The Person I’m with Is the opposite of What I Thought I Wanted

A Venn diagram of potential suitors

Recently, on a trip back to California to visit family, I found a scrap of paper wedged in between course papers and handouts from college in a pile on the floor of my childhood bedroom. On a piece of lined yellow paper torn from a mini legal pad was a Venn diagram, with a list of qualities written in my dad’s doctor scrawl. These characteristics included: six feet tall, blonde with blue eyes, smarter than Molly, not too smart, and on and on. In my dad’s hand, arrows pointing to the Venn diagram: on the left, a big circle, boys in Molly’s dating pool, on the right, a much smaller circle, boys that meet Molly’s qualifications, and in the tiny sliver where the two circles meet, boys that Molly would date.

I remember clearly the conversation that led to that scribbled diagram of my romantic potential. It was the summer after my freshman year in college, and I was still brooding over my lost high school love. Being on the East Coast for school was exciting and depressing all at once, and I was relieved to be back at home with my family. I spent the long summer days interning, texting the ex, sunbathing in the backyard while reading Russian novels, and avoiding the kids from my high school who were also spending summer at home.

One night in the kitchen, as my mom made dinner, my dad started to tease me about why I hadn’t started dating anyone at school. “There isn’t anyone for me to date,” I said. “I find that hard to believe,” my father responded. Soon he was asking me what my dream man would be, and scoffing as he added each additional quality to the list. “You’re too picky,” he insisted, “You’re going to write off some great people just because they don’t meet your ideal.” As he drew the circles and put the finishing touches on his very scientific inquiry, I defiantly felt that I would show him that the perfect person did exist, and in fact he was waiting for me. It was a conversation that I shrugged off, yet I couldn’t make myself throw away the scrap of paper with my dad’s drawing on it. A subconscious note to self: you are the one getting in your own way.

Flash forward seven years: I find my dad’s Venn diagram and laugh. For the past two years I have been with someone, and we’ve started to build a life and home together. He is about five feet eight inches, and has brown hair and brown eyes. He does not meet any of those superficial qualifications I wrote down in 2007. I would have certainly overlooked him in college, because he didn’t fit into my idea of who I wanted to be with. And what’s worse, I kind of did overlook him college. We met online but discovered early on that not only had we gone to college together, we had mutual friends and had lived across the street from each other for three years. I think about it now: is it really possible that we never once met face to face? Or is it more likely that we did but we saw past each other, because we weren’t ready for it or not mature enough to recognize it?

My younger self, who could see so clearly parts of who she wanted, couldn’t see the whole person she was after. What I really wanted was someone who would respect me, support me. A partner, and a friend. That girl also thought that you met someone, and that was it. Now I know that you meet someone, and things get messier, but it’s working through the mess and emerging together that builds a relationship. And besides that, brown hair and brown eyes are really nice too.

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  • SarahRose2

    “Now I know that you meet someone, and things get messier, but it’s working through the mess and emerging together that builds a relationship.” Amen.

  • Stephanie B.

    This really resonates with me. My whole life, I thought I knew what I wanted from a relationship, and I thought I knew what type of man I “belonged” with. Witty, urbane, and dazzlingly smart were at the top of the list.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting someone with those qualities…except that I valued them above other qualities, like kindness, patience, and an open, warm heart. Every witty, urbane, brilliant man I dated was also cold, aloof, dismissive, and always tried to change something about me that wasn’t “good enough”, and I was miserable and ended up hating myself when I was with them.

    My husband completely flew under my radar because he’s a low-key, somewhat taciturn fellow whose intelligence and wit isn’t showy and flashy, so I wasn’t initially drawn to him. What’s immediately apparent about him, though, is that he’s warm, kind, and totally accepting. He had no interest in changing anything about me, which I almost didn’t know how to handle.

    It wasn’t until I met my husband that I finally realized that there’s nothing admirable and wonderful about intelligence and wit, if they’re paired with coldness and criticism. The qualities that I thought I wanted were worthwhile — but they’re not the whole picture.

    • love love love this

    • Zwergin

      Yes! This! I remember being gobsmacked when my now-partner asked me out on a date before I’d had time to change myself to try to make myself more ‘attractive.’ I was so used to ‘chang[ing] something about me that wasn’t “good enough” ‘ that acceptance was astonishing. It’s funny how ‘someone who would respect me, support me’ (to quote Molly)– features that should have been at the very top of my list– were so far off my list of requirements I wasn’t even expecting them, while more superficial features headed up my list. P.S. Of course, we’ve both changed over the course of our relationship (he’s introduced me to computer games, I’ve introduced him to mozzarella cheese), but these changes have always come about as the result of fun new adventures, not as a result of demands for perfection.

    • This is so true: “…there’s nothing admirable and wonderful about intelligence and wit, if they’re paired with coldness and criticism.”

  • Mo

    I discovered that when I finally let go of what I thought I wanted, I found exactly what I needed. They are certainly not the same thing, and looking back, I’m really glad they aren’t.

  • ano

    I found a similar list from when I was in either fifth or sixth grade, and all I wrote was “Must look like Nick Carter from BSB [The Backstreet Boys]. Must not make fun of me.” While the latter broke my heart a little because I was bullied at that age (especially by boys), I also realized that my fiance has the exact opposite features of Nick Carter (thank god) and he makes fun of me all the time, albeit in a teasing, flirty way. I think there’s some kind of magic in writing down what you want before you’re ready (i.e., you don’t focus on things like kindness, courage, etc), because then you’re almost certain to end up with the opposite. In all the best ways! :)

  • Dom

    I remember that stage of list making – mine was a little bit more unique. I remember when I was 12 and just getting into the “dating” scene (ie, biking with a guy to get ice cream) and seeing an old VW van and thinking “that thing is much cooler than a bike, I’m going to date someone who has one.” And then being 15 at my first local concert, and looking up at the stage thinking “I want a man who knows how to play bass, so cool.”

    Strangely enough, my fiance plays bass (in a punk band) and had an old VW van (which we only drove once after he finished the restoration and sold it). It makes me laugh at how the world works, because I never purposely decided to start our relationship based on those facts and while my man is awesome in so many ways, he isn’t what my teenager self would describe as “cool”.

  • Jules

    Oh Molly, you nailed it. I tell my SO all the time that I couldn’t have dreamed him up – not because he’s perfect, but because a guy with all the qualities on my 8th grade “must have” list would actually be an utter disaster! We would NOT get along. I’m with a short, slightly balding man who loves cats, isn’t super religious, and usually takes too long to tell stories, and I love him to death.

    My roommate still has a pretty extensive list, one of which is “taller than me” (she’s 6’0″). I keep my mouth shut since our good friend (5’11”) is marrying someone who’s 6’7″, but in my heart I hope she’ll keep an open mind and heart so that the right man could still wander in, should he not meet the height requirement.

    • Lindsey d.

      I’m 6’0″ and recently married to a man who’s 5’8″. Giving up the “must be taller than me” thing was the best thing I could have done for myself.

      • vegankitchendiaries

        I hear that. 5’11” here and finally dropped my “must be taller than me” rule in my last few years of dating. It’s really not a big deal at all once you get over it in your mind.

        • Lindsey d.

          When dating my husband, it took me about a year to say I was over and about a year and a half to actually get over it. I still get twinges occasionally, when we are both barefoot since it is most noticable then. But it’s truly not a big deal. I would put it along the lines of not loving how your partner sneezes in terms of impact on our relationship.

          • This made me laugh: “I would put it along the lines of not loving how your partner sneezes in terms of impact on our relationship.”

    • Audrey

      The hard thing about the “must be taller” requirement is that there’s a surprising amount of social bias about it! I had never really thought too much about it, since at 5’6″ most men are taller than me. Then I started dating someone my height (who is now my husband), and his lack of height was one of the first things my mom mentioned (negatively)! I was wearing heels, so he looked slightly shorter than me.

      She was surprisingly hung up about it.

      • Dom

        It is really strange how that is one of the most widely accepted things – to judge a couple when the man is shorter. It is so stupid, because height has very little to do with compatibility! My coworker told me flat out after she met my man that she understands why I don’t wear heels, because if I did I would be taller and that just isn’t right. Yeah.

    • Kestrel

      Ugh. As someone who is marginally tall (5’10”) there’s so much freaking baggage about being taller than your SO – it seems to mean that you’re not ‘feminine’, you’re a giant, you’re awkward.

      As silly as this is, I’m really glad that my SO is just taller than me. I grew up my entire life vastly taller than everyone else (I got all my growth spurts very early, so I was usually a head taller than everyone until high school) and it feels so awkward. I’m glad I don’t have to feel that way with him, as shallow as that sounds.

      • Jules

        Not at all – I don’t think it’s shallow or silly! I only think it would be a shame if it served as a total filter, rather than something that you’d be happy or grateful to have. Making things black and white will limit your possibilities (not just tall people – anyone). If you’re cool with that, then cool. It can totally happen that you find the right guy who IS taller.

        Tall girls can have it rough for all the reasons you mentioned. I find it ironic that people view it so negatively; the requirement for being a supermodel is like 5’8″ on up usually…..the very girls we epitomize as beautiful.

      • sarah l

        At 5’3″, tall was never something I explicitly looked for. Sometimes, I feel minor and extremely short-lived guilt for taking a tall one out of the pool for women who want a tall partner – my husband is a full foot taller than me.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          I’m five feet so pretty much everyone was taller than me. But I’m one of the short women with a really tall husband too. He’s 6’3″

      • Karen

        I’m almost 5’11,” and for me, I am just not attracted to anyone shorter than me. It just doesn’t happen. It’s not a societal prejudice thing. My fiancé is “only” 6’1,” and my sister had to talk me into that being tall enough. And yeah, I do kind of think that short girls shouldn’t take really tall guys out of the dating pool. :-)

        • laddibugg

          I’m not going to say I”m never attracted to shorter guys—there was this one dude in college……..he was so hot at 5’5? or so. But I PREFER tall guys (I”m 5’8″, and wear heels).
          I get annoyed when people imply that things that are aesthetically pleasing to you are invalid.

    • Sara

      My mother is 5’10 and my dad is 5’7″. Her whole family is full of trees. He said that when they first met, she told him that she was from a big family and he assumed she meant numerically (also true). Then at the first family event they went to, all the coat hooks were way above his head :)

      People are surprised when they see her and I together and I’m so much shorter (I’m 5’5″). I get a lot ‘oh really?!’ when I tell them I take after him. He gets mad when I wear my heels because I’m the only one shorter than him in the family. My brothers are both over six feet!

  • sidenote

    sidenote these new “Around The Web” are awful… :( and skewing your aesthetic.

  • BD

    This is close to our story… we even worked together with the same company for years, and although he insists he was always interested in me, I saw right past him. When I looked at him I couldn’t even begin to see how we could be together. It took time – for both of us – to come to a place where we could be a couple. In my case it took hitting rock bottom and finally being honest with myself about what’s really important to me, while also figuring out that I can take on way more than I believed I was strong enough to take on. One day after going through all that I looked at him and *boom* I knew we’d be together. Thankfully he was very keen on the idea too :)

  • K_

    My husband is nothing (and everything) like what I expected in a partner. He wishes we had met a decade earlier in life, but I’m glad we didn’t, because I would not have talked to him. He had long hair and was in metal bands; that wasn’t my scene (I like going to bed at 9pm, before his shows even started). When his band performed a reunion show recently, it was surreal to see that part of his life.

    • love that you say “nothing and everytthing” that you expected. my fiance doesn’t check off my soulmate list I wrote when I was 18, never imagined myself with her “type”, but then as far as character and soul goes, she’s exactly what i wanted in a partner. :)

  • Kendra D

    I think this is an interesting commentary not only on what we think we want but also on the timing of relationships.

    On the first, I grew up in a conservative Christian culture that encouraged us to pray for what we wanted in a significant other. You know, 6’3, blonde, blue eyes, loves Jesus. I found it odd even when I was a teenager. It’s never set right with me to list out what I wanted on the superficial side of things. I had two requirements. 1. He had to be older than me. 2. He had to be significantly taller than me. I’m tall and love heels so I wanted someone who could meet both of those. And I can’t count the number of guys I turned down after one date when I realized they were shorter than me in low heels or younger than me.

    Which brings up the timing issue. I do think that, at least for some of us, we have to wait to meet our partners. I constantly wondered where mine was (again, conservative culture, I was an old maid at 24 and no beau). But see, my husband is younger than me. And while he’s two inches taller, if I put heels on that difference is erased in a hurry. And I know, had I met him at the time these things were important to me, I would never have given him a chance. Instead, I fell hard before I knew his age and our dates were all super active (zoo, ice skating, dave and busters) that I didn’t wear heels. I had to grow up some and let go of some superficial ideals. When I did, that’s when the magic finally happened.

    • BD

      Sorry if I’m OT, but it’s interesting to me that you brought up two completely superficial traits that are nonetheless very important in our society when it comes to relationships – that the man should be taller and older. I didn’t even realize how important the “older” thing was to me until I met my now husband… he was obviously interested in me, but in talking it came out that he was about two years younger than myself, and that actually unsettled me at first! I had never even thought about it before but, I guess because all the couples around me were composed of a younger female and an older male, I subconsciously believed it should be a given. Thank goodness I didn’t let that get in the way!

      • Kendra D

        That’s definitely how I felt growing up. The guy was supposed to be two things: older and taller. It definitely made it easy for me to dismiss guys who didn’t meet that requirement. Until I met the man I would marry. The funny thing now is that both my sister and I ended up being older than our husbands and both of my husband’s brothers married older women. That family detail makes me smile because I like that we’ve all bucked tradition even in so small a thing as birth order and marriage.

        • Dawn

          My husband is 4 years younger than I am, and my brother is a few years younger than his wife.

          One of my mom’s friends is 10 years older than her husband, and she ended up in a really awkward situation with both of them assuming they were about the same age. then somehow she found out how young he was and felt really embarrassed and unsure about the age difference. So, when I was dating, I always made sure to mention my age. So, my now-husband knew how much younger he was, and he tried to avoid telling me his age because he thought I would break up as a result. I had to make him tell me!

          This is one of those things that even progressive people can have expectations that the man should by older. No one bats an eye if the man is 4years older, but it is noticeable to have the reverse situation.

          • kris

            My fiance is 4 years younger also! I sheepishly admit that I kind of brushed him off at first, due to our age gap. I figured we weren’t “at the same place” in our lives and I assumed he wanted different things. But once I allowed myself to get to know him better, it was apparent that our age gap wasn’t a big deal at all. What it came down to is that we shared a similar outlook on life, upheld the same values, and just genuinely “got” each other. Plus he has a heart of gold. Since I had always dated older, my friends were also a bit shocked when I first informed them of the age gap. But as soon as they met him, that was all water under the bridge. :)

      • KH_Tas

        Our society is very ingrained to those two things, isn’t it? I’m not sure how my parents got on with my mum being older, although an otherwise conservative colleague of mine said it was better when the woman was older because women lived longer (don’t think she realised gay couples existed)

      • laddibugg

        well…I dunno. I don’t think a man *should* be taller, but I LIKE taller men. It’s a personal preference more than anything for me at least–it doesn’t have to be different than someone saying they prefer blonde hair or some other physical trait. However I will not–and have not–dismiss a man because of his lack of height.

  • Jenna

    Before I moved to Maine, I made a list of must-have attributes for any future partners. I think the reason it worked for me was that I wasn’t looking for “tall, dark, and handsome” or some unrealistic set of fantasy attributes, I was looking for a real person with real flaws. I knew that in order to stop settling for men that were not right for me just because I didn’t think I could do any better or because they fit the “fantasy” mold, I had to have a clear picture of what I needed from a partner–not what I thought wanted (like Mo said) in my dream scenario. The man I am marrying in October is everything I asked for and more. He is not perfect and he is certainly not who I would have pictured myself marrying when I was 23 and still an idiot :), but he is perfect for me.

  • ART

    totally. i would have written mine off before we ever met because he didn’t go to college, and i have a graduate degree, and how could that combination ever work? well, it works wonders, and i’m really ashamed of my assumption that it wouldn’t, but so thankful that we found each other when the time was right.

  • i LOVE this so much! I have a three page list from my journals that I wrote when I was 18 of who my “soulmate” would be. Very very few of them have anything to do with my fiance. And the thing is, I could meet plenty of people with those “qualities” that I listed but perhaps they wouldn’t have the kindness or sensitivity that my partner has. Or they wouldn’t be honest or…..The thing is, we can’t compartmentalize people. We do that in our fantasy heads – but really it’s more a reflection of who WE want to be at that time. And also, I love where you pointed out that you thought you met the person and that was it. Of course our younger selves would think that- it’s ALL that’s portrayed in the fairy tales we watch growing up and even the romantic comedies we see as adults. The bulk of the story is chasing/finding the person that completes us, then we find them and BOOM story ends there. But the story does not end there. We’re two imperfect people – we’re flawed humans. And any fantasy person’s, even Rachel Maddow’s, with time, stardust will fade and we will realize that, oh my gosh, they are human too!

    I love this, again, thank you for posting this!!

  • It’s funny how we try to visualize what we want but all the inner qualities that we are after aren’t easy to visualize. And yes, it is often about being ready to see what it is we want and need. Love this.

  • Ally

    Also from LA and went to school in Boston – where my husband and I somehow managed to not meet for 4 years despite having dozens of mutual friends and even being at the same party more than once. SO weird how these things work out…

    I actually laugh that he’s EXACTLY what my high school/early college self would’ve have idealized: tall, skinny, dark haired, blue eyed, pale drummer in a band.

    • oh my – i was going to marry someone some just like your person. basically, kurt cobain. instead im marrying a female who loves MIA and old schol hip hop hehe

      • Ally

        Love it!

        By the time I met him we were both (thankfully) over the hardcore punk thing and bonded over our love of radio hip hop – JAMN 94.5!

  • Rachael

    I met my husband right after high school. We dated on and off at times when we were both home from college over the next few years. It was casual for me, summer flings, quick winter holiday romance and it was heartbreak for him. He was too nice, too caring, too uncool, too “not my type”. He wasn’t at all what I thought I wanted.

    We stayed distant friends, mostly because he cared about me enough to maintain contact. We both went through our share of failed relationships. I learned that what I though I wanted in a guy wasn’t really that important to me or wasn’t really a good for me after all.

    Ten years after meeting my husband I went to visit him for a weekend because it had been a couple of years since we had seen each other. It clicked for both of us and two years later we married. What I thought I wanted blinded me to someone who was there all along.

  • Helen

    I had very few conscious criteria: (an attractive-enough, interesting man) and I was still confounded – I’m marrying a woman next month (she’s also attractive and interesting, so I haven’t gone completely awry). In sum, the best laid plans of mice and men, etc.

    • I’m marrying a woman too! And didn’t picture that when I was younger :)

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  • JSwen

    My fiance was definitely not “my type” either. I think at some point, often the point where you start taking yourself less seriously, you start to focus on the important things.

    No, he wasn’t 6’+. No, he didn’t have a meticulously curated wardrobe. No, he wasn’t aloof and too cool for everyone but me.

    Yes, he was barely taller than me. Yes, he had a bad case of The Cargo Pants. Yes, he was the same open and friendly person to everyone. But also: motivated (that’s a thing?), genuine (wha?), feminist (guys can be that?), and a plethora of qualities I didn’t even know I wanted.

    Growing up is pretty wonderful, when it comes to love. :)

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