!) filter for "wants to have a family" and for how closely their ideas match yours
posted by salvia at 11:52 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay okay, I owe you getting back to the question.
I think what is putting some people (including myself) off is that reading between the lines indicates a sharp contrast between the last woman you dated, you you're attracted to, and what you expect married/family life to be like.

I wonder if it is healthy to think strategically about things like mental health, values, wealth, independence?

Yes, but remember that things change, especially health and mental health. People and bodies aren't static (yours or hers or your kids), and there's no guarantee. I had no idea I had PCOS until went to the doctor for something else; you could be shooting blanks. 1 in 4 people have mental health issues (ok, stats from my last mental health workshop training!), and if you have 2 kids, that's someone in your immediate family at some point. The economy isn't static, either.

Recently I've been dating someone who was perfect on paper (or in my case, spreadsheet) but there was no spark at all. If I could have fast forwarded to the point where we had a 2 year old kid, I would have done. But I just couldn't stick with it, and split it up.

I think it is this paragraph that I found offensive. "Perfect on paper" really doesn't mean anything. I dated - and dumped - several guys that had 'nothing wrong with them'. What's weird isn't that you're thinking about things. You don't want perfect on paper - you want perfectly imperfect for you.

The kind of person I have sparked with, tends to be the kind of person who has no intention of starting a family in the next few years. My attraction seems to hinge on things like, quality of sex , youth, nomadic freedom, and professional abandon! So this jars with my new priorities somewhat.

This doesn't really jar with your priorities at all - this is what's causing trouble, and causing people to react in a judgy way. I think you probably aren't giving women your own age a chance, and are maybe judging books by their covers and making assumptions about what 30-ish and 20 something women are or aren't. There are freewheeling, traveling, artsy, responsible, kid-ready 20 somethings just like there are clucky, baby-loving, widely-traveled, responsible, freelancing artsy 30-somethings. I think the trick here is finding someone with traits you're attracted to but who is also responsible, family oriented, well-adjusted, and independent. So instead of going for that cute under-25 boho at the bar who's drunk on a Wednesday night (see, even I could be wrong! you never know!), you need to give slightly older more staid-looking women a shot. I look pretty boring at work: I am definitely 30 something and not in my 20's anymore. But I have a BFA, have travelled all over the world, got married young-ish, am financially solvent, am well adjusted, have chronic but well-managed health issues, love to cook, have an art studio in my sunroom, and we're trying for a baby next month. This is the longest I've ever had one job, too (over 1.5 years): I've temped, and worked on farms, and worked from home for tech start-ups, and took care of my sick grandmother and backpacked through China. It's complicated.

I don't really think 'quality of sex' is a huge issue. Sexual interest & compatibility, more so (frequency, kinks, etc.). If you have chemistry and a good relationship, you can teach each other anything else you need to... it gets better over time. (I also kinda resent you implying that 'perfect on paper' can't also be 'great in the sack' ahem, *cough cough*. All those pregnant ladies and moms got that way somehow!)

Everyone's complicated - take time to get to know them. Then, if you just can't stand the thought of not kissing them for one minute more - ask them out.

There is a middle ground of course, but I can't seem to find it. I'm older and no brad pitt and should adjust my expectations, but I can't find the grey area. So I guess I'm asking, what is the 80/20 rule for turning this around?

It doesn't matter what you look like. I've had some pretty serious crushes on some objectively scrawny weird-lookin' guys. It's WHO you are. Be the kind of man who deserves a woman as wonderful as you describe. Pursue your hobbies, go to church (if that's your thing), be humble/grateful/genuine, learn to let go, go to therapy to work out any issues so you'll be Ready when you meet her. Be a good man. Meet a good woman. Fall in love. Let your love grow so wildly out of control that you want to produce another human to share it with. One step at a time! You have no alarm clock ticking for this, like a woman does. Slow down!

My husband read this and thought about it for a while, and then said he was concerned about WHY your priorities changed all of the sudden. This is a really good question.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:19 AM on November 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

This 26 yr old married, home-schooled, free-spirited Ivy-graduate-educated writer just had a baby. I highly recommend you spring the $3-$4 for her e-book; both for a look at the complexity and depth of a woman who encompasses 'good on paper' with other traits (personality?), and for a hint at what it might be like to be married and have a pregnant wife who becomes a mother(!).
posted by jrobin276 at 2:19 AM on November 19, 2013

Don't date younger women. You didn't want a family when you were their age and neither do they. Date women right around your own age and older.
posted by Polychrome at 4:04 AM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

You've gotten a lot of excellent advice here that I hope you don't dismiss, but I'd like to contribute something practical: Attend a church.

If you're not really into the whole God thing, well, Unitarian Universalists often aren't either - and mainstream protestants will love you no less. At the same time however, you will plug into a community that is dedicated to being really into something other than themselves, where you'll much more easily find women who are really into something other than themselves, and hopefully where you will find good models for ways to be really into something other than yourself. All of which is pretty much what family done well is. You will also at the same time find yourself already in a ready made inter-generational community designed to make raising families easier once you get started.

If you're really not into the whole God thing you can still volunteer and meet people that way.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:29 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

So it comes down to: you have a spark with some but not all women, and some but not all women would make good life partners. It sounds like you're deliberately trying to make yourself ignore category 1 while you look for category 2, but given that the categories aren't mutually exclusive, why not look for the subset of cat. 1 that is also in cat. 2?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:37 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think your question is rubbing people the wrong way because the way you've phrased it, you're wanting to go from Step 1 (sparks at a bar) to step 769 (wife and two year old child) without any of the intermediate steps. This may not be what you mean, but it's how you sound--and it's frankly going to torpedo your chances with any woman who would be a good life partner if you can't either internalize all those intermediate steps, or somehow learn to express that you have done so.

If you have never dated anyone seriously at all, you are behind the 8 ball my friend. You have SO FUCKING MUCH to learn before you can be married and start a family. You need to learn how to build a relationship. Create and accept intimacy. Deal with someone on a long-term, frequent basis. All of these things are not something you get to skip learning by just finding a "family oriented" female who solves them for you.

Now, ideally, all of this learning and dating and work should be kind of exciting! You have never met someone's parents before! You've never gotten to go on a vacation with a serious partner! But you're going to have to do it the way literally everyone else does it: one step at a time, and some of those steps will go backward.

Yes, when meeting women, consider all of their many facets to see if you two are compatible. But it will take time. And date the women you like! Just freaking date them long enough to learn something about them. That's how people turn new sparky fun things into long, serious romances. By just keeping dating the person they like.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:18 AM on November 19, 2013 [8 favorites]

For real, YOU need to be a person to attract a normal, healthy, happy, long-term-relationship valuing person. Embrace all the traits that YOU want to see in a partner, be the person you are looking for. Do you think you do that? Do you project the sort of values that you are looking for in other people? I'm going to guess that no, you don't.

Another problem is that you apparently believe that being a responsible, family oriented person makes them bad in bed, boring, and basically they are all fuddy duddies. I have to wonder if that attitude isn't coming across when you interact with people. It is really unfortunate that you hold that opinion because it is hella off base, and it is that attitude that likely played a big part in your not having a serious long term relationship before. Seriously, think about it. If you believe that only boring, bad sex having people are in long term relationships then it makes sense that you would bail as soon as things started to seem serious. This is your hurtle to clear, your problem that you need to fix. You need to do some very serious thinking about why you think that way, why you think serious family-oriented people are intrinsically boring and bad in bed, and you need to think about what that (incorrect) belief is doing to you.

(For the record, I am married, in my 30s, with a kid, very family oriented and lead a very 'normal' life. My husband and I have sex ~5 times a week, and it is crazy awesome sex. Sex only gets bad in long term relationships if you allow it to. There is no reason why you can't keep having the kind of sex life you had in the beginning of a relationship. So I have just dis-proven one of your beliefs about long term relationships. Let me assure you the rest are wrong too.)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:40 AM on November 19, 2013

*raises hand* Hi! I've been with my husband for 18 years, we've been married for 10, we have two adorable children and are very happy. When I met him, I was 20, unemployed, went out every night, and had seriously undermanaged mental health issues, and our sex life was crazy awesome, emphasis on both the "awesome" and the "crazy." To reprise advice I gave elsewhere, a good long-term partnership can be helped along a lot by the following:

1. Someone who is kind, compassionate, and respectful. Without these three qualities, you're fucked.
2. Someone who has similar values to yours, but a different kind of personality; someone who has complimentary strengths to yours. It's fine if one of you hates making phone calls or gets the heebie-jeebies dealing with a family budget if the other person is happy to take on those responsibilities, particularly if you can easily step up to take care of household DIY or doing the dishes or something that your partner really doesn't like.
3. Someone who finds delight in the same kinds of things that you do. Not a complete overlap in interests, just a handful of things that bring both of you real joy.
4. Someone who is willing to look at their own role in conflicts, who is willing to unpack their own baggage.

and, of course, the hardest part -- you need to be that person as well. Are you kind, compassionate, and respectful? are you willing to take ownership of your own issues and take responsibility for fixing your own sub-optimal coping mechanisms? Because if you aren't, that is the first thing you really need to fix in order to be able to meet a family-oriented partner, or else anyone who's looking to settle down and raise a family would be right to avoid you like the plague.
posted by KathrynT at 9:46 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your use of the word "spark" is interesting. Sparks don't last. They start fires or they fade out.

This might sound bad but I don't think I ever really had a "spark" for my husband. We were friends and then we were best friends and then we started seeing each other, moved in together, got married, and here we are, four years later. We had a honeymoon period when we went from best friends to seeing each other and again when we moved in together but since we became best friends, he's been my best friend. Sometimes I look at other men (George Clooney) and think, that is an attractive man, but when my husband is in the room, I just want to be next to him. We've been together for 10 years. So either it's a spark that never went away or it's something more than a spark.

This might be a lousy metaphor but I feel like in some ways, looking for a partner is like looking for a job. You described the kind of partner/job you're looking for and asked how you can find that partner/job. I think you should work on becoming the kind of partner/job candidate who is the right fit for that job/partner. Because you might find the perfect partner/job opportunity when you're not prepared for it.

Also, this: "My attraction seems to hinge on things like, quality of sex , youth, nomadic freedom, and professional abandon!" makes it sound like you're looking for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. MPDGs are not real people. They are plot devices. Plot devices cannot conceive and bear children in real life. So you might want to work on that.
posted by kat518 at 2:04 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your question reminds me a bit of this question from a week and a bit ago.

To be specific, it's like you're both befuddled by the fact that the perfect mate hasn't already magically fallen into your lap, and you're wondering where to find the right dispensary.

Finding a mate is hard because all that stuff is important. Chemistry is important, or we'd marry our best friends, shared values are important, shared goals are important, shared humor and sensibilities are important. To find all that in one person... some people get lucky and some people need to spend more time looking.

What's problematic to me is your assumption that chemistry is not compatible with the other stuff - why not? Because it hasn't happened yet? well it doesn't happen until it does. Or because sexy dynamic women aren't suitable for settling down with? That's the part of your question that's hitting people the wrong way.

So for one thing I'd say, you sound like you're giving up when you've barely even started. Don't give up!

For another thing I'd say, there's an old adage for women from an even less egalitarian era 'become the man you want to marry.' I take from that that we're attracted in other people to things we want in and for ourselves. So I wonder whether there's still a part of you that wants the non-responsibility and lack of commitment more than it wants the family and kids, but you feel yourself heading the family way, and it's just generating sparks all over the place for people who feel like what you want to be.

I think taking some time, maybe with a therapist, to think about who are you, what you want for your future, how you see the role of a partner in your future, could be really fruitful. We tend to think that 'sparks' are somehow divinely ordained. It's true that it's somewhat out of our control and phermones are phermones. But it's not completely true that we are powerless over who we are attracted to. I don't think it's possible to make yourself be attracted to any particular individual, but I do believe it's possible to extend and change the types of people you're attracted to. And it's healthy. 13 year old boys *should* be attracted to 13 year old girls, but 30 year old men should have grown out of it long ago.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:50 PM on November 19, 2013

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