Beyond physical beauty, a positive outlook, and self-respect, the men I surveyed named a handful of other attributes that initially attracted them to women they would later marry. Here are the most common of those:
Brains. Like Rob Reilly of the Laundromat, John Karl was one of several men I interviewed who, when they were single, put down on paper a list of attributes they sought in a wife. At the top of John's list was intelligence. John, a fifty-four-year-old marketing specialist, had been married once in his twenties. Intellectually speaking, he recalls, his first wife could not keep up with him. In arguments, he would overwhelm her with logic and mental gymnastics.
The woman who would become wife number two was different. When he met her, John was in his early forties and one of the top professionals in his field. She was the new woman in the office. As he recalls upon first setting eyes on her, "She looked graceful and floating, lithe and ethereal, just beautiful." Only on their first date did John realize that in addition to being physically attractive "she was one of the smartest people I'd ever met. I could talk with her about my work. I couldn't put anything over on her. She was absolutely brilliant."
In fact, in what he acknowledges has been an up-and-down twelve-year marriage, John counts his wife's intelligence as a top reason for sticking it out.
Another man in his mid-forties told me the following story about his intellectual connection with his wife-to-be. He was working for an environmental protection agency. Lori, a female teacher from a local community college, asked him to lead a field trip for her students to a local stream. That day, during a conversation with him and two other people, Lori said, "You know, getting people out to the creek like this would be a great way to develop public support for infrastructure financing."
Several years later, the man told me: "Her technical vocabulary, insight, and understanding of one of my key professional goals caused a visible, physical reaction in me. My heart melted." The other two people in the conversation, he recalls, "immediately noticed my change in respiration rate, temperature, and skin color, [but] she was oblivious. It took me two years to get a date with her, and two years after that, she said yes to my proposal."
Motherliness. Some of the husbands I surveyed said that before they married they were not interested in dating a woman who already had children. But a few said exactly the opposite. "Her sons were a plus to me," recalls a fifty-three-year-old business consultant, married twenty-four years. "I was kind of looking for a ready-made family." When this man first discussed marriage with his then girlfriend, she warned him, "My sons will always come first." He took that as an indication of what a loyal person she was. "I understood it, and I accepted it."
Another man, now forty-nine and married for seventeen years, said he was first attracted to his future wife when he saw her at a pool with her three young children. "She was very attentive to the kids; she looked them in the eye; she smiled at them; she didn't let them run wild; she kept talking to them," he remembered. "I could tell she was a really responsible person."