5 Traits a Guy Should Have Before You Get Serious

Definitive research sheds light on the qualities that really matter in a dude when you’re thinking long-term love.

Photo: Tamara Schlesinger
You get butterflies when you see him, your heart pounds if he calls, and kissing him literally causes goose bumps. With chemistry this amazing, you’d figure you’re destined to be together.

As it turns out, not necessarily. “We often mistake a strong physical connection as a sign that two people are meant for each other,” says Paul Dobransky, MD, founder of womenshappiness.com. Yes, chemistry is key to a lasting bond, but it isn’t the final word. Other factors should be considered too, and they take some sussing out. New findings describe the characteristics in a guy that actually predict relationship success, some of which you may be overlooking.

He Knows What He Wants
Any guy you’re serious about should be able to articulate his long-term goals and passions (sorry, fantasy football and Xbox don’t count). He can’t ally himself with you until he has a sense of how he envisions his life in the future...and how you fit in. “If a man has no idea what he wants to be when he ‘grows up,’ then it will be impossible for him to commit to you,” says Dobransky.

Don’t assume he’ll work things out, because when he does, you may realize his ambitions don’t mesh with yours. “This mistake has contributed to the starter-marriage phenomenon, in which couples in their 20s and 30s suddenly realize they’re going in different directions and divorce at an early age,” says Dobransky. “It’s preventable as long as you’re both clear about your plans.”
He Has a Sunny Outlook
A recent study led by the University of Oregon found that women who had upbeat partners felt more satisfied in their relationships and — this is huge — that the man’s level of optimism determined the relationship’s staying power. Not only is it nice to have someone help you see the silver lining of a situation that totally sucks, but cheerful guys are good at keeping things in perspective, so they don’t let little conflicts get to them and can go with the flow.

Along with having an optimistic POV, it’s also crucial that the guy you’re seeing can make you laugh. “It’s an important stress valve for any couple,” says Les Parrott, PhD, coauthor of Trading Places.

“Having a sense of humor helps you weather the rough patches that you’ll inevitably encounter together.” It shows that he is able to let loose and doesn’t take things too seriously. Plus, you’ll have a better time together if you can see the funny side of things.

He’s Open to Changing for You
It’s true you may not be able to change a man, but a guy should want to change for you. If a facet of his behavior irks you (for example, maybe he’s not attentive enough in certain circumstances), he should be game to hear you out, listen to how you’d like him to do things differently, and then act on those suggestions. “When a guy is truly in love, he is more self-reflective and will work on the aspects of himself that bother you,” says Diana Kirschner, PhD, author of Love in 90 Days. “Studies have found that successful married couples change each other quite a bit over time.”

More important, a man needs to have the capacity to transform and grow with you — e.g., he takes an interest in going to art galleries with you, even if he’s more of a couch-and-ESPN kind of guy. “If he’s not willing to expand his interests to mesh with yours, you’re going to outpace him,” explains Kirschner. “It’s likely you’ll grow restless, and the relationship will become stale.”
He’s Still a Little Mysterious
The beginning of a relationship is always superexciting because you’re just getting to know each other. But even after the newness wears off, it’s essential that a man keeps you guessing. “If you can never quite pin down what makes him tick, that’s actually a healthy thing,” says Kirschner. Although at first you might feel more bonded to a guy who shares tons of personal info with you, over time, you risk losing the intrigue that pulled you to him initially. You might start to see him as more of a friend than a romantic partner.

Of course, you want him to open up about topics like his family, but he should keep some boundaries too. Relating every detail of his life (think updates on his nasty toe fungus) is relationship-killing TMI. A good gauge in the early stages of coupledom: He doesn’t spill all about his pals. “It’s an indicator that he understands how to keep things private,” says Kirschner.

He’s Responsible with Money
Besides giving you a heads-up about money-related conflicts you might encounter in the future (one of the topics long-term couples argue about most), how a guy handles cash reveals a lot about his character. Positive signs: He keeps the receipt after paying for a meal or you notice several credit-card offers in his stack of mail (it may indicate he has good credit).

“A man who doesn’t track his money shows a lack of patience and self-control,” says Dobransky. “In fact, guys who are financially reckless share many traits with men who cheat.” But you also don’t want to be with a tightwad. If a dude doesn’t splurge now and then, it may mean he’ll be stingy in other ways, such as in bed or when compromising during a fight.

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