What Do You REALLY Want in a Relationship?

Couple Having Fun on a DateMaybe you’re married, and you tell yourself you’re happy. In fact – some of the time, you are. The rest of the time? You do the best you can with the many demands on you and your spouse. And you’re probably too busy to dwell on the guts of the relationship anyway.

Maybe you’re single and looking, or divorced and looking, or widowed and looking.

Maybe you’re not looking at all, but you wouldn’t say no to a fulfilling relationship.

You’re not living in a fairy tale and nor do you expect one. But if you don’t take the time to examine what you want, how will you ever recognize it or how it may have changed?

So what do you really want in a relationship?

No Plan, No Man?

When it comes to my personal life, I’ve been more of a “take it as it happens” sort of woman, at least until post-divorce, when I did my time on the dating-go-round. Some of us have done the online scene until we’re dizzy from the spin; we’ve described ourselves every which way – we may even have paid for a profile, professionally written on our behalf. After all, it’s marketing, right?

And in that marketing, are you looking at supply or demand?

Are you focused on what you have, or what the customer might desire?

Hey – it’s realistic, don’t you think? It’s a buyer’s market and depending on your age, your geographic location, or other factors, women – and in some cases, men – may find themselves at a disadvantage.

As for romance, we want it. We could even say we crave it, some of us more than others, whether we’re married or single. So why is it we have such a helluva time drumming it up?

The Love List

Many women start out with a “Love List” — the specifications for the man they’re looking for. Oh, we don’t call it that exactly. But what teenage girl doesn’t have her set of requirements? Tall, dark, handsome, funny, “and he should drive a hot car and love to dance and serve me breakfast in bed.”

Adult couple about to kissMaybe your list is edgier, geekier, or more sophisticated. Mine was “tall, dark, smart, and funny,” along with “speaks several languages.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and gentlemen – don’t you have your variations? Major rack, great ass, and your favorite sexual tricks – preferably daily?

Is it really so wrong to go for the Looks Good on Paper guys?  Shouldn’t they be fabulous in Real Life?

Here’s the dilemma. If we’re hanging on to the stuff of adolescence, most of which has little to do with the person and everything to do with a life-size cardboard cut-out, then don’t we have a problem in adulthood? And what if our grownup love lists read more like activities on a cruise ship or at a pricey resort? Isn’t that exactly what we see in online dating profiles?

For example:

I’m seeking a man / woman who loves outdoor concerts, great restaurants, taking off on weekend getaways, scuba, snorkeling, cycling, attending sporting events – and who is as comfortable in a tux / gown as jeans and a t-shirt.

Hello, Reality? Are we there yet?

Sex and Money

Remember when Hugh Heffner’s engagement hit the news? The then 84-year old founder of Playboy was engaged to a 24-year old woman. Now now, you say – this is all about celebrity.

True that.

Sexy legs in clear high heelsBut it’s also about sex (for him) and money (for her). Age old formula, age old exchange, sanctified (or should I say legalized) by the marriage contract.

This may be an extreme example, but there’s no question that sex, money, and the power dynamic deriving from both are elements in many relationships. To a lesser degree, the notion of man as provider and woman as homemaker is modeled on a similar principle. It’s transactional, and I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as both parties know what they’re in for, and both parties are protected. Another way to think of this is good old fashioned give-and-take.

In today’s economy (not to mention culture), the model of traditional roles is out the window for most of us, and nor do we want it. At least, we don’t want it as an inflexible container that closes doors to either the affective or productive side of our lives.

Still – if money and power turn your head (and light your fire), own it. And recognize the pros and cons of the relationship you seek.

Give and Take

Let’s say you have a pretty good idea of what it takes for you to thrive in a relationship. What about your partner? Don’t you need to factor in what the other person values, expects, and how the two of you will function as a team?

Did you hear that? Should I repeat it?

If you’re married, do you take the time to think about Hubby Dearest, what he needs from you, and how he has changed over the years? That’s not a criticism; it’s recognition of how crazy busy we are with jobs, kids, bills, commitments – and how easy it is to lose touch with the reasons we paired up in the first place.

  • Have your needs changed?
  • Have your spouse’s needs changed?
  • Do you need more give, more take, or does your spouse?
  • When’s the last time you talked about it, much less gave it a second thought?

This is the time of year for assessing, which doesn’t mean we can’t assess any time of the year and on a regular basis. In so doing, we just may identify practical actions we can take to spice things up and advance our relationships. And if you’re not involved at the moment, perhaps your assessing may lead to an admission that you’d like to be.

Consider this: If you don’t take into account what the other person needs, are you all about the supply side of the equation, and ignoring demand? Even if you “get the guy,” will you keep him?

If we frame relationships in a more balanced way – “what I want, and what my partner wants” – aren’t we in for a smoother ride, or a speedier exit if we’ve miscalculated?

Marketing Ourselves in the Love Biz

Some time back, I wrote what I thought was an innocent musing on romantic gestures. I miss the days of a man sending flowers, or even showing up with a single stem when he comes calling. To me, small tokens of thoughtfulness go far.

I was surprised by the discussion that followed, including a comment (and offering) of a profile that might get a man’s attention. While I don’t believe this reader was recommending these exact words, he was pointing out the effectiveness of directing one’s “product features” to the intended target. Or put in more humanistic terms, thinking about the other person and what he might look for in a relationship.

He titled his sample profile “Top 10 Reasons I Would Be Your Best Girlfriend Ever!”

While I bristle at some of what he said, for the most part, I understood it, and also found myself saddened. The items on his list suggest a culture in which we are so selfish that we’ve forgotten the basics of mutual support, the importance of sexuality to intimacy, and shared values.

Let me repeat: shared values.

While I may dislike the execution in that proposed profile, I find the premise he offers to be practical. Shouldn’t we ask not only what we want in a relationship, but “What does a [woman] man of the sort that interests me want and need?”

Aging Out of Dating

If you’re 30, fit, healthy, attractive, and employed – this mention may be irrelevant. You find yourself in the driver’s seat, regardless of gender.

But if you’re 40 and a single mom, or 50 and a single mom, or a 50-year old man with a paunch, an average job, no game but a big heart?

The dating world can be a challenging place.

What if you’re 55 or 60 or 65 and you’re alone, and you still want intimacy in your life, not to mention companionship?

If you’re a woman of a certain age, is this moot? Is a chance at a romantic, sexy, and fulfilling relationship something we say goodbye to as we rack up rings around our thickening trunks? Is this unavoidable in our contemporary culture that is obsessed with youth and looks – unless you’ve got bank?


Perhaps I’m navigating with blinders on, believing there’s a shot in hell at a relationship over 50.

And yet I do.

Romantic Couple in Paris CafeBut I suspect I’d better be on that plane to Paris as soon as my younger son leaves for college – Paris where the men I have known enjoy the combination of strong and sexy, Paris where the culture suits me, Paris where an indiscretion isn’t treated like the apocalypse, Paris where I seem to suit the men in what I have to offer even at the half-century mark, Paris where I can be giving with less fear of being taken, Paris where I can be a woman and age isn’t the issue on anyone’s lips.

In the meantime, I know what I want in a relationship – the qualities in a partner that matter to me. I learned from marriage and divorce; I learned from the years of dating that have followed.

I may not publish a list of “Top 10 Reasons to Love Me,” but I know what they are. I’ve learned what works and what does not; I’ve also learned that any vision of “me” needs to reflect a vision of “we.”

  • Do you know what you want in a relationship?
  • Has it changed?
  • Do you believe you can find it?
  • Can you toss the unrealistic checklist?


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  1. says

    Youse sez, “Perhaps I’m navigating with blinders on, believing there’s a shot in hell at a relationship over 50.”

    Me sez, “Relationships can begin at 50. No, really…” :O)

  2. batticus says

    Your comment about going back to Paris struck me as important, people can be outsiders in their current culture and that can make it difficult to find somebody. Being in the right culture means more opportunities to meet somebody that is compatible.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      batticus, I think there are so many factors that come into play, and certainly, feeling like a better fit in one culture over another may be one of them. But as women age, while our options don’t disappear, only a fool would pretend they don’t narrow considerably for many reasons. That said, I believe that if we know what “works” for us, and what we bring to the table, it’s a step in the right direction.

  3. says

    C’est la Vie, right? For the love of Pete though, sixty years? I am saddened by Hugh Hefner quite literally an aging, wait, old Playboy. This is more than a midlife crisis and a young blonde babe and a red Corvette. Bless his heart. On the other hand, he doesn’t live like us mortals and if he’s happy then I say live and let live. By the way, I think it’s awesome you know what you want. Remember chivalry? You want to be treated like a lady and you will respond by acting like one. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It only matters what works for you.

  4. Zammo says

    Chivalry is a weird conundrum. It is based on a rather old set of ideals which may, or may not, have relevancy in the modern era. Regardless, chivalry is based on a woman’s dependence on a man and her essential weaknesses, not strengths.

    I don’t open doors for women any more after getting kicked rather painfully in the shin and being insulted for “you think women are weak and can’t open their own doors anymore!”

    So confusing.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Wow, Zammo. I think that’s a shame. I think what we sometimes refer to as chivalry is simply good manners. I’ve raised my sons to open doors, to pay attention to both the men and women around them, just as I’ve raised them to say please and thank you. Someone actually kicked you in the shin? She should be ashamed. (I’m serious.) And I imagine it is confusing for men these days. (But I always say – you get some clues from the shoes…)

  5. says

    To be honest, I’ve thought very little about so much of this. I have the good fortune of being happily married for 10 years, to my high school sweetheart. We’ve been together for 18. I met him when I was 15. I was too young to even have a list. It was love at first sight. I’m not joking. He’s my soul mate. Does that mean we haven’t had our share of fits and starts, and bumps along the way. Of course not, but I like to think they’ve only served to deepen our partnership. I wouldn’t know what to do if he weren’t in my life. I’ve had people tell me that makes me weak, not independent. But I believe the opposite, I believe it makes me stronger. He makes me stronger and I’m okay with that.

  6. says

    My grandma-in-law got remarried at 75. Anything is possible.

    And yes, I reassess often. Marriage (mine at least) is always about mixing middle grounds, compromises and moments of sheer bliss. Sometimes it scares me to say so. I worry it shows cracks in our relationship, but I believe you need space between so the winds of heaven can dance between you.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Remarried at 75? Wow. Cool.

      As for your assessing, that sounds to me like you are being observant and flexible, Kate. I say good for you. (And what a poetic response – So the winds of heaven can dance between you. Lovely.

  7. says

    I too had friends who fell madly in love in their seventies, kids grown, they free to travel and explore (he even moved to her city, giving up a teaching job at a prestigious university, and elevating a less prestigious school in the bargain).

    What you say about considering the other and not just one’s own wants seems sage; further, there is the mystery of two people who are more than the sum of their parts when lovingly connected. I’m not sure how many people think about the sort of relationship they wish to have as opposed to the sort of person they wish to be loved by.

    I also think, as I get older, that true friendship is an often overlooked bit of magic that makes life so much richer (and is at least a partial basis for great romantic relationships—so long as chemistry is also present). Even platonic friendship, however, is one of life’s sublime pleasures when one finds true anam cara.

    Either way, sending you all good wishes for 2011. It seems clear that your romantic heart is in Paris… and so, probably, your future tall, dark multi-lingual man of mystery and romance. Here’s to a lovely consummation for you both, and at just the perfect time.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I like to think I’ve always considered the other in any relationship, but the credit for pointing out the importance of doing so in the context of contemporary coupling really goes to the reader I mentioned. And I think it is a valid observation in our culture that individuals don’t do enough of that – genuinely thinking what the other wants and needs, and looking at what might characterize the relationship.

      I couldn’t agree more about the magic of friendship. Friendship + chemistry = much good fortune in a duo, in my opinion. Love your story of those friends! And wishes to you as well, for a wonderful 2011, Bruce.

  8. says

    When my wife’s mother died, her father was 74. They had been married 45 years. After a few years, he re-connected with his high school sweetheart. At 90 they’re still going strong. I suppose it’s never too late.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Wow, Wolf. These stories are amazing and so poignant. Thank you for sharing this. (Maybe I should dust off my Jimmy Choos after all?)

  9. Terri says

    I’m 43 and feel that relationships are certainly possible and wholeheartedly believe that it matters where you are and the person you are dating. I much prefer Europe in general, and of course, some cities in the USA; again, “some”, not all!

  10. says

    The first step to getting what you want is knowing what you want. You shouldn’t be too picky; you should just know exactly what you are looking for and it will be much easier to find. In order to get what you want, you must first visualize it. You have to know what you want before you can go out and try to get it. Any pursuit without a goal is an endless pursuit.
    Michelle B recently posted…Communication in a RelationshipMy Profile


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