Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Perfect Mate

Kimiko wanted to marry a handsome man, and she staunchly defended this ambition. "If I have to look at him every day, I want my eyes to rest easy," she insisted. Most of her classmates, all of whom were much older than Kimiko, tittered. Foolishly I joined in.

We were doing the Ideal Mate adjective worksheet. All of the students had been given a sheet with a list of adjectives from which they had to rate the various personal attributes listed from 0 to 20 in terms of desirability in a mate. Kimiko had chosen 'handsome' over 'honest,' 'gentle,' and even 'intelligent.'

"Handsome is not so good," argued Junko, a petite sixty-year-old. "Handsome man means other women interested too much. If other women interested, handsome man is usually weak, even if also intelligent and gentle!"

Mariko agreed. "If husband is handsome, he will --" she paused, wrinkling up her forehead -- "How do you say uwaki in English?" I heard her whisper to Junko, the brightest in the class. "Affair," Junko hissed back, sotto voce. Mariko nodded. "Yes. He will affair!" she concluded triumphantly.

"All husband affair," said Mami, a jaded divorcee in her late forties. "Whether handsome or not so handsome."

A few of the quieter women nodded their agreement.

"But handsome husband affair more," appealed Junko. "Because more chance."

Kimiko sat in sullen silence. Out of the group of nine, she was the only one for whom 'handsome' had made the top three in the list. I had expected her to take our gentle ribbing good-naturedly, but she obviously did not.

'Kind' was Mariko's number one -- (and mine). 'Honest' was Mami's. Sumie, a jolly little woman whose husband had been abroad for over a decade, picked 'hard-working.'

Tomiko, another divorcee, surprised me. She had picked 'passionate' as her number one.

"Why is that so important to you?" I asked, imagining that her former husband must have been quite a cold fish.

"Because he will be gentle to helpless things," she said softly in Japanese.

Mami, her partner, and an avid dictionary reader, was faster than I was. Leaning down, she whispered something in Tomiko's ear.

Tomiko blanched. "Passionate not same as compassionate?


"Passionate no good for husband," Mami giggled. "Passionate too much sexy, all the time."

Tomiko grunted in disgust, crossing out passionate quite passionately.

Several weeks later, I used the same vocabulary game with a class of girls I taught at a local junior college for women. As I walked around the classroom, I noticed that one girl, Nobue, had folded her answer sheet neatly in half and drawn a line down the middle. In her careful, round copperplate, she was writing two separate lists of words. I stood behind her and watched, confused. On one list, 'handsome' was up at the top, followed by 'passionate,' 'amusing,' and 'carefree.' On the other, 'hard-working' was followed by 'domestic,' which in turn was followed by other worthy attributes.

"Why two lists?" I asked.

Nobue looked up at me with a perfectly straight face. She jabbed a finger at the first list. "Lover," she said simply, then pointed to the second. "This one for husband."

Kimiko could have learned one or two things from her.


Kim Ayres said...

I remember once seeing in a dating column in a newspaper "Overweight, middle-aged, balding man seeks Pamela Anderson lookalike"

Kappa no He said...

This is asbolutely fantastic! I have a little class of girls that would spends weeks debating such attributes.

Carole said...

"Ideal Mate"

I think if most of us would make a list before marriage and then again ten years after marriage the list would be quite different.

I like Kimiko's outlook. "If I have to look at him..."

debra said...

What a wonderful story, Mary. Years ago, I remember giggling with my girlfriends , wondering what kinds of husbands we'd have. Handsome? Rich?
Adventurous? I'd choose different attributes today, that's for sure.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I've seen that one too, and you have to give that guy points for honesty. Men have it a little easier than women, in my opinion. Most men feel justified in insisting on good looks and youth in a mate. Women are more inclined to waive these; Kimiko was an exception.

Kappa -- This is a fun activity, and can be done with mixed classes as well. I loved seeing the choices that men came up with, too, but the biggest differences were between what single people and married people believed made the ideal mate. Married men were just as unlikely as married women to pick 'passionate' as a favorable attribute.

Carole -- You're right: our lists definitely change over the years. I appreciated Kimiko's honesty (others might have felt the same way but been too embarrassed to say so), but I would not have put looks over kindness. When I was her age, I would definitely have had a different list than I have now, though.

Debra -- My friends and I did that too!

I loved pairing married women with young unmarried women for this activity, as it was great fun to hear the resulting discussions. When you're 18, you envision a dashing, adventurous mate for yourself. When you're 45, you're more inclined to go for someone who's prepared to do his share of the housework and give you the occasional neck rub.

Kara said...

I like the way Nobue thinks.

Ello said...

Now see that Nobue girl was one smart cookie!

ChristineEldin said...

Okay, forget Irma Bombeck.
*THis* is your bread and butter writing!!!
It's truly a great piece! You have to submit this one!!!

Mary Witzl said...

Kara -- Nobue was pretty savvy for all that she was so young. All the other girls in the class only had one list, but a few copied her when they saw the wisdom of this.

Ello -- My opinion of her went up after that class. Before I saw her two lists, I thought of Nobue as just another bored farmer's daughter forced to learn English.

Christine -- It never ceases to amaze me what people like. I've got so many teaching stories like this. I also have an entire memoir of my time in Japan, but so far the comments from agents have been "This is fun, but no one will want to read it." I'll tell them Christine does.

A Paperback Writer said...

Great stuff!
When I was 20 and (stupidly) got married to the man who would dump me 14 years later, I would've picked "religious" and "spiritual" as my number one adjectives. Now, if I actually knew any man who would possibly consider me as wife material, I would have to have a whole phrase: "willing to love me back -- always." ANYTHING else would come after that. When I was 20, I took that for granted. I've learned.

Mary Witzl said...

Weirdly enough, fidelity was not a particularly popular attribute among married or single women. One woman said that it was ridiculous to expect a man to be faithful; that a faithful man was like a dog that couldn't bark: unnatural.

I'm with you: this is big in my book, and even more important is having someone who will love you back. To heck with spirituality.

Too bad we can't know all this good stuff when we're young and tender. I married late, or God knows who I might have ended up with.

A Paperback Writer said...

Smart woman.
Fortunately, some of my female students have learned from my mistake and have waited a few years to tie the knot. (Actually, a few of the males have thought this wise as well.)
Maybe it's done a little good.
And, if only I'd paid attention to Shakespeare: "A good hanging prevents a bad marriage."

Piloting The Ship Of Fools said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Witzl said...

Comment Deleted -- Go on and leave your message for a change! Go on, I dare you!

APW -- I'm not really smart; in this case I was just amazingly lucky. Plus, a number of my cousins married young and suffered greatly, and I suspect that visits to their homes (full of unwashed laundry, crying babies, and newly-wed angst) acted as deterrents. My mother often said "Marry in haste, repent at leisure," and who knows? This may have sunk in subliminally. (I'll have to keep nagging my own kids, I guess...) Good for you for passing on this tip to your students

-eve- said...

Heheh, I should have guessed! :-)

Danette Haworth said...

Mary, this post needs to be published--the timing is excellent.

Mary Witzl said...

Eve -- It was a funny moment, learning that the object of my girls' desire had an exact duplicate...

Danette -- Thank you for saying that! I keep sending things out and getting quasi-encouraging but non-commital rejections. The concensus is that I write things that are charming and witty that no one wants to buy...

Charles Gramlich said...

Planning ahead. Very good.

Mary Witzl said...

She was, wasn't she? It was her straightforward businesslike approach that amazed me the most.

日月神教-任我行 said...