Editorial: April 12

Editorial: April 12

What do you look for in a significant other? It’s a deceptively simple and endlessly compelling question. As the eternal subject of men’s and women’s health magazine articles and online relationship polls, this question garners dozens of different and often conflicting responses. For some reason, Twi-hards and rock climbers don’t seem to have the same tastes.

My foray into the question began as I was planning a lesson for my ninth graders. We are reading “Romeo and Juliet” and — let’s just say they’re not nearly as enthused about it as I am. So, I’m doing my best to make it interesting by relating it to their lives. This is what I love about teaching English, anyway, so it’s coming pretty naturally.

“Romeo and Juliet” is pretty darn relatable to ninth grades. The eponymous characters are teenagers who fall in love, wax poetic, face relationship roadblocks, make bad decisions — Shakespeare really packs it in there. We’ve discussed whether love at first sight is possible, how to tell if someone’s love is genuine, etc., etc. They’re into it.

But this week, I decided to ask them what they looked for in a significant other. As a reader, I’m skeptical that Romeo and Juliet actually like each other. They meet, hang out for a couple of hours, get married, get it on, Romeo gets banished, and then they die. It takes like, two/three days. Seriously. Are we supposed to be convinced that they actually know each other well enough and love each other so much that they’d rather be dead than separated? I’m not buying it.

I decided to create a fun activity to help the students uncover what traits were important to them in a boyfriend or girlfriend. Students had $25 to “spend” on the perfect partner. I divided a big list of personality and physical traits into six categories. The traits I expected to be most popular (physical attractiveness, intelligence, sense of humor) cost $6. The little things (the perfect height for you, has a nice car, gives you compliments) cost just $1. Everything in between had its own price.

But as I tried to prioritize the traits, I realized I was putting them in order of my personal preference. So in the interest of creating a balanced activity, I crowdsourced.

If you’ve never used Facebook to gather a set of responses to some quirky question, I encourage you to try it tonight. Endless entertainment ensues. I asked my Facebook friends “What are the most valuable features you look for in a significant other? List them in order of importance.”

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive or well-organized survey. Fourteen people answered, all but two of them were between 20 and 25, and all but one go to Calvin. Just leave me alone, sociology and math majors.

I’d love to tell you that I got some super revealing and revolutionary results. But I can’t. I got just about what I expected, which was actually reassuring (like, I’m not crazy for wanting these things!)

“Kindness” got the most first place votes and the most mentions. “Shared values” was close behind for most number one placements. “Humor” got the highest composite score (according to my rough mathematics). “Honesty” scored well too, as did “passion” and “intelligence.”

“Physical attractiveness” was mentioned by most people, but only one brave soul listed that as number one. I totally expected this, but it still made me laugh. We’re almost all too proud to admit that physical appearance matters. It really does — don’t be ashamed. Particularly when we’re talking about initial attraction, looks are probably what 9 out of 10 people are drawn to first, whether they admit it or not.

I was surprised by “joy.” In a world where we can find something to complain and be negative about for every hour of the day, that fact that at least three people are looking for someone with a joyful and positive attitude is refreshing and a good reminder to look on the bright side.

Continue down the rabbit hole with me. All of this got me thinking about first dates. I’ve observed three of them in past month (all in coffee shops) and even been involved in one myself. It’s really fascinating to watch two people try to figure each other out. No doubt they’ve both got these lists in their heads: I want someone who makes me laugh and is considerate and, oh yeah, good looking. It’s really just like an interview. Both parties start with surface questions, until one is brave enough to probe deeper.

Strangely, in all four first dates, two topics invariably came up: past relationships and drugs. I thought for sure those would be third or fourth date material, but no. Go figure.

What are we to make of all this? I’d say: stick to your guns. You know what you want (and don’t want) in a significant other. Heck, you know if you don’t even want one to begin with. Don’t let those gut feelings be overshadowed. Sometimes a first date is the perfect time to judge a book by its cover. Romeo and Juliet probably could have taken a page from that book.

Yes, you’re getting relationship advice in Chimes. I don’t know what this world is coming to.