Unnatural Selection
Leslie Bennetts
Tango Magazine, Nov/Dec 2006 Issue

He wasn't my type. We worked together, and he kept asking me to do things with him,
in a collegial sort of way. But when my friends asked if he might be a romantic possibility,
I assured them that he wasn’t my type at all. I had always been attracted to powerful older
men—the kind who charm the pants off every woman they meet. You can imagine how
well this worked out for me.

But Jeremy was a peer. Instead of being a generation older and far more successful than I,
he was almost three years younger and a fellow reporter for the same newspaper. I was used
to aggressive guys whose idea of a good time was hurtling down a black diamond run. Jeremy
was a bespectacled theater expert who had spent the Vietnam War years as a conscientious
objector teaching emotionally disturbed children.

When I wore high heels, I was almost as tall as he was—quite a change from my previous
loves, most of whom towered over me from formidable heights. Unfortunately, they were as
domineering emotionally as they were dominating physically, which was one of several
reasons I had sworn off men. But Jeremy was patient and persistent; no matter how many
invitations I declined, he didn’t take offense and always tried again.

As cultural news reporters, we were both required to see the same plays, so we’d go together.
Afterward, starving, we’d go to dinner. Our conversations grew more intimate. As the months
rolled by, my friends became increasingly suspicious: Jeremy again? Are you sure there’s
nothing going on here?” “Absolutely not,” I insisted. “He’s not my type at all.”

And, if truth be told, I was pretty sure I wasn’t his type, either. His previous wife was very
short, dark, introverted, and Jewish. I am a tall, blond, extroverted WASP. We were clearly not a match.

But I was 36 when I met him, and pretty soon I was 37. My biological clock was making quite
a racket. As for Jeremy, every time we passed a baby in a stroller or saw a toddler at a restaurant,
he was transfixed. He really wanted to start a family, an issue that hadbeen a source of conflict
in his former marriage. “Do you want to have kids?” Jeremy asked me late one night as we
waited for our hamburgers at a 24-hour diner.

“I would have loved to, but I’ve accepted the fact that it’s probably never going to happen,” I said.
“I’ve made my peace with it.”  He smiled understandingly—so understandingly that my eyes
welled with tears. Horrified, I acted as if there were something wrong with my contact lenses.'

But Jeremy was always very kind. I had recently gone into therapy (mostly to try to figure out
why I had such disastrous taste in men), and like a dope I had accepted an early morning time
slot. So I’d see my shrink, sob through my session, and come to the office with mascara smeared
all over my face. One morning I arrived in particularly terrible shape, still weeping. Jeremy
materialized at my desk. He didn’t ask if I was all right; he knew perfectly well that I wasn’t.
“Go home,” he said firmly. “I’ll go tell them you didn’t feel well. Just get out of here.”

I nodded gratefully, took a cab to my apartment and fell into a deep, exhausted sleep. The
phone rang at 4 P.M. “Just checking up on you,” he said. “How are you doing?”

“A little better,” I said, partly because that’s what you’re supposed to say and partly because
I suddenly realized it was true: the simple fact that he had cared enough to call made me feel
at least a little bit comforted.

Then one day, Jeremy asked me to go to a program at a theater a couple of blocks from his
apartment, which I had never visited. “Now you’re in for it,” said my closest office friend,
with unseemly glee. “He’ll ask you back to his place, and then he’ll make a pass at you.
What are you going to do?” Jeremy did invite me to see his apartment, and he did make a pass.
The next day he asked me to marry him. Here’s where I have to admit that I was a commitment-phobe
myself. Stalling for escape clauses, I asked if we could have a long engagement. “How long did
you have in mind?” he inquired.

“Maybe 10 years?” He shook his head calmly, still smiling that understanding smile.
My eyes welled with tears again.

At our wedding, I was so terrified of getting married that I almost fainted. Jeremy kept a steady
grip on my elbow. Panicked, I kept sneaking sideways looks at him and thinking desperately,
“But he’s not my type!”

By then, however, even I knew better—at least in my saner moments. Like other men with
whom I’d been involved, Jeremy was smart, talented, and interesting. But unlike some of his
predecessors, he was also honest, trustworthy, and dependable. When I watched him play with
other people’s children, I knew what a wonderful father he would be. He was calm and steady in a
crisis, and I sensed that I would be able to count on him as a husband, no matter what challenges arose.
He had a mature understanding of what commitment meant, and he wanted it.

His kindness to me reflected the way he interacted with the rest of the world. He’s the sort of guy
who helps little old ladies cross the street and graciously motions other drivers to cut in front of him.
Maybe he doesn’t arrive at every dinner party determined to dazzle all the guests; he tends to speak
up only if he actually has something to say. When he does, his views are intelligent and humane,
often containing unexpected insights. When he feels comfortable with people, he’s absolutely hilarious;
his sense of humor is as wicked as it is sly. Jeremy’s unpredictable flashes of wit still astonish me with
their inventiveness, even after 20 years of knowing him. And despite the difference in our backgrounds,
our values have proved compatible on almost everything, including parenting.

Jeremy and I celebrated our eighteenth wedding anniversary last summer; our children are now
17 and 14. We share an apartment, a dog, a large mortgage, and a life so intricately intertwined
that I long ago ceased to be able to imagine a separate existence. My heart still leaps every time
I hear his voice on the phone.

When I talk to younger friends, they often tell me about men they’ve rejected after one date. “He’s not my type,”
 they insist. “There was no chemistry.” If I urge them to keep an open mind, they snort derisively and
assure me that they know what they’re talking about.

But I don’t believe them—the first night I spent with Jeremy showed me that I knew approximately
as much about discerning chemistry as I do about nuclear physics— and I feel sad for what they
might be missing. There may well be such a thing as love at first sight; I know people who claim
to have experienced it, although the ensuing relationships rarely lasted over the long haul.

And when I think about my friends, I realize that every single one who’s in a stable, longterm
marriage is wed to a man she initially claimed was not her type.

Now, it’s possible that my friends and I are particularly obtuse. But I think perhaps there are other
lessons here as well. A successful relationship is the product of many factors; compatibility is certainly
one of them. But timing is equally critical. You not only have to want the same things; you have to
want them at the same time. My boyfriend before Jeremy was an infamous womanizer. He was in
 his forties when we met; a year and a half later, when I realized he wasn’t remotely ready to settle
down, I broke up with him. He was in his sixties when he finally got married—to a woman half his age.

But when I met Jeremy, we were at the same stage in life. So why didn’t I recognize him as a
kindred spirit? The fact that he didn’t match up with my mental checklist of things I was looking
for only goes to show you how absurd such a checklist is in the first place. Love is infinitely
mysterious, and I’ve come to believe that the people you respond to instantly are often the worst
possible choices for a long-term relationship.

Although many women still think of falling in love as if it were the product of that mythical coup de foudre,
a bolt from the heavens that instantly illuminates the entire landscape, that’s not my experience at all. To
me, love is more like a plant. When you scatter seeds in the earth, you never know which ones are going
to sprout. Some thrive while others die, but over time the strong ones put down roots that will eventually
support a plant: one that may grow for years, or even decades. To me, a friendship that grows deep roots
long before it blossoms may ultimately become the strongest foundation for a lasting love. For when it
comes to love, “you just never know,” my husband says. “Until you know.”

Leslie Bennett's new book, The Feminine Mistake, will be published by Hyperion in April.

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