Sometimes looks, charm, and magnetism aren’t the main things people end up falling for.My friend Alex is quite possibly the reincarnation of Casanova. I have never seen anyone who could get so many women to salivate over him just by walking into a room. It didn’t matter if they were shy or outgoing, young or old — they would immediately turn to mush the minute he looked their way.
It made me curious. How does someone who could have anyone he wanted choose who he would date? More importantly, who does he fall in love with? So, a few years ago, I asked him.
He told me something that I’ll always remember.
“There are two kinds of women in this world. The kind you date, and the kind you marry.”
He went on to elaborate.
“The kinds I date usually draw me in with their looks, their charm, and because they are the life of the party. They’re lots of fun. But if that’s all that I was attracted to, I know it isn’t going to last. Sometimes, I date them because it’s like candy — good in the moment but not fulfilling. Usually, it’s because I wanted an ego boost at the time. Most of the time they tend to be vain, self-absorbed, and think that they are God’s gift to men.”
“Every time I’ve fallen deeply in love with someone it’s never because they’ve been drop-dead gorgeous, super-intelligent, or even extremely interesting. But, they always have a way of making me feel good. They give me the sense that they fully accept me for who I am and they bring out the best in me. That is the kind of woman I would consider marrying.”
We talked a little more and realized that the women he truly loved all had the same personality traits. Yet, he couldn’t even have verbalized these traits before that conversation because these were not traits we typically seek in a partner. These traits are not as sparkly or as immediately obvious as good looks, sparkling wit, or seductive charm. It may not be the thing that attracts us in the first place, but it’s what keeps us going back.“I’m going to be on the lookout for these secret traits now!” he laughed.
It turns out that Alex and I were not the first people to link these traits to romantic success. There is significant research showing that not only will people be more attracted to someone with these traits but that any relationship formed will likely be happier and more enduring.
The best part is, these traits are not hard to obtain — we could all achieve them if we were simply more aware. Don’t worry, I’m going to let you in on the secret now so you too can embrace them.
Beth made Alex laugh all the time. They would wander off to the kitchen to finish dessert and we would hear constant giggling followed by occasional howling laughter. We would go for a walk and they would skip and chase each other around. They had a ton of inside jokes and were constantly playing pranks on each other. With Beth, life was a wonderful game. Even the most mundane activities could be fun and surprising.
Alex had recently lost his mother when they met. None of his friends had been able to pull him out of his deep funk. Then he met Beth. She lit up his world again and filled his darkness with sunshine. She gave us back our friend.
Research validates Alex’s experience that playfulness in a partner helps with coping with difficult life circumstances and is a key contributor to higher levels of relationship satisfaction. One study hypothesizes that this is because playfulness has a role in positive bonding, communication, and conflict resolution.
While revealing these things had sent other girls running, Beth had found his stint as a stripper amusing and was incredibly supportive of his decisions to continue being an entrepreneur.
“There is nothing more beautiful in this world than to be fully accepted for everything that you are,” Alex told me once. Beth was the first woman he had ever felt that with.
Beth not only had this gift of making Alex feel that she never judged him but she was also never placed any expectations on their relationship. She allowed the relationship to unfold at the pace that it needed to — giving them both the space to really get to know each other.
Renown relationship psychotherapist, Esther Perel, sheds light on why non-judgment is so important in relationships. In her book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, she refers to criticism and contempt (hallmarks of judgment) as some of the main killers of relationships. Because judgment attacks the person rather than addressing the situation, it becomes virtually impossible to resolve any conflict. Judgment also leads to a lack of respect towards your partner and can act as a slow poison in a relationship.
Sandra was gorgeous, brilliant, and charming but she was also extremely reactive emotionally. She didn’t cope well when things didn’t go her way and Alex never knew how she was going to react to a change in plans.
When he met both Sandra and Beth, Alex was trying to balance entrepreneurship, a Masters program, and dealing with his mother’s estate after her death. To say he was struggling with logistics would be an understatement. Though Alex always did his best to communicate clearly and respect the other person’s time, plans tended to change more often than not.
Beth always took this in her playful way. She would tease that he owed her “units of Alex” but would never get mad. If a fancy dinner turned into a casual night in or if a two-week trip got cut in half, she always accepted it in good humor. What she did — was give Alex space to breathe. Nothing was ever an issue that couldn’t be worked through. As long as Alex was always fully present with her and communicated well, she never gave him a hard time when life changed.
Research agrees with Alex that choosing Beth over Sandra was probably a wise decision. In a study of over 5,000 couples, people who reported having more affable or easygoing partners correlated with having consistently better relationship outcomes over a long period of time.
This is what Alex had shared with me when he finally launched his business again.
“She threw me a mini-party when I made my first dollar with my business. ONE dollar. Honestly, I was pretty excited but I definitely didn’t expect anyone else to be. She cooked a three-course meal, baked a cake, printed out a certificate, and got dressed up. It feels great to have someone celebrating with me after everything that’s happened this year. She believes in me even at times when I don’t believe in myself. Sometimes, that’s the only thing that keeps me going.”
Today, Alex’s business is booming too. It turns out, Beth’s optimism is contagious.
Apparently, optimism isn’t just helpful in a relationship, it is one of the key ingredients in long-lasting relationships. Researchers believe that this is because it lends to cooperative problem solving and effective coping between the couple.
He was wrong. Beth is extremely well-read and very intellectually curious. He found out later that she had gotten into medical school but had decided not to go because she didn’t want to do something simply to conform to society’s standards of intelligence.
The best part was, Beth never felt the need to constantly remind Alex of how smart she was, so she never debated with him or talked down to him. She would bring her opinions to the table but also admit when she didn’t know something. This allowed them to look things up together or have productive discussions where both people could learn from each other.
Her humility also meant that she never minded admitting that she was wrong about anything, something which Alex was also good at doing. This created a space in which they could always admit to their mistakes and continue improving their relationship instead of putting up walls of defensiveness.
While it’s obvious why humility is beneficial in a relationship, I was surprised to uncover research that people found humility far more attractive in the initial meeting as well. In three different studies, researchers found that people were not only more attracted to humble partners but also more likely to initiate a relationship with them as well.