A reader said there were no good guides to courting a good man. So Thomas Fiffer wrote one.
A good man, as the saying goes, is hard to find. Well, not really. There are millions of good men out there. Millions. Good men whose intentions are honorable. Good men whose behavior towards women is kind and respectful. Good men who appreciate love and value commitment. Good men who hew to a code of morality and decent conduct in their personal and professional lives. Good men who don’t need to be bad boys to prove themselves. And these good men are not hiding. They’re everywhere, in plain sight. The young cashier at the supermarket who asks how your day is going. The guy jogging along the bike path who smiles as you pass by. The weary commuter coming home on the late evening train with a bunch of flowers on the empty seat next to him. Some of these good men are already taken. But many are not. Many are available and looking for a good partner—a person who shares their values, appreciates their efforts, and treats them with respect. Recently, a reader wrote in to The Good Men Project and asked if we could provide her with a guide to how to court a good man.
I have known him all my life and had a crush in all the beginning years. And now we actually talk and hang out sometimes. Although I am not sure how to show an interest without being too forward or overbearing. I’m just not sure and never really find any GOOD articles on how to approach a man of genuine interest in an adult context.
So here’s our answer. A list of five attributes and behaviors a good man looks for in his partner, and five he studiously avoids.
What to Do
1. Honesty. This is the absolute deal-breaker for a good man. He doesn’t need to know all your secrets, at least not at the beginning of your relationship. But there’s no greater turn off than his catching you in a lie about something a few weeks or a few months into your relationship. We all have dirty laundry—things we regret in our past, dysfunctional family members, financial issues—and it’s crucial to be truthful about these from the start. A good man is unlikely to ask too many probing questions or interrogate his potential partners, because he wants to see you in the best light. But if he does ask, or if you’re hiding something for fear he won’t want you if you disclose it to him, you’re much better off getting it in the open and clearing the air before your relationship progresses. Good men are genuine, willing to be vulnerable, and open to intimacy with someone they trust. But if you make them feel duped, they’ll turn and walk away.
2. Respect. It’s not just that a good man likes to be respected, it’s that he knows he deserves it. Deserving something is different from feeling entitled to it. Deserving means he knows his own worth. If he keeps a tidy house or apartment and doesn’t like dishes left on the table or laundry thrown on the floor, don’t make fun of his habits; respect the way he treats his home. If he has activities he values that aren’t your cup of tea, don’t mock him for interests that may seem odd to you. And if he draws a boundary—around his time, his money, his family, or his degree of emotional involvement with you—respect it. Common wisdom says that women test men all the time, but men test women or any potential partner, too, in their own way. A good man doesn’t want someone who’s stepping into his life so that person can walk all over him.
3. Attention. A good man craves your attention, your genuine interest in his personal and professional life, your focus on him, and your eagerness to learn more about who he is and how he got to be that way. And it’s not just your sexual attention or flirting that he desires. When he’s talking or telling a story, he wants you to listen and not be texting a friend or answering emails. If you’re meeting for a date, he wants to be greeted warmly and not feel that you’re distracted. If you’re living together and he’s coming home to you, he wants you to be emotionally available. If you’re not, he may take refuge in watching sports or other distractions, which will make you feel rejected and start a cycle of resentment that can easily kill the relationship. Your time with a good man is valuable, and he wants to use it to create intimacy.
4. Your preferences. A good man wants to know what you like and don’t like, because—wait for it—he actually wants to make you happy. Your happiness gives him pleasure. If you’re wishy washy or just go with whatever he likes thinking your accommodating nature will please him, you’re setting yourself up for problems later when you start to feel resentment because your real needs aren’t being met. A good man wants to meet your needs. He needs to meet them. He knows that meeting them is the key to maintaining a successful relationship, and since he can’t read your mind, he needs you to tell him. He’s also not afraid to say no, which means you don’t need to worry about being too needy or demanding. If he can’t do it or doesn’t think it’s wise or appropriate, he won’t do it. He wants to please you, but only in ways that are healthy for each of you and for the relationship.
5. Emotional health. Chances are a good man has been in one or more relationships with emotionally insecure or dysfunctional partners. These people have radar that shows them all the good men in a hundred-mile radius. They seek out men who are patient and tolerant, who will put up with their crap, who won’t walk away when things get tough because they love strongly and feel responsible for their partner’s welfare and well-being. A good man who has some experience under his belt has learned to spot the warning signals and to be wary of the red flags. He doesn’t want a rescue mission. He doesn’t want be your whipping post as you work through your anger over your shitty childhood. He’ll take care of you when you’re sick, hold your hand when you’re lonely, offer his shoulder and his handkerchief when you’re flooding with tears, and pick you up when you fall to pieces, but he wants you to have your psychological act together before he gets serious with you.
What Not to Do
1. No drama. A good man treasures peace. If your life is all about the drama at work with your awful boss and catty colleagues, the drama with your parents or siblings with whom you don’t get along, the person on the subway or in the store who looked at you the wrong way, a good man is not going to have any part of it. He doesn’t like drama or the conflict that inevitably accompanies it. He’s worked hard to achieve a peaceful rhythm in his life. He’s removed toxic people or placed them at arm’s length. He’s taken responsibility for his mistakes and not blamed them on other people. He’s trying to build a future and a legacy, and he doesn’t have time for an endless soap opera. If your cat needs to go to the vet at 2:00 a.m., he’ll show up and drive you. But if your friend the alcoholic or addict needs to be picked up—again—and brought home to detox or taken to the emergency room, you’ll find yourself on your own.
2. No games. Who’s going to call first? How long should I wait to answer his text? Should I disappear for a few days to make him want me more? Throw out every single bit of dating advice from the magazine articles. It’s worthless. A good man despises games. He’s forthright and direct. If you like him, let him know. Ask him out for coffee or a drink. It’s really that simple. If you’re dating and he calls you, he expects you to answer if you’re available or call him back promptly if you’re not. If he texts you, he’s looking for a response, not a waiting game. And if you reach out to him and he doesn’t get back to you right away, it’s because he’s busy, not because he’s ignoring you. If you press him on this or pepper him with calls and texts asking where he is or suggesting he doesn’t care about you, he will break it off, delete you from his contacts, and block you on his phone. And if you test him in a dishonest or disingenuous way or try to set a trap for him, he will immediately discern that you’re a game player. Relationships are about trust for him, and while he understands that trust is earned, he also knows that it doesn’t need to be constantly proven.
3. No playing the victim. If you’ve survived any type of victimization, a good man will help you heal. But if your shtick is that you’re always the victim in every interaction you have, that everything that happens to you is someone else’s fault, you can forget snagging a good man right now. Because he knows that eventually he’ll be the one you’re blaming. A good man wants a strong partner who is honest about his or her own contribution in every situation, and he will not allow himself to be unfairly accused or criticized. Don’t be surprised if he calls you on your complaining and tries to set you straight. He’ll give you one chance to grow up, and if you don’t take it, he’ll find someone with greater emotional maturity.
4. No worship. A good man actually knows he’s good. He’s secure and confident. He wants you to like and respect him, but he doesn’t want you to worship him or put him on a pedestal from which he can only fall the moment he screws up and lets you down. If you tell him on your first date that he’s the greatest person you’ve ever met or that you’ve been waiting all your life for him, he’ll humbly deflect your praise and reassure you he’s not perfect. And he isn’t. He doesn’t expect you to be, and your portraying him as perfect is a huge red flag. Honor him, respect him, dig him, be into him, but don’t kiss his feet … unless that happens to be his fetish.
5. No assumptions. A good man places a high value on direct communication. He doesn’t want to have to guess what you’re thinking or what you mean. If you’re wondering how to let him know you’re interested in pursuing a relationship with him, it’s as simple as asking him out and showing him you’re an enjoyable person to be with, a person he’d like to get together with again. A good man is looking for simplicity in a relationship. He doesn’t need grand gestures to be courted. He just wants to know you’re not going to get hold of his heart then crush it and stomp on it. He just wants to know that you’re an adult and will treat him as an equal. Don’t assume he’ll pay for everything. He’ll be generous but also appreciate your treats and contributions. Don’t assume he just wants sex. He wants it, but he wants it to be meaningful and intimate, to flow from the two of you coming closer together, not to be used as a crutch to achieve closeness. Don’t assume he’s straying if his head turns when an attractive woman walks by. He can’t help it. He can acknowledge her attractiveness without wanting her. And don’t ever assume you can take him for granted. Saying thank you when he does something nice for you, when he shows you kindness and respect, means the world to a good man. He loves to be appreciated.
We hope this guide is helpful—for the reader who wrote in and for anyone who wants to know how to court—and keep—a good man.
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— If you’d like to hear Thomas Fiffer discuss this article in a podcast with Family Law Insider host Wendy Hernandez, click here. The role of men is changing in the 21st century.