What qualities do you want in a partner?

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

What’s on your shopping list of ‘ideal qualities in a partner’? Sexy? Funny? Clever? Absurdly wealthy or sultry and mysterious? I used to have a long list of things I thought I needed from someone. But the thing I care most about now would never have made my list when I was younger: kindness.

A friend of mine, who’s been dating for a while, and struggling to find anyone she likes more than a little bit, has recently found someone who might have longer staying power.

“Sounds like you like him a fair bit,” I said, after she’d dropped him into the conversation a few more times than any other guy would warrant.  “What’s he like?”

She put her head to one side, smiled a bit and looked kind of nervous, clearly chewing over all the different ways she could explain this new dude to me.

“He’s very…” Long pause. Swallow. Short giggle. “He’s a very kind person. I know that doesn’t sound dramatic or exciting, but it feels important. He’s really kind – you know?”


When I first started caring about boys, the most important thing they could be was willing. They didn’t really need to be enthusiastic, cool, beautiful or any other thing that people used to dream about. I’d stare at posters of guys from boy bands and picture them doing… well, some really basic stuff to be honest. Hugging me. Looking pleased to see me. Buying me roses or inviting me backstage at a gig. I rarely had sex fantasies about these guys, because it was easier to people my filthy fantasies with faceless strangers. But if I really really liked a guy, the greatest my imagination could stretch to was picturing him liking me back.

What do you want in a partner? He literally just needs to be willingly in the same room as me.

Later in life, I started caring about looks. I didn’t just want any guy who liked me, I wanted one who looked scruffy or punky or vampiric – all black eyeliner and big silver buckles and baggy hoodies I could borrow when it was cold. They didn’t have to be beautiful, just interesting. I wanted a guy who looked like he’d get sweaty in a mosh pit, and roll cigarettes from cheap tobacco while his baggy jeans soaked up puddles at a bus stop.

What do you want in a partner? Some kind of hot punky mess, ideally covered in sweat and cheap make-up.

At various stages in my life, I’ve wanted different things in a partner: sexiness, enthusiasm, filth, humour, the ability to tolerate me singing showtunes while I do the washing up… To this day, a good sense of humour is still one of the most important things I look for: make me laugh hard enough and my knickers will magically fall. Laugh at my jokes and I’ll slide off my chair.

And the hunt for each type of man has changed me a little in turn. When I wanted a scruffy gothy punk guy, I dressed as a scruffy gothy punk girl – all purple lipstick and big stompy boots. When I wanted humour – as I still want humour – I’ll make a twat of myself shoehorning punchlines and anecdotes into conversations to impress him. At uni I’d have told you my perfect man was ‘tall, dark, skinny, slightly emo and a bit mysterious – like he had unfathomable hidden depths and mysteries only I could help him unravel.’ As a consequence I spent most of my university days navel-gazing and miserable because I wanted to unravel the secret desires of a boy who, if I’m honest, neither needed nor wanted my unravelling anyway.

We change for other people – we can’t help it. We seek out the things we love, and in doing so we ape them ourselves – becoming punkier, funnier, filthier, more mysterious or enthusiastic, depending on what the person we fancy is like, and which of their qualities we value the most.

“It’s not dramatic or exciting, but he’s a very kind person. You know?”

My younger self wanted punky, hot, filthy, bitchy, funny, clever guys. I never even thought to wish for someone kind. Kindness is one of those things that’s easily overlooked in the face of excitement and drama – I think the reason my friend seemed embarrassed to say it is because it has the same, bland ring as ‘nice.’ It feels like faint praise – something you’d casually mention about that cousin you vaguely know, or a word you’d throw in to a leaving card for that person in the office who occasionally brings in cakes. But kindness – genuine, warm, forgiving kindness – deserves far more fanfare than that.

Kind people can forgive, and compromise, and love. Listen to what you need and be thoughtful in how they respond. They can challenge you if they think you’re being unkind, or help you to understand things from other people’s points of view. Drama might give you passionate rows and make-up-fucking, and make your relationship feel like you’re running full-tilt through an obstacle course – the adrenalin is a kick and a half but the knocks and bumps are horrible. Finding someone who is kind doesn’t mean the obstacles disappear, it just means there’s someone who can assist, nudge, cajole, carry and even drag you through to the finish line.

Somewhere in here, of course, is the worry that we hunt out people who can do the things we can’t: I want funny guys because I’m worried that my jokes aren’t as good as I think, so I need backup from a support act somewhere along the way. I hunt for filthy guys because I don’t ever want to run out of sexy ideas. And maybe kindness is important to me at this stage in my life because I worry I can’t do it, and I’m desperately looking for a teacher.

Because as I get older and grumpier, I find it much harder to cling on to kindness: to be the sort of person who can forgive and love even when my partner’s being a dick. But as well as being hot and filthy and weird and whimsical and funny… he’s kind. It’s his kindness – and my desperate desire to learn from it – that keeps us both hauling each other over the obstacles.

And I know that doesn’t sound dramatic or exciting. But kindness is important. You know?


  • Su says:

    Well said, this resonates hard.
    I used to make lists of all the attributes (looks good just in jeans, likes to dance with me, makes me laugh, hot as fuck, domly as fuck, poetically cruel) and I’d run far and fast from anyone who might be, perish the thought, nice to me or actually like me. (*gasp*) Because nice and kind weren’t necessarily qualities I thought I deserved, perhaps. Of course, I wrapped that denial in a nice little package of those traits are boring, rather than own my self-loathing like a grownup.
    I appreciate your perspective. It’s a timely reminder as I’ve recently been blindsided by an awesome guy who is extraordinarily kind and was likely on the verge of running as fast into the arms of self-sabotage as one can. So I thank you.
    Ironically, I am lactose intolerant, but I can deal with some tasty cheese such as this. Everything in moderation, including moderation.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ohhhh yeah – that whole ‘I don’t deserve someone nice’ thing has almost certainly been a factor in a number of my choices. Not that I’ve ever dated anyone particularly terrible, more just that I think I never expected anyone to *like* me in the way my current partner does. It came as a bit of a surprise that there would be people out there (well, at least one person!) who would be openly delighted that I had chosen to be with him, rather than brushing me off or minimising how important I was.

      Also ‘poetically cruel’ hit me pretty hard too <3

      I hope that you have fun with your kind guy and that self-sabotage can be avoided no matter what happens!

  • Jon says:

    The other night I was in a pool bar and I noticed a man who was staggering and swaggering about drunk and showing off. He looked at least in his 60s, was very skinny and wizened and kind of seedy looking. In fact, while I don’t want to cast assumptions, my instinct was saying what a scummy man. Sleazy, arrogant, stupid.

    Then I noticed a woman with him. She was probably in her early 40s, when I say she was hot, I mean in a way that transcended my usual levels of hotness appreciation. I mean she had the most sexy, lust ignitingly beautiful body ever. She was tall, I remember her in her red check shirt with her navy blue jeans molding perfectly around her firm, round buttocks.

    I thought ‘they’ll be related. Or something’. However, to my absolute mortification, I saw the sleezy little man slither over her, his bony fingers hungrily creep their way down the back of her jeans, finding their way in between her buttocks like some rapacious spider and then give her a good fingering. She didn’t slap him and call the police, but stood there with a blissed out smile.

    I don’t want to do that moany, incelly ‘what’s wrong with the world’ talk. To deal with it I keep telling myself that if I knew him I’d see how he was funny, decent… kind. I just suspect that’s wishful thinking because that wasn’t the aura projected, let’s say.

    Did she like that he was ugly? (I don’t mean quirky looking or not conventionally handsome, but surely unpleasant outside and inside?) Did she like his smarmy, seedy arrogance?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hi Jon. Going to get the admin out of the way first – you sent a number of comments just marked ‘test’ yesterday, I’m assuming to see if they’d get through or because you were worried that your first comment hadn’t got through. My blog witholds certain comments (the first comments people ever make, things which look like spam or include certain trigger keywords etc). Rest assured though that all your comments will go into the mod queue and as long as they don’t look so spammy the blog automatically ditches them into trash, or as long as they’re not libellous/against the comment policy (https://www.girlonthenet.com/2017/11/22/comment-policy-im-a-dictator/) they should get through eventually.

      To your question. Hmm. It makes me uncomfortable. As a general rule, I’d try to avoid assuming I know anything about other couples’ dynamics. They may well behave in public in a way that you wouldn’t personally approve of, or think would be desirable, but it’s not really for anyone else to decide how two people conduct their relationship. The only exceptions to this would be, in my opinion, if there’s cause for concern from an abuse/hurt perspective. It doesn’t sound like this is true in the case you describe – it’s just that you are personally displeased by this guy’s appearance/attitude and think he doesn’t ‘deserve’ the woman in question. With respect, that’s not your decision: it’s hers. And as she ‘stood there with a blissed out smile’, it sounds like she’s made it.

      • Jon says:

        Sorry about that, I just get technical issues and thought it might be something my end.

        Oh yes absolutely, I suppose (though I did feel queesy) my question is largely just a curiosity – the way that people can both look at the same thing but see something utterly different. She certainly did look as if she’d made it, and him too for that matter.
        BTW – I didn’t disapprove of the consensual groping in itself, far from it – it was more the vibe I thought I got from him as a person and yes you’re right, the silly ‘he doesn’t deserve’ thing.

        I think what my question was edging too was actually something to do with ‘he’s so horrid, is she turned on specifically by that?’ Like getting off wrongness, rather like pirates and ripped wedding dresses ;) That sort of counter intuitive thing fascinates me.

        But yeah, they’d clearly made it, whether it turns my stomach or not. They didn’t even notice me and they looked like their naughty public foreplay will have preceded something more fun than my sad musings :p

        • Girl on the net says:

          Given that I don’t know this couple, my default would be to embrace the possibility that she finds the way he looks and acts incredibly hot, and not try to project my own opinions/emotions on why exactly she finds him hot. We have a lot of weird assumptions about the way people ‘should’ look and act, even though it takes all sorts to make a world – there are many many MANY things that I personally find deeply attractive that probably wouldn’t fit a conventional model.

          But zooming out a bit more, it sounds like you’re asking ‘do people ever get turned on by the thought of fucking people they would not normally consider as a partner?’ Yes. Absolutely. The first thing that sprung to mind was this letter to the Guardian a while ago: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/oct/14/fantasise-group-sex-old-obese-men I wrote a bit about it here: https://www.girlonthenet.com/2013/11/06/group-sex-fantasy-old-obese-men/ Although I would definitely not write the same thing today, for lots of reasons but primarily because I think it displays an ignorance around issues like bodyshaming and societal norms. I think there’s a difference between eroticising things which fall outside societal standards, and furthering harm to marginalised groups through fetishisation.

          Lots of sex and kink is driven by taboo, and while I think it’s often a good way for us to examine our own prejudices and attitudes towards them, it also often shines a spotlight on some of the ugliest things that humans do. Our taboos are very frequently based on societal attitudes that are fucked up. For example, much of the racist porn in the world (of which there is plenty https://www.esquire.com/uk/life/sex-relationships/a14383/racism-in-porn/) is rooted in the idea that it is somehow gross or offensive or taboo or ‘kinky’ for people of different races to fuck. It’s not just ‘a horny thing’, it’s a racist thing. Likewise I think there are elements of fatshaming and ageism in the idea that someone could only be with an older, fatter guy for kink’s sake. And although I appreciate you are saying that part of it is because he gave off a skeezy vibe, I’d also ask: would you have considered his vibe ‘skeezy’ in the same way if the couple were both the same age and the same level of attractiveness (by your standards/guesses)?

          So when we talk about what different people do and don’t ‘deserve’ in terms of sexual contact, or who it is ‘right’ or ‘natural’ to fancy, I think it’s important to recognise where our own flawed attitudes are contributing to our assumptions, and to our entitlement that that’s an appropriate question to ask in the first place. How much of your reaction is based on empathy and evidence rather than, say, whether it ‘turns your stomach’?

  • Jon says:

    Thanks for your comprehensive and detailed reply. I have actually always been told that I’ve got ‘strange tastes’ and this has indeed irritated me. Not so much in terms of practices, because part of the point is that they’re strange, but in terms of appearance and so on.

  • Eve says:

    I think the trouble is distinguishing between what’s attractive and what makes you want to stay with someone long term.
    Kindness is important for a healthy relationship but attraction usually comes from confidence and assertiveness. The sad paradox is that kind men are often too shy.

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