Looks Good On Paper (Relationships)

Maybe you’ve had one or two. Those “looks good on paper” guys – relationships that are sure to guarantee “happily ever after.”‘

You know what I’m talking about – the kind of man with the right height and hair color, the right schools and degrees, the right profession (and presumably income).

You might even say that he meets criteria on your critical Ideal Partner Shortlist – loves to cycle and swim (with you), will tolerate shopping (with you), enjoys going out on the town (with you).

And he’s easy on the eye. That certainly doesn’t hurt.

Your looks good on paper guy may be the boy next door, the funny man, the quirky storyteller, the suit, the nerd. Maybe he’s the classic jock, the edgy guy, the rags-to-riches-success. Whatever he is – you’re not seeing him multidimensionally. You’re focusing on the stats and facts, and maybe the reactions of others – based on who they think he is.

Bradley… Who?

One of our favorite fictional characters espouses the pros and cons of the “looks good on paper” guy. I’m talking about Carrie Bradshaw in Season 2, as she encounters a smart, funny, single doctor at a book party. His name is Bradley Meego, and she goes out with him – though she’s still suffering heartache from the breakup with Big a few months earlier.

I hadn’t thought about this concept in years until recently – yes, reruns of Sex and the City brought it back – but in revisiting the notion, I realize it has advantages. Certainly, in so far as we take the time to put tangible elements of a relationship on paper and view them with a steely and steady, critical eye.

Between the ages of 20 and 30, I certainly met my share of guys with the right credentials – the height requirement, the school requirement, and the degree requirements. They were plentiful at the time, in part because I lived in an area with an abundance of Ivy types, and also because I was still quite young – and my options, relatively wide.

I recall thinking about the man I married in this way – not only did I love him, but he “looked good on paper.” At the time, I found that reassuring as I coolly assessed our likelihood of making it after he popped the question. I had considered marriage several times before – three times, seriously.

In the first case, I was only 22. He was older and divorced, and yes, with kids.

In the second instance, I was nearing 30. We were the same age, but separated by distance.

In the third instance, I was just over 30. Again, he was a divorced man with kids. At this point, I knew much more about what makes a relationship work; I thought we had an excellent shot, but there were trailing feelings for his ex-wife, and also the close relationship with his children. Both told me that they were where his heart was – even if I fully believed we would otherwise have a chance.

Choosing Romantic Partners by Checklist

I declined that last offer as well. I met the man who would be my husband not long after.

He, most definitely, looked good on paper. In fact, while there were issues that were challenges from the start, the fact that we “fit” on paper so well was a deciding factor in my sense that we would “work.” In part that was because I went beyond the characteristics that were purely about him.

I considered his background.

I considered his friends.

I put tremendous store in the intelligent, caring and tight-knit nature of his large, European family.

Perhaps I put too much faith in those other items; perhaps I didn’t realize then what I know only too well now: time must be taken; values must be in sync; signs of trouble should not be ignored. Putting the pros and cons down on the page when you are making a difficult decision is one thing; allowing the external view or the description or the parameters of a person to be your deciding factors – well, that’s a questionable way to say yes to a romantic partner for the long haul.

Naturally, my heart was involved as well, so I don’t have a “right” answer. But “looks good on paper” is generally insufficient, a means to compensate, or a superficial determination because more time is advisable.

And besides – he may be thinking that you look good on paper, without thoroughly understanding exactly what you want and who you are.

My choice of spouse of course took place well before online dating was the norm, and if we penned our checklists and wishlists for mates, we didn’t carry the same sense of an endless (and accessible) supply of men and women to select from. Generally, I think mating by checklist is silly. Then again, if we can document the most important aspects of what we deem to be relationship success, how is this any different from any other set of objectives?

College, Career, Home – What We Really Want?

When we talk about people, the implication of determining that a man or woman looks good on paper is as follows: So far, so good — as a beginning.

And yet we know that we may be missing something.

After all, we’re still in early stages, or barely out of the starting gate.

When we’re considering colleges, when we’re trying on careers in our minds, when we’re considering a new home or a new city or possibly a new country, for that matter when we’re planning anything at all – we make use of this same process. We match what we want (and think we have) to what we need (or think we need).

Is this also how we’re selecting our universities, money aside? Which one looks good to us, and how do we present ourselves so we look like the best possible fit?

To some extent, this is sensible. But is it an environment where we will feel good, or at least, not feel alienated? Will we accomplish what we really want? Are we the type of person they are seeking, with all their varied goals and constraints?

What about the career in medicine or law or business that a parent may have talked about all our lives? Don’t they sound great at first blush? But if we achieve the title, the position, the “status” that looks good on paper, don’t we also need to like the work?

Post-Breakup Checklist?

Why not undertake a similar process for dates and eventual mates? Is this smart, especially if you’re seriously searching for a life partner? Even more so if it’s the second time around?

But what if we’re using him or her to bolster flagging self-esteem? As a means to an end, at least in part? Or is that the most natural thing in the world – as we all “trade” parts of ourselves to others in a sort of emotional (and logistical) exchange? Isn’t it reasonable to believe that if I have a friendly, outgoing, charming guy in my life – one other women are attracted to – then I must be great, too?

And if he brings in the bucks, isn’t that even better?

If you’re stepping back into the dating scene after a 20-year marriage, with all the ‘negatives’ about your ex-spouse still fresh on your mind, you may be tempted to date the data, the details, the attributes you can see and quantify. And it’s often part of the process, especially in an online dating world where those details are precisely what we use to qualify the individuals we consider.

Aren’t you acting rationally when you clarify what you do and don’t want? What if “looks good on paper” is exactly what your flagging self-esteem needs when you’re starting over?

Whether you’re 22 or 52, when it comes to the man or woman who looks good on paper, or for that matter, the online profile, why not use our checklists along with a hotly spiced dose of short-term attraction?

Choosing a Mate vs Choosing a Date

Beyond a few dates or possibly a few months, there is risk to making decisions while still in the honeymoon phase – when sex sizzles (and keeps us up all night), when the rose-colored glasses overshadow the inklings of problems, when the gushing of family and friends (because we’ve finally found “the one”) drown out the more measured voice to take our time and get to know the other person beyond the bliss of the early stages of love.

Here’s what looks good on paper to me now. A man who:

  • has held my hand through a migraine
  • understands my occasional all-nighters
  • understands that my children are my heart
  • has seen my libido dive
  • has seen my libido come to life again
  • loves me 10 pounds heavier or lighter
  • knows me tired, knows me energized
  • cooks at my side, and takes turns with household chores
  • listens and discusses, without a need “to be right”
  • appreciates my independence
  • appreciates the way I love him
  • considers us a team when life presents challenges

What else?

How Do You Like Your (Wo)Men?

I’m a fan of putting things down on paper. The process helps us evaluate, especially when the decision is big and we are undecided. Perhaps the only problem with the approach is if that is all we do.

These days, my preference for a romantic partner or a friend is someone who couldn’t care less about ticking off an item on a checklist – because his life has been embraced as it comes, with each chapter and page a set of experiences that have taught him who he is and what’s important to him.

Do I like a hot guy with great pecs and a little edge?

You bet. They’re great to look at, great on film, lovely to imagine.

In real life?

At this stage, I have no partner check boxes for height or age, for profession or income, for schools or degrees. Instead, I might include items for laughter, communication, open-mindedness, spontaneity, patience, loyalty, honesty.

Perhaps my perspective has changed. Perhaps the world has changed. Certainly, what looks good on paper – for me – is now a different story.