Non-negotiable: What I want in a life partner, then and now.

Again, going through my stacks of old journals, I found a list of attributes I want in a life partner (at the time I wrote this list in particular, I was 13, had yet to confront my burgeoning curiosity about ladies, and was steeped in Mormonism like a tea bag in a sealed Mason jar. Of course I would marry a man, in the temple, relatively close to my 18th birthday, and we would be happy forever. Right? Well, now that I’m a million miles away from that fantasy, I thought it would be interesting to compare what I thought were non-negotiable traits at thirteen to what I consider mandatory requirements ten years later.

First, my 2003 list, verbatim:

1. Honest. He has to be honest with God, others, and himself.

2. Hard working. He has to be willing to work hard, and do a good job.

3. Good education. If he’s been able, he has to have acquired a good education about what he does.

4. Love kids. He has to love kids, cause if he’s marrying me, he’s gonna have some!

5. Return missionary. He has to have gone on his mission, unless there is a good reason why.

6. MOST IMPORTANT: Temple worthy. He has to be able to take me through the Temple (SLC, preferably), and has to have a current Temple Recommend.


Tall orders, no? I particularly like the “do a good job” part. Not sure what that means; I’m assuming I expected him to wipe all of the toilet down, and not just the inside of the bowl and the rim.

I guess my expectations for a partner now are a little more extensive, but not altogether different from what I wanted when I was 13. In some regard, I think I had a pretty good idea of what makes a good man or woman, and since my family was still in the throes of my parents’ nasty divorce, I had spent time carefully observing the women who I considered to be in happy marriages. What did their husbands do to make them happy? What did they do to make their husbands happy? How did they resolve conflict? How did they treat in each other in public, especially when they disagreed on something in front of others?

Of course, I had very little idea about relationship dynamics, never having been in a serious partnership before, and I had absolutely no knowledge of the role physical intimacy plays. Now that I’m old and wise, my list has changed and grown in some aspects, but in others stays much the same. The role that religion played in my initial list (return missionary, temple-worthy) obviously isn’t part of my qualifications now, but I think that what those things represented for me (devotion, honesty, good heartedness) remain aspects of a partner’s personality that I still couldn’t do without.

Now, before I present The Lizt circa 2014, I’ll add my own disclaimer that I understand you can’t really write a list of things you’d like in a partner and expect to find one person who meets all of the criteria, all of the time, without fail. The natural give and take of relationships dictates that sometimes, you sacrifice things you’d like for things you love, and there are pieces that you just plain don’t get to have. That’s okay. But as my high school friends are getting (re)married, then divorced, sometimes having kids, and otherwise engaging in partnerships both hetero and homo, there are a few trends I’ve noticed that have affected the things I seek in a partner of my own.

So without further ado, the non-negotiables of a relationship for Elizabeth Emery:

1. Kindness. I’m still beginning to fully appreciate the critical role that kindness plays in a relationship. Partnerships lacking in kindness inevitably lead to nasty power-struggles; finding forgiveness for major and minor fuck ups becomes difficult, and bickering erupts over every little disagreement. Getting frustrated with your partner is unavoidable, but two truly kind people can overcome just about any obstacle because they can get outside of their own ego and understand why their partner feels the way they do–and, what’s more, they really care about why and how they feel that way. They can listen to and consider someone else’s opinion carefully, and come to an agreement without feeling threatened. They find joy in making their partner happy.

2. Honesty. This is still top of the list because I’ve had and seen several otherwise good relationships ruined by dishonesty, and I don’t mean by straight out lies (although of course those are included). I mean by the little omissions of truth, the late-night Facebook chats with an ex who you know is still interested, the text messages that you have to delete before you get home, that app you never quite got around to deleting, the coffee dates that give you a little pit in your stomach when you think about disclosing; once inevitably discovered, these turn into huge issues. When trust is compromised, even a little bit, the seeds of doubt are sown and they can be a real motherfucker to weed out of the fertile soil of a relationship.

3. Good humor. I mean this in not only as having a good sense of humor, but also retaining a positive outlook on life. Someone who gets agitated over inconsequential issues like bad traffic and toothpaste on a black t-shirt is someone who explodes over big problems. A raging temper, particularly in a man (extra particularly in a large man, which is I how I like ’em), gets scary very quickly even for a 7-brothered woman like me. Letting go of the small things, picking your battles, and being able to laugh at your daily heap of shitty little events makes a big difference in someone’s character. That being said, for me, this also encompasses a riotous sense of humor. A quick-witted man or woman who is alert and involved in a conversation is unbelievably sexy. Even sexier is the person who can be quick-witted without making cruel jokes at other people’s expense (going back to the kindness), and sexiest of all is someone who has these traits and can appreciate them in others. I’ve been with men who feel threatened by a woman with a sense of humor, and I’ll tell you right now–never again. There’s nothing more shriveling to an ego when you say something, no matter how ridiculous, and your partner gives you a demeaning, “Wow, I can’t believe you’d say something that stupid,” look and refuses to laugh with you.

4. Interesting, interested. A good sense of humor and quick wit usually comes along with a high level of awareness of the world around them. There is nothing wrong with being disinterested in world affairs, in literature and arts, in culinary delights and intense conversation. But without these things, a relationship would, for me, feel hollow and be short lived. And although an education fits into the picture with most people these days, I don’t think it’s mandatory for someone to be successful or intellectual. When a person thinks interesting thoughts and does interesting things, is willing to try new hobbies and attend unfamiliar events, they continue to change and develop over the course of their lifetimes, and that is really fucking sexy.

5 Work ethic. A man or woman with the innate desire to produce at a high level, even when doing work they don’t particularly like, is attractive and admirable. I have very little tolerance for laziness. Get shit done, and get it done right. Of course, this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t enjoy a lazy Sunday, even on a weekly basis. I’m (in?)famous for my propensity to fall asleep wherever I go, and there is no one who enjoys waking up, eating breakfast, and going right back to bed without doing the dishes as much as I do. But the daily grind is a part of life, and shirkers aren’t sexy. And call me old fashioned, but for me, an important part of my partner’s work ethic needs to be rooted in an instinctive drive to provide for their family. With increasing clarity and obnoxiously nagging baby-hunger, I know I want to have kids, and I want to be home with them until they’re in grade school. I harbor no judgment against those who have children and want to return straight to work, but I will not put my babies in daycare. I don’t want to miss out on the short, short window where you are their whole world, and every day they’re changing and growing so rapidly you can’t keep tabs on them even if you tried. This isn’t a lala fairy tale expectation–it’s something I’ve experienced through my own little brothers, repeatedly, and I want it with my own kids. Fortunately, my career is in writing, so I can work from home, but my partner would have to understand (and want) a mama who will stay at home during the first years of parenthood. Which leads to…

6. Desire for family. I want babies, I want teenagers, I want young adults, I want grandkids. Regardless of the poking and prodding and and pressure of my friends to wait (which I fully plan on doing) and to put a career first (which I also plan on doing, to an extent) and to live my own life (already there), I want a family. Kids are so much fun, and so interesting, and so much hard work and so incredibly rewarding. A potential partner’s gotta want a family, and they have to see little dudes and dudettes as independent, free-thinking people–not vicarious extensions of themselves. Along with this comes the potential for positive parenting, and the extra importance of aforementioned traits like kindness and work ethic. It may be an odd test to put to a partner, but if we’re six months into our relationship and I ask myself, “Will s/he get up and change a diaper in the middle of the night?” and the answer is no, the relationship is null.

7. Conservative religion-free. I’ve spent a lot of time considering whether I could date a religious person, and the answer, I think, is yes–to an extent. Some of the most incredibly awesome people I know are religious, and some of the biggest assholes are atheists. And much of religion is based around one’s childhood and family culture, which I find both compelling and interesting and not to be taken lightly. That being said, the kind of mutual respect two people with different religious beliefs must have is critical to building and maintaining a strong bond, especially when kids are involved. My partner might be mildly Catholic, and I might be atheist, but my kids will never be pressured to attend or not attend church. And progressive views on issues surrounding conservative religion–women’s rights, birth control, homosexuality, etc–would be  mandatory. Even the most masculine bro of a man who would for one second considering disowning a gay son is no true man to me. At the appropriate time in child-rearing, a conversation around my partner’s beliefs would have to go something along the lines of, “This is what Dad believes, and this is what Mom believes, and since both of your parents are crazy, you get to pick whatever you want.” If I found a religious person who was cool with that, awesome.

8. The capacity to cherish. I work in an area where I have mostly old clients. One of my favorite customers is a 94 year old gentleman named Charles who comes into the branch almost every day. The ladies behind the service line love this guy. Why? Because he deeply cherishes his wife, and it shows every time he talks about her. The two of them have been married for 75 years, and although he jokingly complains about always giving her her own way, the little things he mentions–always making sure she has a certain amount of money in her wallet, or putting gas in her car for her, or sitting on the porch with her drinking coffee on Sunday mornings, even the very tone he uses when he talks about her–the man cherishes his wife. We have another favorite customer, Jerry, who isn’t quite as old as Charles, and whose wife died just a couple of months ago. They used to come into the branch together, and after she passed away, he just stood at the counter with tears in his wrinkly old eyes, his scratchy chin quivering, and told us how he misses her the most when he’s driving in the car alone (although, to be completely honest, I’m not sure he should be on the road). But you know what I mean? A couple who cherishes each other are the ones who truly enjoy each other’s company, who see their partner as the best person they possibly can be, and who appreciates the things their partner does that contribute to the relationship’s success. They’re the couples who still hold hands, who push each other’s wheelchairs, who give and give and give because the relationship is never a power struggle and they know they can expect the same in return.

You marry who you date. You really do. I think everybody’s tried out a lighthearted relationship, but I know too many girlfriends who had relationships that were “just for fun,” and ended up getting knocked up and stuck with someone who really didn’t make them happy. So why waste time dating someone I don’t find myself compatible with long-term? (And yes, it really is a waste of time–heartbreak sucks, and so does moving out, working out custody arrangements, and paying for divorce lawyers).

Does this mean you enter every relationship with the goal of marrying the person? Absolutely not. It takes time to get to know someone and see what they’re all about. But it does mean doing right by yourself in the long term, and not being ignorant of red flags that could sabotage a relationship later on. Speaking from experience, I’ve learned that being honest about the person you choose to be with, and carefully assessing the things you like and maybe aren’t sure about, can make the difference between a little heartbreak now, and a lot of heartbreak down the road. A person doesn’t fundamentally change much, and if they’re boring, or PDA-phobic, or a poor listener now, you can bet five years down the road it won’t be any different.

And did you see what’s not included on that list o mine? Lots of money, sports cars, a full head of hair, enormous muscles. I think I speak for most sane women when I say that the personality traits of our partner far outweigh the superficial aspects of a relationship. Yes, physical attraction is a prerequisite, and yes, I need someone who can pay bills before buying clothes–but I’d take a balding, good hearted man with a bit of a carb belly, but who loves and appreciate me, me over a full head of hair, a big house, and a rippling physique on a man who thinks I’m too outspoken and has an enormous ego. You lose those things eventually anyway, and they just aren’t that important when it comes to being happy.

So that’s it. No pressure, right? I guess I’d feel more hesitant about my expectations if I didn’t spend time around two couples who seem to be exactly these things for each other. These relationships exist, and holding out until I find that person is worth the wait now as much as it was when I was 13. Congrats, little Lizard. You weren’t too far off the mark after all.