By the time I was 23, I had given up on love. That might sound melodramatic, but it’s true. Already I’d had my heart broken once and been through an epically awful breakup. When it came to dating, I was done.
Taking myself out of the game made me feel safe. I decided that my chances were over, and it was better not to hope for love at all.
Yet at the time I made this resolution, I’d already met the man who would become my husband. At 23, I swore off love, and at 24, I was happily married.
What happened? The short version is, I learned to look at people differently. I gained confidence to see beneath the surface, to prize integrity over drama.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 ways to tell if the guy you’re dating is the real deal.
1. He treats other people with kindness and respect.
Notice that this is about how he treats others, not you.
While of course how he treats you is important, in the beginning of a romantic relationship both people tend to be on their best behavior towards one another.
It’s easy to get a great first impression, to fall in love with someone who treats you like royalty for a little while.
But if you want to know how this guy is going to treat you over the course of a lifetime, look at how he treats other people. Sooner or later, that’ll be you on the receiving end of that behavior.
A big part of why I fell in love with my husband was how he treated the adults with special needs who were our housemates at the time. He treated them with respect and dignity, and that meant a lot to me.
Is your guy’s tone harsh and cutting when he speaks to his parents? Is he rude to the waiter? To quote Dave Barry, “A person who is nice to you, but not nice to the waiter, is not a nice person.”
2. He is patient.
Not to go all Biblical on you here, but there’s a reason that the first line of that popular passage in First Corinthians chapter 13 is, “Love is patient.”
Is the guy you’re dating patient? Does he bear with you when you forget your coat and need to run back, or does he scowl? Does he freak out during a subway delay, or does he make the best of it?
Patience is what enables you to bear with each other in your faults and foibles.
My husband was patient in his love for me. He took time getting to know me before making a move; he showed respect, so much so that at first I thought he wasn’t interested in me!
At the time I was much more familiar with guys who wanted the whirlwind romance. But when you find someone who’s worth your time, you’re willing to go at a steady pace.
3. He shows up on time.
This might sound minor, but it’s major. Showing up on time demonstrates respect for you and the kind of self-governance that will help you both in your life together.
If the guy you’re dating is always running late, it means that he doesn’t have a handle on his own commitments. Conversely, if he tends to show up when he says he will, that’s very promising.
4. He is willing to face reality head-on.
When we were getting engaged, my now-husband asked me, “What are your outstanding debts? Do you have any prior felony convictions?” I laughed, but he was dead serious.
He wanted to go into marriage with eyes wide open. He wanted to know how much I owed on my student loan, because he understood that paying it back was an effort we’d undertake together.
Look for indications that the guy you’re dating is willing to face reality, particularly in the area of finances. If he has no idea how much money he owes, that’s a problem. If he is paying down debt and budgeting and spending consciously, that’s great.
5. He supports your dreams in visible ways.
It’s easy to give lip service and play the supportive role: “Sure, of course you should go for that dream job!” What’s much harder is offering the kind of practical help that makes dreams reality.
So, ask yourself: does the guy I’m dating support my dreams in tangible ways?
Does he show up at your art gallery opening, or does he flake out? Does he encourage you to go to bed early before a big event, or does he subtly sabotage your success by begging you to stay up late?
When my husband suggested that we convert one of the rooms in the historic home he owned into a writing room to support my dream of authorship, I knew I was a fortunate woman.
“Everyday Life in Utopia”
I love this phrase from Gretchen Rubin’s book Happier at Home: Everyday life in utopia. If your guy is the real deal, that’s what you get to experience.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that your shared life will be perfect. You and your partner are human, so sometimes you’ll fight and get on each other’s nerves and forget to buy bananas at the grocery store.
Even people who are “the real deal” go through hard times. (Just last week, I had no bananas for breakfast. Come on!)
Seriously though, if you share enough of life with someone, you will go through some dark times. You will struggle. You will feel the truth of that great line from The Princess Bride: “Life is pain, highness, and anyone who says differently is selling something.”
And yet – if you choose someone who is the real deal – there will be so much goodness in store for you too. You will also get to look across the table at the guy you love and think: thank you, thank you, thank you.
That’s my wish for you: gratitude, and the confidence that comes with choosing well.
Caroline Garnet McGraw is the creator of the free video interview series The Confidence Course: How to Defeat Self-Doubt, Trade Perfectionism for Possibility, and Live Your Dreams.
It's a free crash-course in confidence from people who are giving back and playing big, and I’m honored to be one of the 33 all-star speakers!
The roster includes Olympic Gold medalist Samantha Arsenault Livingstone, #1 New York Times bestselling author and TED speaker Adam Grant, double-platinum, ARIA award-winning musician Ben Lee, and of course the owner of this website, Your EZ Dating Coach, Mike Goldstein.
During this series on Dating, Relationships, and Confidence, you’ll learn …
The vital importance of showing up as the real you, which is the foundation of all confidence
Why keeping a list of 5 essential qualities you're looking for can save you time and heartache
One practical way to re-structure your requests for your partner
How to shift your mindset from impressing people to really engaging with them
The mental hack that allows you to find common ground and let go of social anxiety