What will make me happy with my wife to be?
July 4, 2008 8:18 PM   Subscribe

ArrangedMarriage Filter: I'm from a culture that encourages arranged marriage and have been thinking about asking my parents to start looking.

I have a question for all the married MeFites and the ones who are or have been in LTR's: If you were going to get married, what criteria would you consider? I think I need to make a list of things that are important, but my lists keep boiling down to physical attributes or general mental attributes (e.g. has to have sense of humor).

I guess what I'm asking is: What should a person looking to get married consider to ensure the relationship is happy and healthy? What sorts of considerations does one have to think about when thinking about getting married?


P.S. I know that I should keep looking for someone on my own, but it doesn't hurt to explore all avenues.

P.P.S. I am male, if that makes a difference.
posted by reenum to Human Relations (40 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I have but one, television-related anecdote. I am a 25-year-old unmarried gay guy, for whatever that's worth.

In the United States, the cable channel TLC runs a serial documentary called "A Wedding Story." One morning a few years ago, I was watching the show with one of my female friends, and the bride-to-be came on and when asked, presumably, why she had elected to marry the prospective groom, gushed, without a pause, "He completes me as a person!"

She and I looked at each other with looks of total incomprehension and began to ponder what this person was on about, exactly: how could you jump into something as final and as permanent (ostensibly, anyway) as marriage without being complete? We talked about it for hours, actually - what part of you is ever incomplete? How do you complete yourself? What happens when you are complete - complacency, laziness, a lack of ambition? Is a marriage a destination or a journey?

Of course, it was just some random person on TV's probably-scripted comment, but it freaked us right the heck out. But keep an eye out for people who seem like they need you for fulfillment of their goals, or to finish something unfinished. The security, love, stability, and other benefits of marriage, to me, are not stages to be completed like some real-world Super Mario Brothers, but a never-ending fractal, a spiral, an ever-rising, ever-rising mountain, becoming more and more complex as time goes on.

(They don't call it The Learning Channel for nothing, apparently!)
posted by mdonley at 8:36 PM on July 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

I had a very clearly articulated, multi-page list of attributes I considered basic requirements in a future mate when I entered college at 19. By the time I started dating my partner several years ago, my list had been winnowed down to a few things I knew were vital because honestly, in ten-ish years of dating, I've met really wonderful guys with all sorts of different qualities that made them special - and if I, for example, had stuck to some of my bullet points (such as "buffer than I am", "goes to the same church that I do", "have an IQ over 120", and "is at least 5'10") I would have never given them a chance.

I'm now with a really unique guy who my nineteen year-old self wouldn't have given a second chance, and I've never been happier. Being honest with yourself about what is really important to you is vital- particularly in your situation, where you might be wedding someone who you don't know as well (I assume? Unless it is more like them finding you candidates and you dating them, like a real-life version of The Bachelor?).

I'm a chick, but I think all of these still apply.

As well as I can remember (I never wrote it down) this was my list, in descending order of importance:

Sense of humor
Passionate about something (or many somethings)
Flexible (able to compromise)

Everything else is just gravy.
posted by arnicae at 8:47 PM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you were going to get married, what criteria would you consider?

Someone that loves you for you, not because they have to.

I guess what I'm asking is: What should a person looking to get married consider to ensure the relationship is happy and healthy?

A person that you can be friends with. Friendship is very important.

Someone that isn't afraid to touch you and show affection. I'm not talking about sex. I'm talking about physical affection and everyday touching. It's very important for bonding and feeling close.



Enjoying things together. Your interests don't have to be completely compatible but you should enjoy certain activities together. When you live separate lives and don't enjoy activities you can grow apart.

Shared core values. If your core beliefs differ it is best to resolve them from the start, especially before you have children. We all have differences. You need to have lots of conversations about these differences, early. Don't sweep things under the rug. Compromise and cooperation is very important.

Talk about how things are going to get done. What are the roles in the relationship? What are your expectations? Do you want children? How many? Who will take care of the household? In what way? How will you work together?

A team mentality and mutual respect. You and your wife should be a team that makes decisions together.

Compassion, acceptance, and caring.

I agree. A sense of humor is important.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:49 PM on July 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

What sorts of considerations does one have to think about when thinking about getting married?

If you were asking for advice on buying a car, we'd all ask you how you planned to use it... what your motivation for getting a car was. What's your motivation for entering in to a relationship?
posted by phrontist at 9:00 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

but my lists keep boiling down to physical attributes or general mental attributes (e.g. has to have sense of humor)

Don't apoliogize for wanting to be attracted to someone, or for considering important someone's worldview or sense of humor (which is in a sense the same thing). A sense of humor is important, as it -- or its lack -- tells a lot about a person, her points of view, her predilections, her background, etc. I'd certainly be more attracted to someone who laughed at my (good) jokes than sniffed at them, or laughed at Stephen Wright instead of Dane Cook.

By the same token don't blind yourself to positive qualities in someone if they don't match particularly high standards you might have initially set.

Some good answers above, and I'm sure more will follow as well. One pithy bit of advice offered to me for a long-lasting relationship which I've found to be very useful is to look not for someone who is easy on the eyes but easy on the ears. Physical beauty is skin deep and doesn't last, but ugly reverberates for a long, long time.
posted by skywhite at 9:08 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

mdonley, I could see myself saying "My wife completes me." If I said that, I wouldn't mean anything ominous by it. I'd just mean that she makes me more "me" than I was before I was with her. By which I mean that -- because we have so much in common -- she amplifies my personality. Because we don't have everything in common (coupled with the fact that I enjoy our differences), she challenges me and helps me grow.

But I'm not ashamed to say I'm not complete on my own. Please remember, though, that "complete" is just a word. I don't mean that on my own I'm damaged or less-than a person. (In which case, it's fine if you want to call me out for misusing the word "complete," but I think I'm misusing it in a pretty common way.) Simplistically, I mean that no matter how talented I am, I can't play a duet by myself. But I can imagine the sort of duet I'd play if I had a partner. And I can imagine the sort of partner I'd want. And that partner -- if she came along -- might surprise me by being a better pianist than I imagined and by helping me be a better one than I ever thought I could be.

If you're still uncomfortable with "not complete," let's say that while I'm interesting on my own, I'm more interesting as part of this particular couple. (Peanut butter is great on it's own; it's better when paired with jelly. Perhaps it's stupid to say that peanut butter is incomplete, but peanut butter and jelly is a different beast than peanut butter on its own.)

I think that when people say "My spouse completed me," they're talking more about a feeling than an assessment of their self-worth before the spouse came along. It's that feeling of two things clicking together. When I got to know my wife, it just felt... right.

Which is my problem with this question (and, I guess, my problem with arranged marriages). reenum, I'm sorry about my American-attitude-ism, but how can you get to know someone if it's an arranged marriage? You'll get to know them when it's too late! In that case, you'll be unable to know if you click. If you feel like you click when you first meet, that might just be infatuation or lust. If you don't feel anything when you first meet, you might be missing out on something that could develop, given time. (I'm a believer in deep, romantic, long-term love; I'm not much of a believer in love at first sight.)

I knew I was ready to marry my wife -- which for me meant making a life-long committment to be her partner -- when I realized I'd want to stay with her if she was a brain in a jar, if she became a quadriplegic; if she went to prison for ten years and I'd have to wait for her...

For me, a wife must be a partner: a best friend, a confidant, and a colleague (in hobbies or child-rearing, if not in careers). Shared sense-of-humor is vital. Shared values are really important, too.

You also need to be able to tolerate each other's temperaments. The biggest problem for my wife and I is that I'm an introvert and she's an extrovert. Luckily for us, this isn't a deal breaker. But it can be for some couples. If you're the sort of person who likes to stay home and read a book, will you be happy married to a party girl? (Or vice versa?)

Also, I see tons of relationships get into trouble due to differing needs when it comes to intimacy (and I'm not just talking about sex). What if you're a touchy-feely sort of person and your wife is more stand-offish? (Or vise versa?) DON'T assume people's temperaments will change. Assume that the woman you meet is the woman you'll still be with in 40 years. Given that, do you still want to marry her -- warts and all?
posted by grumblebee at 9:08 PM on July 4, 2008 [14 favorites]

I will answer in rhyme! I wrote a song about my fiancee a while back and here is one verse:

If she wrote a personal ad / Detailing each desirable trait
I probably wouldn't do too bad / But I don't know if I'd do great
So then why do I drive her mad? / Allow me to explicate
I push her buttons / Just like she pushes mine

Meaning: you can try to make an objective list of criteria for your mate, and I dunno, maybe it'll increase your chance of finding the perfect person, or at least decrease your chances of ending up with someone with whom things will never work, but you know what, love is a mysterious thing.
posted by dfan at 9:08 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Here's one that's turned out to be important to me: "sexual compatibility". If it doesn't work in bed, it's a problem.

Unfortunately, you can't really test for that in advance, and certainly can't give that guideline to your parents ...
posted by intermod at 9:21 PM on July 4, 2008

(Grumblebee- I like that I can know which answers are yours before I see your name at the bottom. I agree completely about completeness.)

One of the things that I realised is that the general things people like about their partners ("she's smart, she's funny...") aren't all that general at all. There are lots of smart people. There are lots of funny people. What makes it tricky is that there are all different ways of being smart, and all different ways of being funny. I have a friend whose humour is almost entirely based around taboos and bodily functions. I've never head anyone say 'vagina' so much in public. She's funny, but it's a very different funny to another friend who imagines all sorts of intricate stories for strangers on the street, which is different again to another friend who can say outrageous things with the best deadpan delivery I've ever seen. Similarly, some people are amazingly smart when it comes to figures and data, others with logic and concepts, others with people and emotions, others with insight and observation.

My point is that you should definitely look for someone who is smart and funny. But they should be the kind of smart and the kind of funny that works well with you. There should be enough of an overlap that you get each other, and enough difference that you both are challenged by and can learn from each other.
posted by twirlypen at 9:27 PM on July 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

@phrontist: My main motivation is to have a companion as well as someone I can go through the rest of my life with.
posted by reenum at 9:42 PM on July 4, 2008

Great comments above. My criteria would probably be: enjoy doing things together, make each other laugh, have lots to talk about.

The problem is that you might find yourself enjoying a whole new list of things when you're with her. You might never have thought you'd like going to baseball games, or art galleries, or playing tic tac toe, but you might like doing those things with her. You might find that you laugh at things that you didn't know you'd find funny, or that you like to talk to her about things that you didn't know you were interested in.

Those are the things that come from knowing a person for a while, and that won't necessarily come out "on paper." It seems to me those kinds of things would be difficult to divine in an arranged marriage, but maybe not - I don't know enough about the process.

I do know that once you meet someone you just want to be with, your old list of requirements (she must have x degree, she must make x amount of money, she must have x physical characteristics) goes out the window. And that part of what makes a relationship good are the surprises (the pleasant ones, anyway) that come with it. I guess that means that you should keep an open mind - don't dismiss someone just because she doesn't satisfy your checklist, or assume that someone who does is right for you.

One thing mentioned above that your parents probably can help with: shared core values. They don't have to match one to one, but I think it would be very difficult to be with someone long-term who had a totally different idea of what's right or wrong or important in life.

Good luck!!!!
posted by walla at 9:54 PM on July 4, 2008

You've got to tell us more about yourself. A lot of the advice above is good general advice. But then again, I've known couple with almost no sex lives and very little physical touching or personal intimacy who were delightfully happy because they were just compatible in that way. And a couple of two who utter lack of any sense of humor made them very comfortable with one another.

I think that there is a certain amount of chemistry that will be there or not in a way you can recognize before you get married. So don't worry about looks - that's an obvious thing your parents will help out with, and, of course, you can always say no. The trickier things are tricky because they'll play out over a long time (hopefully!) It's not just a sense of humor necessarily, but a certain flexibility, the ability to know when to spend a few hours apart, a similarity in the sorts and lengths and depths of conversation you're both into, and so on. You want to be with this person for decades!

There's also something to the idea that (in some senses) opposites attract. I think that's what people mean by saying that their partner "completes" them. I *like* doing some cleaning in the morning and don't mind a boyfriend who's a bit messy - it gives me something to clean! I can be a little heavy with drama and stress: I feel more "complete" in a relationship with someone easy-going who dulls down those sharp edges a bit. It works both ways - among other things, I offer cleanliness and organization and intensity, and there are people who loves this!

Except when situations like a family's precarious financial position compromises them, arranged marriages can be wonderful . . . some of my happiest friends are in them and seem to have a deeper love than "regular" couples. Be honest with your parents about what's important to you, and trust them to help make a great decision . . . because at this point, who knows you any better than they do?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:56 PM on July 4, 2008

Financial values, desired lifestyle, thoughts about kids, conflict resolution style, attitude about what marriage should be. (I'm guessing your parents would probably be screening for these things anyway.)
posted by trig at 10:14 PM on July 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

Compatible goals in life. Compatible needs from life. And everything trig said. Love and chemistry are very important, but marriages often succeed or fail based less on love and chemistry and more on bottom-line, dealbreaker compatibility issues. Spend some time really soulsearching about what you can and cannot live without, relationships are all about compromises, and you need to learn what you can and cannot compromise, and which differences between you and a prospective spouse will be positive and stimulating, and which will be negative and grating. Be honest, and assess both the best, most ideal version of the you you'd like to be, and the you you actually are.
posted by biscotti at 10:38 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

One of the biggest stressors in marriages is money. Explore the other person's feelings about money, and their past behaviour. How does their attitude towards money mesh with yours (if you are a spendthrift do NOT marry another spendthrift, if you are extremely tight-fisted you might benefit from someone that can help you enjoy your money). I'm assuming you are using personal connections where conversations can take place rather than just looking at personal ads. Ask what the potential future wife sees herself doing in ten years - working a a career, SAHM raising children, raising children with a less demanding job, upgrading her education? Do her goals match yours (if you plan for kids you have to be realistic and accept one of you will probably have to scale back their career for a bit at least while the children are young, but maybe this will be you). Look at what is missing in your own life, what would you like someone to bring into a marriage? Food -if you can't cook does she love cooking, if you love cooking is she an incredibly fussy eater? Does she want a busy house with lots of people stopping by unannounced or is she more the quiet type and which would you prefer? If you are looking for someone not currently living in the US you might want to make sure there is a good support system available to her, cousins or friends already here and able to guide her a bit. Otherwise it can be extremely hard on her to adapt to a different culture right at the beginning of your marriage, and hard on you if you haven';t had to make that adaption yourself.

You seem a bit apologetic about this, arranged marriages are not much different from really close friends setting up friends on blind dates because they think they will click. I know several couples that have found love through carefully chosen arranged marriages. Good luck to you!
posted by saucysault at 10:40 PM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

Grumblebee: As a non-married guy, I can see why I didn't get the completeness thing...thanks everyone. Ah, the perils of youth!
posted by mdonley at 10:42 PM on July 4, 2008

When the dear boy and I had been dating for a while, he mentioned that he had a counselor once who said something to the effect of love being when you want to be the very best version of yourself because you both deserve it.

To that (ten years in this month), off the top of my head, I'd add: someone I can really, really communicate with as honestly as possible, someone with whom I can sometimes be the vulnerable one and sometimes be the strong one, and someone whose faults and irritating habits I can accept with an open heart (neither fixating on them, resenting them, nor pretending they don't exist) because we are a team and they pale in comparison to the strength of that feeling.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:48 PM on July 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

I am a married woman, and these are questions that I considered when choosing my partner. It is working very well.

--Does their family create a happy atmosphere? Meaning, would you enjoy visiting her parents' home? Does her parents' marriage work? Are they kind and gentle with their children? Do they handle disagreements without destroying trust?

--Does she want kids? Does she enjoy their company, or does she stiffen up or get irritable? When does she want them? How many? Does she know how much work they are?

--Is she easygoing and polite? Does she seem respectful? Is she a good hostess? Has she cared for a relative through an illness? Does she have a calming, relaxing presence?

--Does she laugh at your jokes?

--Is she in control of herself? Does she think about her actions and plan a few steps ahead, or does she do what feels right in the moment? Does she spend money without thinking about the future?

--Does she have close relationships? Are they healthy and long-lived? Does she alienate people? Does she speak poorly of many people she considers friends? Does she feel like others pick on her or talk about her behind her back? Would you be proud to introduce her to your friends?

--Would you enjoy being on a 10 hour plane ride with her?

--When you came home from work, would you be happy to see each other? Would she stop what she was doing to say hello?
posted by sondrialiac at 10:59 PM on July 4, 2008 [8 favorites]

For those who are saying it will be hard to determine compatibility in a short period of time, I think it's important to mention that when I met my partner and when we were first dating, we were not that compatible and didn't get along well. We didn't even really enjoy each other's company.

I stayed with him because I knew that he was an excellent person, deep down inside. I could see that being with him would make me strive to be better, to be more like him. I knew our relationship would keep improving because he would make a good faith effort at all times.

I think that trust can be formed very early on in a relationship if you find someone who is worthy of that trust.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:11 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

The most important thing to me is how you spend time together. How do you spend your downtime? If you spend an hour a day at the gym, then you either need a partner who wants to spend an hour a day at the gym with you or one who's happy to have that hour to herself daily, depending on whether that's "you" time or social time. If you spend several hours a day vegging out with your computer, you want someone who's happy to be semi-social by sharing space without constantly interacting (or sitting together on the couch intertwined with each other and the laptops). If you enjoy movies of a particular genre, that might be important to you. You want a partner who shares the same idea of leisure-time activities, in other words.

Traits like "sense of humor" can mean so many different things to different people as to be nearly useless as criteria. Do you mean "laughs at my jokes," "finds the same things funny as I do," or "could perform stand-up?" Be specific: "laughs at Douglas Adams books and Mel Brooks movies"; "enjoys practical jokes".
posted by Cricket at 11:25 PM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think one of the most outstanding characteristic in our successful 17 year marriage is willing to be honest particularly with ourselves. So, when we're angry and fighting and one of us says, "hey, wait, do you really mean that?" we have an expectation that the other person will stop, examine themself and be prepared to lose face (as it were) by going (if appropriate), "no, on reflection, I didn't really mean that. I was so angry that I was trying to hurt you, not trying to resolve the situation."

The second important facet of our marriage is being on the same team. So if his mother wants to have input into our lives, there's no question that it will be him and me who decide. Likewise if my family tries to interfere. Or if we're at a social gathering where peers are setting up gender wars. We refuse to play. Completely and absolutely.

And the third vital component is an ongoing committment to courtesy. A phone call if you're running late, an offer to take a chore over, a refusal to nag. This does not mean no conflict, but it means no conflict for stupid reasons.

However, when I selected my partner, I had no idea that a. these traits would useful and b. that he met any of these criteria. In fact, we were both "game players" when we met, as a result of family of origin nonsense. I think what made it work was that we both had an immense desire to learn and grow, so I would put that on my list if I were you. And kindness. That's helped so many times. We both find kindness to be a very admirable behaviour.
posted by b33j at 11:43 PM on July 4, 2008 [8 favorites]

If this is to be an arranged match, I'm assuming your parents will deal with those aspects of the search that relate to the economic and social elements - background, career, etc.

One of the things I've always noticed in a partner is how he treats service people - waiters, salesladies, checkout staff, etc. Even if someone treated me like a princess, if he was rude to the waiter or treated them like as less than a person, there would be no second date. And if he is not kind to animals, forget it. He doesn't have to love animals or surround himself with pets, but needs to treat them with kindness.

It's impossible to say what it is that'll make you 'click' with another person. This takes time, and getting to know them. But for me, essential elements are

- kindness
- treating me with respect
- courtesy
- a sense of humour, and of the ridiculous
- not a mummy's boy

Good luck!
posted by essexjan at 12:08 AM on July 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Arranged marriage is an evolving concept. It used to be done to tie families together so they work together or don't war (For instance, check out ANY country in the world. Find out who they trade with the most. I can guarantee you they will never go to war against them).

It has evolved in MANY cultures where the parents still want to retain some kind of rights on their adult offspring. Rather than having your parents pick out who they will do business with, you can just go for approval.

Find a chick that you like. If you want to marry her, and she wants to marry you, get approval from your parents. I've seen a LOT of friends go through that with their parents then claiming that it was "an arranged marriage".

Why would you think your parents (who have different values, different forms of entertainment and leisure, and a totally different lifestyle than you) would be able to find a better chick than you?

As for what you should look for...dude, throw that thought away. Of course you need the general "smart, funny, attractive". ALL of those are relative to each person you explore. I can't think of ONE person who is in a LTR/marriage who claims that their partner ISN'T all of those 3 things.

Find out what brings out the best in you...stick with that. Once you realize what it is...you'll be like "ummm yeah, blue eyes would be awesome...but I don't really care THAT much".

Also, anybody that quotes Jerry Maguire or ANY other Renee Zeilweger movie to demonstrate ANY aspect of their life...is lame.

My partner is awesome. I can't see myself being with anybody else, or talking to anybody else like I talk to my partner. Will I ever say "you completes me"? I'm about as likely to do that as my partner is to say "you had me at hello". I'd much rather nerd it up and say "we are involved in a mutually symbiotic relationship." And then we'd go into "robo boogie".
posted by hal_c_on at 2:20 AM on July 5, 2008

I'm married to someone from Japan, where, until relatively recently, arranged marriages were quite common. I'm in my middle thirties, and, while it's not at all common, at the same time it's not at all uncommon to meet Japanese people from my age but from a somewhat more affluent and established social strata, who had an arranged marriage. But, then again, most of the Japanese couiples I know met each other in university.

Still, I tend to think arranged marriages are not a bad idea at all, and, depending on the skill and good intentions of the matchmaker and both sets of parents, are probably more likely to be successful than conventional "love-based" marriages.

My own in-laws, both born around 1940, had an arranged marriage, as did most people of their generation in small-town Japan. More than love or sexual compatibility (in the early sixties, "The Joy of Sex" and the sexual revolution hadn't been translated into Japanese yet), a potential union would have to ensure that both participants came from a similar socio-economic background, and that the groom wasn't too much of an (apparent) scrub (men will be men, after all), and that the women was tolerably intelligent enough to manage a household, and was healthy enough to bear children. All of this would have been decided in advance by the matchmaker, and the parents, although the potential bride and groom would have had the final say, and this would have been based on perhaps three meetings that served as a sniff test. If they were lucky, the arrangement would eventually blossom into love, but success in business, for the man, and success in running a household, for a women, were more important metrics for that generation than "self-actualization", etc.

People my age in Japan who choose the route of an arranged marriage will most likely be looking for:

- similar worldview and values: how things will play out during the course of the marriage; will the husband be able to support a family? will the wife willingly stay home and raise children? or do they even share the same expectations about having children? perhaps neither wants children; perhaps the husband will stay home

Added to this would be similar definitions of what it means to be "successful". What are the benchmarks?

Do you like the same kinds of clothes (or do you both prefer to live in sweatpants)?

- compatible personalities: Can you make her laugh? Can you both carry on a decent conversation without boring each other or coming to blows?

- chemistry: does she turn you on? do you turn her on?

I think the great thing about arranged marriages is that it is very pragmatic and results-focused. People tend to think a bit more about what they're getting into, and how things might play out over twenty years or so.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:18 AM on July 5, 2008

When I was just flat done with dating around and ready to settle down, my grandmother gave me the best advice - get rid of all criteria except a) Kindness and b) Sense of humor.

She was completely right.
posted by pomegranate at 6:18 AM on July 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

Like everyone says, the criteria that will work for you will also be unique to you. Lots of criteria listed above as important to some people is not at all important to me, and I can think of criteria critical for me that other people would think is entirely unnecessary.

So I want to try to advise you on how to better discover those criteria for yourself. I think you can find out quite a lot about yourself and your possible future marriage by looking at your own relationships with other people. Think about your friends, college roommates, cousins, parents, bosses, co-workers. Some of these people make you strive to be the best version of yourself you can be. Some of them help you understand yourself. Some of them bring out your humor or cleverness. You got sick of some of them after a long weekend or three years of watching sports/movies together. Some of them you may want to slap upside the head. Some make you feel like you'll never measure up. Some of them bring joy to your life through their spontaneity; some frustrate you with their last-minute requests.

Take these observations and extrapolate some qualities from them. What about your cousin Jane makes you so able to take on a complicated project together without strife? What about your co-worker John makes him so frustrating? Which traits in these people affect you? Do you even notice whether they enjoy animals or children? Does it bother you if someone doesn't have goals, or are those people more fun than those who aren't available on the weekends?

Then, think about how you like to spend your time, and imagine what kind of person might not only fit into your life, but enhance it. And what traits do you have that you'd be bringing to the table? Are you extra logical and can help a creative whirlwind get more done? Are you particularly hard-working, or funny, or chill, or full of ideas, or calm, or imaginative, or free-wheeling? What kind of person would be enhanced by what you're bringing to the relationship?
posted by xo at 8:31 AM on July 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Before I got married, these were my criteria:


Probably in that order. I ended up with: SMART FUNNY CUTE NICE, but as long as you get all those things, you can make it work. IMO.

posted by clownpenis.fart at 8:50 AM on July 5, 2008

Things like careers, wanting or not wanting children, physical or mental health, even one's choice of religion are things that might change over the course of a relationship. Is any woman you are considering marrying a woman you could see yourself sticking it out with even if something fundamental about your relationship changed? And is she someone who could stick it out with you?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:03 AM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think xo's advice about trying to explore more deeply to find your own needs and wants is spot on. With that said, here's what I learned from my first and second marriages (still happily in the second, thank you!) and dating in between.
-Looking at their ability to maintain other long-term relationships is a great indicator of their ability to maintain a relationship with you. The guy I dated, who had no long-term friends, because friendships had all ended badly? And couldn't speak to any ex-girlfriends, because they had all "screwed him over"? I ran screaming. I married my current husband when he was in his late 30s, had never been married or lived with a girlfriend-BUT he had close, helpful, great friendships with friends from 20 years ago, which really showed commitment to me.
-Never had much to talk about with my first husband-I'm interested in politics and books, and he's not. I'm very social, and he's not-he'd be ecstatic never really leaving the house or speaking to other people, where I love having folks over all the time for meals and drinks. I'd been raised with books and no TV, and he watches TV from 5 to bedtime almost every day. While these specific things might not be deal breakers to you, figure out what would be-how you'd want your day to day life to be. While the absence of those things weren't what ended my first marriage, they sure made for lonely evenings.
posted by purenitrous at 10:13 AM on July 5, 2008

You need to be compatible on a number of different levels. The better matched you are, the more likely you are to be able to have fewer conflicts and to be able to negotiate disagreements. I hate to provide you with a checklist, because you need to approach anyone you're attracted to as a whole person and open yourself up to knowing them and developing a relationship with them rather than sitting back with a list and a red pencil, but these are things to keep in mind when you're considering your compatibility with someone:

- first of all, don't marry anyone who's a liar, abusive, controlling, or who can't manage anger

- avoid getting involved with anyone with mental health or addiction issues. If you do marry someone with mental health or addiction issues, make sure you know the full scope of the problem (don't even think about marriage until you've been together for a year) and that the person is committed to taking responsiblity for managing his or her issues (this means they have sought the appropriate medical help, take medication and go to meetings or appointments religiously, don't make excuses for bad behaviour, and don't try to manipulate you into accepting their bad behaviour.)

- intelligence levels (a very smart person married to an average or less than average person will get frustrated, while the person of lesser intelligence will get hurt and probably depressed)

- educational level (see above)

- physical energy levels (an energetic person will want his or her partner to do all kinds of activities with him or her, and a low-energy person will be too tired to do so)

- physical attraction, sexual chemistry and similar sexual drive (you have to enjoy sex with each other and want it approximately as often)

- similar money management styles (responsible saver + compulsive spender = chronic trouble)

- work ethic (hardworker married to a lazybones = resentment on both sides)

- ambitions (you need to respect and support each other's ambitions, and be okay with each other's work schedules, which can mean time away from the relationship)

- life goals (where do you want to live? what do you see yourselves doing for a living, and how will those career paths fit together? what kind of lifestyle do you want? does one person want to stay home to raise the kids if any?)

- can you agree about whether or not to have kids? How will you feel about adoption if there should be fertility issues (this one is HUGE)

- comparable religious beliefs (or lack thereof) (another biggie, especially when it comes to the question of how to raise children and celebrate holidays)

- sociability (a very social person married to a person who never wants to go anywhere will experience a lot of conflict)

- need for autonomy/togetherness (if one person wants to be glued at the hip and the other needs a lot of alone time, there are going to be problems)

- good communication skills (can you talk to each other openly and honestly and resolve conflicts, or is one person a terrible listener or manipulative so the other ends up just giving up?)

- adaptability/willingness to compromise (You both have to be willing to work towards solutions that you are both happy with. Rigidity or selfishness on the part of one or both partners will make you both miserable.)

- quality of companionship (We've covered what things are like in bed, so this quality is more concerned with all the non-sexual time. Do you enjoy some of the same activities and enjoy being together generally? Is the conversational level enjoyable?)
posted by orange swan at 10:15 AM on July 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think this is true of life in general, but it is particularly true of relationships: what "works on paper" is not necessarily enough to make a lasting, happy match. I don't know if chemistry or clicking or whatever you want to call it can really be written down or codified - I'd be a wealthy man if I could figure out that formula as it applies to the general population.

However, there are pragmatic issues that are important for a relationship to thrive: whether you want to have children and how many, and what you believe about raising them, what you believe about roles and decision-making in the relationship, how you relate to money, and your core ethical, political and religious beliefs: either you're on the same page about these things or you understand where and how you will reconcile the differences.

Beyond that, I think the other thing it's important to note is that relationships work and make you happy largely because you work on them and keep them healthy. Communicating, not letting problems fester, being compassionate, caring, loving - even when it's difficult for one reason or another - not taking each other for granted, being fair, being honest: this is the everyday work that makes your relationship something that creates positive value in your life day in and day out.
posted by nanojath at 12:15 PM on July 5, 2008

Another view from a gay man, but more like grumblebee's than mdonley's: When my partner and I met it was love at first sight. I turned around and he was there staring at me, I said, "Where did you come from?" and it's been almost eight years since. Nothing has turned out like we planned, but it's the best thing that ever happened to me.

He had already been officially "disabled" for several years due to a combination of diabetes and HIV-related factors, but at the time he was functional, energetic, and able to do many things even though he could not work. Just days before we moved in together he fell off a ladder at my house and everything changed. I spent three months nursing him and bringing him meals, and have seen him through numerous operations, crises, and more. Some days he is well; others he can't get out of bed. He is not at the point of being "a brain in a jar" but is nonetheless nowhere near the man I met. And I wouldn't trade him for anything.

The the thing is, I knew, somehow, immediately, that he was not just a trick: he was family. We "got" each other, as if we'd known each other all our lives. We are unlike in many ways; we are exactly alike in many others. At one time the sex was great; for the last few years it's been non-existent. We've had maybe three big fights, ever, but we seldom really disagree.

If I'd asked someone to choose someone for me, I don't know how they would have come up with him, but he is exactly right for me. There is the point of essentially shared values, but I'll temper that by saying that over the years we have become more and more alike, growing more closely together. I think it's in part luck, in part fate.

One question that I can address: What should a person looking to get married consider to ensure the relationship is happy and healthy?

Above all, communication. Be sure that you and your intended are able to talk to each other, with respect, honesty and maturity. Be sure you consider each other as equals even if you bring different amounts of power and resources to the relationship. Treat each other with kindness. Laugh. A lot.
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:13 PM on July 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yes, I know that grumblebee is straight...
posted by Robert Angelo at 3:14 PM on July 5, 2008

in choosing a partner:

1. Do you agree on a fundamental level about morals, family, how to deal with money, what is right and what is fundamentally wrong. This is of primary importance. Really.

2. It's actually good to be different, personality-wise and interest-wise.
Other people upthread were talking about "you complete me" - I wouldn't say that. But "You complement me" or " You challenge me" or "you open me up to all kinds of things I hadn't even thought about" - those are good things. Very good things. Take them. Nourish them and respect them.

Keeping your loved one:

1. Never ever take them for granted.
2. Communication. Talk. Always.

Hope that helps. That's what I've learned.
posted by mkim at 4:02 PM on July 5, 2008

Years after my friend's marriage crashed and burned, I found myself describing his ex-wife to another person, and a fundamental truth about her just flew out my mouth that I had never contemplated before, and I was a little thunderstruck about it.

See, in the years that I had known her, I realized then that she had never talked about the future. She never described what next week, next month, or next year might look like for her. Where everyone else can tell you "what they want to be when they grow up," or even "where should we go on vacation next summer," she had verbalized neither dreams, nor aspirations, nor plans. She was just drifting from one group of friends to another, from one job to another, without any real plan.

I'd like to say it was as if she was waiting around for someone to tell her what to do ... or rather, she was waiting to be swept off her feet by a man who would tell her what to do and wear and eat and say and who to hang out with.

I'd like to say she was waiting for that ... but even to say she was waiting infers some forethought, and I don't think there was any happening.

So, stay away from these people. If you're serious about a person, ask them what they think their life would've looked like if you hadn't shown up. Then ask them, now that you're here, what they think the future looks like.

Do they have any idea?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:07 PM on July 5, 2008

This is a long thread, but I will try to give a shortish answer.

A good marriage is like having a best friend who is also sexy (to you, and you to them).

So, I would look for the sorts of things you look for in a friend - things in common, things to talk about, compatible personalities, fun to be with/talk to - and some chemistry (though this also develops with affection). I've usually known if I'm going to be friends with someone within a few hours of first talking to them - if they are a kindred spirit. And being friends is what gets you through the times went you aren't in love, and is a long lasting love.

Basically, I'd marry someone who if I were dropped off on a desert island with only this person, I wouldn't mind so much only being around them. (Since I'm working at home right now, and not getting out much, this is kind of true, as my apartment has turned into a small desert island.)
posted by jb at 10:30 PM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The most important qualities to me are honesty, sincerity, and integrity. Honesty is "I was late for our date because I fell asleep in front of the TV." Sincerity is "I'm really sorry and I'll promise I'll make it up to you." Integrity is following through on that promise. These three things show me that the person respects themselves and others. Love is impossible without respect.
posted by desjardins at 10:26 AM on July 6, 2008 [2 favorites]

desjardins, this is not a criticism of your post, because the same qualities are important to me. But your post does make me a little sad (if I take you literally). It reminds me of a moment in the movie "Quiz Show." The main character goes before a congressional committee and admits that he lied. At which point, most of the congressmen applaud him for being brave enough to admit his error. Except for one guy, who says, "I'm happy that you've made the statement. But I cannot agree with most of my colleagues. See, I don't think an adult of your intelligence should be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth."

So I want to ask you: given a room FULL of honest, sincere people with integrity, which one will you pick for a mate? Or do you feel like, "Damn, I've been lied to so much, if you just put me in that room, I'll put on a blindfold, stumble around and happily marry the first person I touch." THAT'S what makes me sad. You should be looking for someone with all those qualities PLUS more. Plus a simpatico sense of humor, plus shared goals in life, plus great warmth... plus whatever turns you on.

Honesty, sincerity and integrity are vital, but they shouldn't be enough. You shouldn't have to settle for them. That's like settling for bread and water. You should EXPECT to at least get bread and water.
posted by grumblebee at 8:22 AM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. same attitude toward money
2. mentally healthy and easygoing
3. sense of humor
4. communicates well
posted by mecran01 at 10:27 PM on July 8, 2008

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