"I found her so vivacious and alive. I remember saying to myself, 'I'm going to take that woman out sometime.'"
"She was outspoken and enthusiastic. She had this openness and joy."
"I was going through some dark times. All of a sudden, here came this girl. She was bubbling, extroverted. I got the enthusiasm."
"I look people in the eyes. I looked into her eyes and saw merriment."
Men emphasize mood because they recognize that marrying a woman means being permanently within the sphere of her energy. Indeed, many of the men I spoke with said they had spent their childhoods in homes where their mother's temperament dominated. If she was angry, bitter, or depressed most of the time, others in the house tended to feel that way too. If, on the other hand, she radiated optimism and warmth, that attitude permeated the home.
In addition, since males tend to be discouraged in childhood from freely expressing their emotions (except, in some cases, anger), many are attracted to women who are vibrantly expressive. "I wanted someone who could bring me out," one sixty-three-year-old engineer told me. "I'm a social animal, but I'm shy. I thought [my wife] would bring some excitement into my life."
Of course, first impressions can be deceiving; women who seem initially upbeat are rarely that way all the time. And men acknowledge that it's unrealistic, and probably unhealthy, to expect a woman to be perpetually cheerful. Nonetheless, based on my conversations with scores of husbands, when a man in search of a wife meets a woman who is drawn toward the positive, he tends to be drawn toward her.
Close behind physical beauty and an optimistic outlook in initially attracting a man is another personality trait: self-confidence. Rob Reilly, the man who met his wife in the Laundromat, remembers that after Sandy agreed to the date with him, she headed for the Laundromat door, then suddenly wheeled around and returned to him. "I have just one question," she told him. "Do you have a drug or alcohol problem?"
The question (to which Rob answered no) signaled to him that Sandy would not compromise her integrity just to date him. While some men might have been scared off by Sandy's assertiveness, Rob, who was looking for a long-term relationship with an independent woman, says he was turned on by it.
This emphasis on a woman's self-confidence was especially prevalent among men who were married in the last thirty years or so. According to my in-depth interviews, men who married prior to 1975, and particularly those who married before 1965, tended to judge a potential wife in good part on her domesticity -- her apparent ability to take care of a home and children. Since then, men seem to show increasing interest in whether a potential wife can earn a decent share of the family income. As a result, recently married men have tended to seek a woman who is strong and confident, someone who can handle herself in the working world.
Self-confidence is such a strong attraction for some men that even when they are not looking for a wife, they may suddenly change their mind when they meet a woman who exudes strength.