As a teenager I read a few dating books and plenty of teenage romance books. And while I don't think I had a heap of boyfriends, I had one every year since I was fifteen, until I was married. Every time it would work out I would say the same thing, "Now I know what I don't want."
At the time I said it, I was honest and believed it. Some of the problems I frequently ran into probably could have been solved by not being in some kind of boyfriend/girlfriend mess at the time. And soon I came up with a list: he had to have the same faith as me, he needed to drive, he had to have a job, he had to have a good sense of humour and he couldn't have any of the attributes that drove me nuts about anyone I ever dated. He had to be good at dates. I had lots of friends, we did lots of stuff together, but few things are as magical and fun as the first few dates.
The problem was me. About a year before I was married, I realised everyone I had dated was married, or about to to buy a house with someone, or was no longer with us so probably didn't count in those stakes. I even counted people I may had a friendly date with. My conclusion that it was me, or not great timing, and I could live with that.
But I also found something interesting. The boyfriend I wanted in uni, you know, the fictional awesome one, was not the one I wanted after all.
It was all about my inability to accept periods of transition. It seemed everyone I had even briefly had some kind of hot beverage with was going through a new phase - a new job, or a job ending, moving house, a medical diagnosis, a relationship ending, beginning study or one of those times when everyone else was changing except them, so they were trying to make sense of every day life. Although I expected a lot from my wished-for boyfriends, I didn't always live up to my own standards. When I was the person in transition, it didn't make for a great relationship either.
What I have finally realised is that the attributes you look for don't mean that that person is right for you. Throughout my teenage years and far beyond, my friends and I had made long lists of what The One would need. I never counted on chemistry, or lack thereof, and I certainly never counted on all the dismal ways one could be broken up with. (It's never nice.) I found that even though someone might have a car, they might also be pouring money into it; I also found that someone who works may be over-committed to their job and could be unreliable. I found that the boyfriend I wanted in uni who would take me on lots of dates, actually wore me out completely and I spent months being wined, dined and tired.
In the end, sometimes we don't know what we want, even when we think we do. Even when someone ticks all the items on your 'must have and must have not' list, it doesn't guarantee anything, because timing is everything, and love, for all its highs and lows, is a completely unpredictable rollercoaster.