Monday, February 3, 2014

Learning to throw away my list

It's an exercise in which most women raised in my church have participated: the Dream Man List. 

As a youth, one Sunday each year a lesson about eternal marriage would roll around. Mormons believe that marriage can extend beyond this life, making the attributes of a potential spouse all the more critical. Almost without fail, sheets of paper and pencils were passed around and our Young Women's leader would turn to us earnestly.

"Think about the man you will marry," she would say. "Write down the things you value so you'll remember what's most important." 

Typical responses included  "Returned missionary," "Loves kids," "Makes me laugh," "Strong testimony." All good things, of course, but I always added "Ambitious," "Brilliant," and "Athletic."  Oh and..."Smells good." I could see him so clearly, cutting a sharp figure in a business suit.


Two summers later I had graduated from the Young Women's program and was living in a gorgeous brick brewery-turned-apartment in Lakeview, a community just outside the heart of Chicago. It was blissful commuting to work each day, mingling with young people from around the country and world, and exploring the city with my two flat mates: Becky and Kelsey.

Becky was a free spirit, casually charismatic and blatantly beautiful. Kelsey was a former actress who worked as a corporate professional development coach. The more vocally introspective of the two, she adored her pet turtle and her long-distance boyfriend. 

Of course we talked about men. 

"He'll be tall and have dark hair," I said, describing my dream man. "He'll be career-driven, probably a businessman or lawyer from a city." 

Kelsey looked at me and smiled. "He'll probably be completely different."

I was a little irritated. Of course I knew what I wanted! These characteristics were non-negotiable!
Which is all to say that, and then I met JJ, and he was undeniably different than what I expected. And yet, it was uncanny how similar he was to everything I had hoped for.

He noticed my long legs the day I was hanging out in the apartment complex's lounge watching a football game. I was about to go for a run and had dressed accordingly. I noticed how good he looked with scruff and the whiff of a wood fire I caught as he breezed by me, coming home from yet another weekend of mountain biking. I doubted we'd ever go on a dateif he wasn't on a bike, he was on a snowboard. 

That is, until he showed up on my doorstep, asking if I'd like him to purchase tickets to a Warren Miller ski film that came with a bonus lift pass. Still not a date. I went to the film with another guy (and told JJ via text that he was a "good friend"). 

Despite these setbacks, on a cool day in late January, we found ourselves driving up to Brighton Ski Resort, skis and snowboard expertly crammed into the back of his blue car. The anxiety that rose in my chest at the prospect of over an hour of halting conversation and awkward silence quickly melted away. We talked about music the whole way there as I DJ'd his iPod, and our conversation continued on the ski lifts where I made the pleasant discovery that he had read and enjoyed Ender's Game—a nerdy addendum to my Dream Man List. 

Even on that first day, things were so easy between us. I could talk to him freely, but felt just as comfortable in silence. We kept skiing and started dating a month later.
Tall, dark, and handsome—check.
Loves to read—check.
Appreciates classical music—check.
Incredible music taste—check.
Loves Mexican food—check.
....Smells good—check.

My mental list had become increasingly long and specific since my Young Women days, but JJ was doing a good job keeping up. 

Incredibly, despite our similarities and my nearly maxed-out checklist, I was nervous and unsure. His down-to-earth demeanor and complete lack of pretension were so different from my imaginary dashing and slightly stoic city slicker.

So I tried something daring. I rejected my mental checklist—threw it away—and decided I'd start from scratch. 

What really matters? What really matters to me? What do I really, truly want? I was finally understanding what my Young Women leaders had meant so many years ago: hold to your values, remember them, seek them first

What I came up with was a new list, one not of attributes, but of central values. 

The Gospel

Continuing learning

It's a lot simpler, isn't it?

I learned that while sparkling details are captivating and endearing, common values are grounding and enduring. As I looked for the values first and let the details fall where they may, I found that what I had really wanted was right in front of me, right down to the very last page of Ender's Game. And he cuts a sharp figure in a business suit, after all.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! You are so great Paige. I'm so glad you and JJ found each other. It's pretty perfect :)