This week, a reporter for a national magazine rung us up to ask how a gal could know if her fella is “marriage material.” They’re looking for specific “signs” that a boyfriend might be a keeper, and wondered how we might advise a client asking this type of question. Our matchmakers, as you can imagine, had plenty of answers for her. But it got me to thinking--because of course nothing is simple when it comes to people’s love lives--that maybe this wasn’t the right question. Or rather, that this simple question stirred up other questions that feel more fundamental and somehow important, like, “why do people date in the first place?” or, asked another way, “is it correct to assume that everyone dating hopes it will lead to marriage?”
A 2013 Gallup Poll indicated that while most Americans hoped someday to marry--if they hadn’t already --as many as 25% had no interest in ever doing so, concluding that marriage’s popularity is waning rather than waxing, with younger Americans most likely to harbor such disinterest. And a year ago, Pew Research Center concluded that changing values, economics and gender patterns have driven down marriage in America to record lows.
As a matchmaker, I could’ve told you that all daters aren’t necessarily “in it” to get married. There are many reasons to date--including just liking to hang out with new, attractive people or desiring that enjoyment inherent to connecting with new humans or curating novel experiences. Some of our clients might be relatively marriage-averse due to caution or lifestyle preferences, while many others indicate they are open to the possibility “if it happens,” but not necessarily focused on it. And, yes, some arrive for their first matchmaker meeting ready to get married before they’ve so much as ordered a cup of tea or consulted the cocktail menu, much less actually met and developed a relationship with someone suitably “marriage material.”
Now, this has always struck me as somewhat odd. Shouldn’t we want to get married because we’ve found someone so wonderful we can’t possibly live as happily without them, and thus feel compelled to embark on a lifetime of commitment and compromise to ensure we never have to? But that’s not how we do it. We decide we want to get married… and then go looking for the best candidate, which, well… just doesn’t always work out. One of our matchmakers, Grace, offered this in response to that reporter’s query: “If he has an equal commitment to the relationship and to being married, there can’t be a differential there.”
Of course, ensuring that sort of thing, as much as possible, in the beginning is part of our process. Helping clients clarify what they’re hoping to accomplish via our romantic collaboration, and working to match folks with similar relationship “goals” -- when those goals are clear -- is essential. But it’s not always as simple as you might think. Because why someone’s dating or why they’re working with a matchmaker or whether or not they are interested in getting hitched someday just isn’t any more cut and dried direct as anything else when it comes to people’s love lives.
Since becoming a matchmaker almost a decade ago, I’ve experienced plenty of folks I’d characterize as exhibiting signs of a certain visceral fuzziness in this department, unsure of what they truly want even as they’re telling you in no uncertain terms that they KNOW. These people say they want to find a lifetime partner -- and seem to wholly believe it, hence the hiring of a matchmaker -- all the while hiding, (even from themselves) a latent fear of or aversion to commitment itself. “Commitment-phobe” is a much bandied about term, but I’ve seen this wolf of ambivalence in relationship-seeking-sheep’s clothing present itself in a surprising variety of guises. Here are some examples:
1 - The Great Rejector - this person repeatedly rejects awesome people because -- even though they are “perfect on paper”-- they just never have any chemistry - with anyone. Or, while they “clicked on so many levels” an endless carousel of -- often perplexing and theretofore undisclosed -- “deal breakers” torpedo each compatible match, such as: “You said she had BROWN hair, but there is definitely some auburn in there!” or “I could never date a man who folds his napkin like that...” or he/she… “drinks gin--gah!” or “drives a Porsche, but I’m a Mercedes (or Prius or Audi or Volkswagen) person” or “has teenagers/small children/an office/spitting llamas at home,” or “likes to vacation in Maine…” or “wants to live in the city/the country/the suburbs/Paris some day… ,” - so - obviously - “it’s never going to work!” (A man of this sort actually broke up with a talented, beautiful woman he “loved” because she put a Twinkie in her children's lunchbox one day as a special treat… and this violated irrevocably his nutritional ethos. True story).
2 - The Laundry Lister - is a particular type of client with a list of “what they want,” as if they are shopping for a person. When I say “list” I mean an actual list. It could be handwritten or typed, or captured on journal pages. Sometimes -- and this is a very bad sign -- the list has been spreadsheeted and loaded onto a flashdrive for our “convenience,” and details their “must have”attributes and iron-clad “deal breakers” to eliminate at all costs. For the Laundry Lister , focus on the list is unwavering, its parameters inviolable -- as though matchmakers were sorcerers capable of conjuring people from thin air to prescription. The list -- I must add -- is frequently longer and more intricate than a California real estate contract or loaded with a precise amalgam of traits rather infrequently observed in one actual human being. (The most frequent day-in-the-life-of-a-real-matchmaker example being the female fantasy of a man who’s a wealthy/successful/driven businessman who also just happens to be a sensitive/ artistic/soulful/right-brained, verbally communicative artist or poet or musician, etc.” Uh-huh.)
3 - The Director - knows more about romance and dating and relationships than we do -- of course -- and insists we do it “their way” and deliver the person they want in a manner not entirely dissimilar from the Laundry Lister, but quite often additionally conflated with a myopic search for “the one.” Now, I could write a tome on the destructive plague wrought by this pop-cultural poppycock notion of “the one” - but let’s shelve that for now. Suffice it to say that the Director remains sullenly single because he or she is set on finding “the one”... that hazy, elusive unicorn of a person they are sure exists out there somewhere and is “waiting for them” -- just like in the movies -- and, not only can they not be happy with anyone BUT this one human being above all others, it is our sole purpose in their view to FIND the elvish fantasy man/woman being and make all their dreams come true. (Feel free to insert the words “soul mate” or “perfect partner” for “the one” anywhere herein.)
4 - The Typist - resists all attempts to nudge them out of their comfort zone and challenge romantic suppositions, prejudices or patterns that may be obstacles to their happiness. These folks have a good sense of what they like or don’t in their partners, generally have a “type” that they can describe in detail and that’s who they want to continue to date - period… even though doing so for the past 5, 15 or 25 years has left them in Love Limbo… or worse. The value of a matchmaker isn’t just in pre-screening dates and matching potential love interests, it’s also in helping to push someone out of their dating “comfort zone” in ways they cannot, or will not, do for themselves. This can be a really important part of the matchmaking process -- and a client’s personal journey -- to discover NEW things about themselves and what really makes them happy in a romantic relationship long-term, so they can connect more successfully with different types of people than they might have previously considered. (And the hard truth is this: If you can’t trust a matchmaker to push and test and stretch your boundaries and expectations, then you probably shouldn’t hire a matchmaker. There it is… I’ve said it).
So, how about you? Do you sense any of these tendencies -- or the “red flag” types listed below from “9 Types of People Who Will Never Get Married” -- in yourself or the people you tend to date? If so, it’s entirely possible you’re nursing some sneaky ambivalence, and may be standing in the way of your own happiness (if marriage is truly what you want) with implacable expectations and/or unavailable partner choices.
Are you -- or do you tend to date -- any of the following?:
The Too-Much-Too-Soon Person
The Incredibly Selfish Person
The Job Hopper
If you are earnestly dating with the hope of finding your future husband or wife, and/or possibly springing offspring and growing old with this sweetheart and find yourself stuck in dead-end relationship patterns, asking yourself whether or not YOU are “marriage material” first, before looking for signs of it another person, might be a vital first step in a different (better) direction.
Listen to your heart,
Author of The Heart Beat series