I was in second grade the first time I thought I had my definition of “the perfect man” pegged. I had fallen deeply in love with a kid named Robbie Hillis. He had floppy hair, a perpetually runny nose, and could draw horses -- a triple threat, y’all! But even early on, the ocean of our passion was beset by stormy conditions. “I like him a lot,” I told my mom, “but he always carries this stuffed dog around with him.”
It wasn’t that I took issue with his stuffed animal codependence. I mean, I’m nigh on 30 and I still sleep with my aged teddy bear, a noble laird named Theodore. Who was I to judge if he wanted to bring a toy with him everywhere? If anything, I was impressed that he was confident enough to bring his best stuffed friend to school, even if it meant being teased.
The truth was I was deeply jealous that he liked his toy more than me. Because even before I hit double digits I was crippled by my own insecurity. I guess, while what we’re looking for in a partner changes, some of our essentials -- good and bad -- remain the same. The various crushes and relationships we’ve had exist as evidence to this fact.
Thankfully the relationship didn’t last long enough for me to confront him about the dog. Our young, tumultuous love affair (read: sitting next to each other at lunch sometimes) came to an abrupt end at my birthday party that summer. I was obsessed with lemurs, and my mom had us all make lemur masks and tails. Then, we paraded into the backyard to enact a script she penned about all our lemur adventures.
Thinking herself quite the amateur Patti Stanger, my mom had Robbie’s lemur basically attached to my hip in a manner so obvious that I was left with no choice but to decide that the faint aroma of stale pee emanating from his person, once romance’s intoxicating perfume, was now repugnant. My commitment issues rearing their head for the first time.
After this naive stab at romance, I became gradually more and more aware that when it comes to the people we decide we’d ultimately like to grind our genitalia upon, we’re supposed to have a type, and that -- as a girl especially -- I’m supposed to know what my type is and hunt him down like some many wild turkeys in a game of Big Buck Hunter.
Girls around me made these impressive Julia Allison-style lists, lists that changed as we got older. When we were in middle school and high school, you might find items like: brown eyes, good at breakdancing, wears CK1. By the time college and post college life came around, these lists continued to grow. Where once the coolness of their jeans and their thoughts on Gavin Rossdale were deciding factors, those points now ranked low compared to tallying their ambition and their relationships with their parents.
I never made lists like these -- at least not in earnest. I’d abstractly think that I should, that it might help me from making the same dating mistakes over and over again. But my type seemed impossible to limit to a handful of bullet points. At the very least, from what I’d seen, my list would require constant revising if I wanted to make sure to dodge any future romantic disasters.
I dated a lot of jerks -- and none of them jerks in the same way. To try and conjure up my perfect guy on paper seemed at its core only one degree less weird and fruitless than cultivating a hot and heavy romance with the picture of Yentl-era Mandy Patinkin (his butt, you guys) I had ripped out of some magazine and taped above my bed. (We were pretty serious on and off for about three years, but finally the distance just got to be too rough. I HAVE NEEDS, OKAY?)
I guess I just never saw the point. Meeting someone you like and sparking some sort of connection that resonates is such a rare thing. Setting up a list of requirements seemed to be making the already impossible task of meeting someone you want to bone in perpetuity even more impossible. This article kind of agrees.
On the surface, they advocate the idea that the “perfect guy” exists -- but that he’s different depending on what stage of life you’re in. Sadly, I do not think they are bucking norms and advocating for socially acceptable practice of non-monogamy. Instead, they are pointing out that when you grow up, whatever list you’re making grows and changes along with you. To which I add a resounding "DUH," while simultaneously preening that I now have a study validating my own certainty.
To that end, maybe making a list isn’t such a bad idea. Not because it’s going to help you find Mr. Perfect (PERFECT IS SO BORING YOU GUYS) but because it’s going to create a historical record of who you were during a specific period of your life. I never made a real list, but if I had made one at eighteen it would have read as follows:
- Is in the arts.
- Has shoulders like Marc McGrath in the music video for Fly, slash Ben Affleck -- but only in Dogma.
- Has very long hair
- Never wears a coat, not even when it is raining
- Writes poetry
- Is Percy Shelley (...Apparently?)
- Appreciates Ani DiFranco
- Drives convertible
- Smokes cloves
- Can engage in clever, edgy, witty, and challenging verbal badinage
Oh, 18-year-old Becca and your superficial desires! A potentially tubercular long-haired poet boyfriend whose hacking cough is exacerbated by a nasty clove habit, I guess? It’s a silly list, from a silly time. But the memories it invites are more pleasant than the memories of the actual guy I was unrequitedly hooked on at this point in my life.
Mistakes in love are easy to cringe at, especially in retrospect -- it’s like, half of their charm. But the quirks on our own path of emotional maturation are easier to look back on fondly. It doesn’t mean we want to go back there, or that if such a character knocked on our door now we’d leap into his arms. The lists we make are like this one pair of white, spandex, lace, bell-bottom pants I owned at around the same time -- a laughable, but well-cherished relic of another time, something we appreciate. They are reminders that today’s skinny jeans are tomorrow’s unfortunate Juicy sweatpants, and that nothing is fixed, absolute, or close to perfect.