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He said: “My relationship has to have ____”

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We all have our “perfect date attribute” wish lists. Some are short and succinct; some could fill a book (so much for realistic expectations, right?). But the truth is that all of us can name a few traits that are essential for our next romantic partner — whether we admit them or not!

According to many common cultural stereotypes, men put more value on a partner’s physical appearance and passion, while women put financial stability and faithful commitment at the top of their romantic checklists. While there’s usually a grain of truth in those beliefs, the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle — i.e., with men and women valuing similar features in their partners, but perhaps they’re prioritizing (and, in some cases, defining) them differently.

Out of all the possibilities, what’s the most important trait that men absolutely, positively must have in a new relationship? I spoke with several single guys to find out. In their own words, hear how they — sometimes after years of dating and self-exploration — discovered the one thing that they care about the most in matters of the heart.

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“She needs to be attractive”

Washingtonian Tim, 36, is quite blunt about what he’s looking for: “She needs to be attractive. For most guys, I bet it’s the same. At first glance, I definitely notice a woman’s looks. That’s the initial spark… and after we’ve been together awhile — even when the initial spark wears off and we’re used to each other — I still like it when she makes an effort for me.” True, this supports the stereotype of men primarily being drawn to a woman’s good looks, but the new twist lies in how that might play out over a longer-term relationship. Tim himself said that good looks are tied to making an effort for your partner; in other words, it’s not necessarily about resembling a supermodel or looking exactly as you did the night you met but the effort itself that counts.

A study published in a recent issue of the Journal of Family Psychology supports this idea of how looks continue to matter beyond that initial attraction stage, though in a different way. The same study suggests that the physical attractiveness of men isn’t as paramount to women, who zero in on a guy’s ability to offer support and stability, especially in a partner.

“I want to be loved for who I am, not what I can provide”

Marylander Sam, 34, says: “I want a woman who wants me, not one who needs me. I want her to love me for me. I can tell [when] a woman is just interested in the externals, which in my book are the equivalent of being in love for money, appearances, or out of desperation. I’ve dated women who were more into those three [things] than into [who I am as a person]. I don’t want to be looked at like I’m a bank, a daddy on demand, or a means to an end of any kind.” The takeaway lesson here is that men are looking for an authentic connection and really notice its absence. “I’d rather have a real woman who is into me than some idealized version… who wants me to be Ken to her Barbie,” explains Sam.

“For me, physical affection is essential”

Sometimes there’s a misperception that men just want to jump into bed. While it’s definitely important (an understatement, perhaps?), men also want to share everyday simple, physical connections — a hug, a touch, a kiss — with their partners. “My friends couldn’t understand when I broke up with my last girlfriend, who I dated for a year before realizing that this was not it,” says Bostonian Anthony, 31. “She was hot, smart and had a lot of good qualities, but I really ended up craving affection. After an initial couple of months that were very touchy-feely, she became a little cold. It was all about my missing feeling the physical connection in regular, daily ways.” Warmth and touch really count in forming romantic bonds.

“She has to get my jokes and sense of humor”

Dare I say that humor is an oft-unrecognized but key element of male-centric flirting? That may be a new way of expressing it, but it does exist. “I really like to laugh and have fun,” says Washingtonian Mike, 28. “Life is heavy enough. I work really hard. At the end of the day, yes, I want her to be sexy and for us to have things in common, but I want to laugh, too. It’s been hard to find a woman who laughs with me as much as I want. I’ve dated women who just didn’t get my sense of humor and the relationships always fizzled. I cite that as a big reason.” Laughter stokes a man’s ego when he’s trying to entertain, makes him feel understood, and puts him at ease in a way that few other expressions do, because it makes a man feel powerful. What’s a bigger turn-on than that for any man?

“My next girlfriend has got to be straightforward and patient”

“If you’d asked me this question 10 years ago, I would have responded with ‘good-looking’ or maybe ‘passionate’ for my answer,” says Floridian Peter, 39. “But after a string of failed relationships, I know better what really matters now. When I’m dating a woman, I care about physical attraction and excitement, but in the back of my mind, I’m definitely seeing how she responds to challenges. Does she wig out over small things? Do I constantly have to calm her down or reassure her when things don’t go her way? Does she approach our differences straightforwardly by telling me how she feels in a fairly rational way, or is she a passive-aggressive pouter? I don’t care how beautiful she is; if a woman frustrates me, acts out irrationally or makes me feel like I need to be a mind-reader, I’m outta there. My next girlfriend has got to be chilled out and patient.”

Any guy who’s been out there dating for a while (and maybe had a few bad breakups along the way) is going to have his own set of red flags. And, like Peter, many men want a woman who won’t play minds games with them in relationships.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at davesingleton.writer@gmail.com.

By Dave Singleton




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