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Saturday, February 14, 2004

She Has Hi-i-igh Hopes...

This is primarily for the ladies, but gents please feel free to read on. What I want to talk to you about today is standards. Particularly for those of you who are not in a permanent relationship, I hope to share some insights about what to look for in a man. It can be hard to keep a soft heart while holding firm on the things that really matter, but ultimately it's worth it for both of your sakes. To settle for less than you are looking for only demeans men in the long run; it implies that you believe they are not capable of being the kind of partner you deserve.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: here it is, Valentines Day, and I don't have a Valentine -- yet you are telling me to raise my standards?

In a word, yes. The fact is that men appreciate when you expect maturity and nurturing behavior from them, because it demonstrates that you have confidence in them. Most men -- most people, for that matter, have low confidence in themselves. If you believe in them, then they will begin to believe that they are capable of living up to those expectations. They will want to try to be the kind of man you deserve. So having high expectations isn't about picking a man apart, but rather about bolstering him. And that, ladies, will appeal to them more than you realize.

That said, what exactly are these standards I propose? Call me old fashioned, but I believe in traditional romance. I can assure you that a man who doesn't open doors for you now is not likely to begin after a year of marriage. A man who thinks roses are a waste of money is highly unlikely to become a romantic suddenly after rings are exchanged. The fact is that what you see now is what you can expect later. It is unfair and unrealistic to think that you can change a man, so don't even contemplate it. Do not think that once you are a wife, you will have the right and authority to tell him his faults; if you get involved with a man, knowing his shortcomings, you have no place objecting to those very shortcomings later. So decide early on: can I live the rest of my life without roses?

It's true that not all worthy men can afford roses. Most, though, can afford the occasional single rose. My father in law wooed my mother in law with a single chocolate truffle at a time. Limited budget does not have to mean showing limited interest, and roses are not the only way to show appreciation. They are merely symbolic. So if your man doesn't buy roses, it doesn't necessarily mean he isn't a keeper; but please be sure that he shows appreciation in some way. A man who thinks you aren't interested in that sort of thing isn't going to provide it. So when he does give roses (or serenade you at your window, or send you a romantic card for no reason) let him know that you appreciate it. And if he doesn't, find some opportunity to let him know that such things mean something. Don't nag or complain, but with a smile on your face tell about the delight of a friend of yours when her boyfriend (or husband) had a candle light dinner waiting for her when she got home. Say it without rancor, because hinting can be an ugly habit... just let him know that without being jealous of your friend, you recognize and are glad of her good fortune. You get the idea.

More important than romance, though, is character. Romance can be (but isn't always) a sign of character. It isn't enough on its own, though. Do not settle for a man who insults you, treats you with disrespect, or fights unfairly. If someone you care about begins to slip into these behaviors, tell him in a gentle but firm voice what he is doing, without trying to strike back with anger of your own. You don't have to be angry to be firm. And firm means being willing to lose him before you let bad treatment become a pattern. A good man will treat you like you are the kind of woman who deserves better than he can give you, but he's willing to try to be what you deserve. And you do deserve that kind of a man. Every woman deserves to be treasured by her man, and every man deserves a woman who deserves to be treasured. If you still question that point, ask yourself this: am I willing to spend the rest of my life never feeling more than "adequate?"

A good man is also moral. He should not ask you to do things that contradict either your faith or his. And he must never try to pressure you into doing anything that opposes your conscience. A moral man makes you want to be a better person; he doesn't make you feel guilty for what virtue you have. And he responds well to you, making him want to be a better person, too. Good love should motivate good people, not bring them down.

A good man does not have to be a perfect man, but he should want to grow in grace. No man is perfect, and that is a fact that you -- also an imperfect being -- have to accept. One man is moral and treats you very well, but leans toward laziness. Another is strong and protective, but forgetful. A third might have a tremendous work ethic but very little sense of humor. Regardless of what some people will tell you, you can't have it all. Love isn't about having a perfect partner, it is about having a worthy partner, whose imperfections are not moral flaws, but are traits that you can live with. And a good woman, who deserves such a man, is willing to communicate her needs in a kind way, without ever expecting to change him in the future by manipulation. If he is worth having, he deserves better than to be manipulated.

Ladies, if you really love a man, you will have patience with him for being a unique human being. You will love him for who he is, not for not for being just like you, or like some image you’ve created. You will respect him, though, enough to allow him the opportunity to live up to your standards. Do not insult a man by shrugging and tolerating him with the attitude that he’s the best you can do.

The happiest wives I know are women who didn’t need a man enough to settle for one who wasn’t worthy. And once they knew they’d found a worthy one, they treated him that way.