My very first impression of my current fiancé was simple: He was decidedly not my type. Before we met, I had spent four years as a very single woman, only managing to get myself into complicated friends-with-benefits type relationships with guys who couldn’t live up to my expectations. In an effort to find someone I actually clicked with, I came up with a set of standards that any new guy needed to meet. I certainly wasn’t alone in doing this — my single friends and I would hang out, talk about our dating lives, and discuss what our future significant others needed to be like, as well as what they definitely should not be like.
Some of my friends had specific rules and very high expectations. In comparison, I felt like mine were relatively simple. I absolutely did not want to date someone who was younger than me, as I had previous terrible experiences with that situation. I wanted my future boyfriend to have a job in Manhattan (so that we could commute to work together, then get after-work drinks in a cool spot, obviously), dress in a stylish and mature way, and have a set of fun friends I could easily fit in with (I really wanted us to have an inner circle together). I also didn’t want to meet someone who lived in the town I worked in, because I had dated a few people from there, and nothing had worked out — I clearly needed to move on. I didn’t have any other rules, but I did have a weird picture in my head of dating someone with a sister close to my age who I could become good friends with. This, to me, seemed very reasonable.
Then I met Mark. Or, actually, Mark met me. I was walking into a store one day when someone called out to me from their car to say hi. I glanced, noticed it was a guy, and ignored him. When I came back to my car, he was gone, but there was a note on my window. It said, simply, “My name is Mark, I said hi to you before. Here’s my number if you want to call me.”
After a few hours of laughing about the incident and feeling completely conflicted about the entire situation, my best friend convinced me to text him. I did, got his full name, and looked him up on Facebook immediately, as one does. To my dismay, Mark was not meeting my rules — in fact, he seemed to be actively defying them. Not only did he live in the exact part of Long Island I was trying to avoid, he was also three years younger than me. Oh, and on top of that? He shared the same name as my dad, which felt incredibly awkward.
Mark’s age alone was enough to convince me to walk away. I didn’t want to get involved with someone younger than me, and so I almost told him right then and there that I wasn’t interested. But we started texting a lot, at first only once in a while, and then throughout most of each day. He would send me sweet good morning messages, ask me how my day was, and sometimes even sent cute photos of his cat. As we talked, I found that there was something intriguing about him. He was sweet and he seemed interested in getting to know me. A little voice in my head told me to give him a chance.
So, after a lot of hesitation, I agreed to go on a date with him. As soon as I got in his car, it became obvious to me that Mark was the exact opposite of what I was looking for. Aside from the age difference, he also did not have a hip, trendy job in Manhattan — he worked in construction not far from where we both lived. He very clearly did not have the wardrobe I wanted in a boyfriend, which was revealed to me after a few dates. His style consisted of Carhartt work pants, slightly dirty jeans, and graphic T-shirts. As for his friends, they were, obviously, all younger than me, with extremely different interests than me. I couldn’t exactly see us becoming close, or even having a meaningful conversation. Oh, and there was no sister — only two brothers.
It was actually almost comical how much Mark was not my type, so much so that I couldn’t even be that angry about it. And while I was turned off by all of these things in the beginning, Mark quickly began to grow on me. My feelings toward him went from apathetic to major crush after one night in particular. We were on maybe our third or fourth date, and at the end of the night, he asked if I wanted to meet his friends. I was nervous about it, but he was thrilled. As he proudly introduced me to them with a huge smile on his face, I wondered if anyone else had ever seemed so excited to take me somewhere. I realized they had not. It was unexpected and very adorable to me. Mark was kind, genuine, and surprisingly romantic. He listened to me and never played mind games. We were looking for the same things, we could talk to each other about anything, and he wanted to know everything about me. To my embarrassment, he wasn’t nearly as judgmental as I very clearly was.
As time went on, the things I originally didn’t like about Mark actually became some of the things I loved about him. His job wasn’t glamorous, but it helped make him someone who was dependable, helpful, and good with his hands, someone who could help me with any issue I had. Aside from construction, he was also a car genius, and he went out of his way to give me an oil change and help me deal with a flat tire. His style was never going to land him in a menswear street style blog, but it didn’t even matter at the end of the day — plus, I began to think it was kind of cute. And while his friends were different than any of mine, they were also funny and entertaining.
As for my biggest issue, the age difference? It didn’t cause nearly as many problems as I thought it would. I won’t lie, it did make a few things a little awkward (for example, my friends began to get married and start having married before his friends were even thinking about it, which of course brought the issue up between us), but overall, it barely mattered. Mark’s age didn’t change the fact that he was mature, competent, and a great boyfriend.
It’s been almost eight years since Mark and I met, and we’re getting married soon. Sometimes I look back on the beginning of our relationship, when I was full of doubt and uncertainty, ready to blow Mark off for something as insignificant as his clothing, and I thank whatever higher power convinced me to give him a second chance. I feel silly thinking about all of the strict standards I once had — if I had followed them, I wouldn’t have met this person I was pretty clearly destined to be with.
I’m certainly not the only person who has felt this way. In the last few years, I’ve watched many of my friends ignore their own dating standards and wind up with people who were the exact opposite of who they thought they wanted. It’s like the universe is playing little tricks on all of us.
Some dating standards are, of course, very important. You should have an idea of who you want to be with and what you want from a person. But these should be about things that matter, like what you both want out of a relationship or where you want to end up in the near future. Standards shouldn’t be about things like age, physical appearance, or clothing. It sounds cliche, but it’s true: The person you date is so much more than these things. What they wear or how tall they are might seem important when you first meet someone, but once you get to know who they are, these traits don’t matter at all (or at least they matter a whole lot less).
The good news is that it looks like a lot of people are giving up unrealistic dating standards. A 2017 study from Queensland University of Technology looked at the preferences and dating habits of 41,000 Australians over four months and found that online dating has actually caused people to dramatically change their standards or disregard them completely. Researchers found that while people had a long list of what they did and didn’t want, they almost always ended up picking someone who was the complete opposite. The conclusion was not that this was bad, but good; it means online dating is helping people open their minds, allowing them to meet those they may not have given a chance before.
I think that, sometimes, when you feel like you’re not having luck in the dating world, you start to dream up your “perfect” significant other. This is especially easy to do when movies, television shows, and books give us fictional characters who seem to have everything we want. Social media doesn’t help, as photos of what looks like a perfect relationship only serve to remind us what we’re lacking. It’s easy to get caught up in this fantasy of a person who meets your every desire, but it’s so important to remember that no one will ever be exactly who you want them to be. Sometimes things just work with the person you least expected them to work with, and it can end up teaching you a thing or two. I, for example, took this experience as message to be more open-minded with everyone and everything in life,.
I will admit that I do wish Mark did not share my dad’s name. That part is still quite uncomfortable! But hey, sometimes we need to compromise a little bit to get what we really want in the end.