The Character of Modern Dating

A few days ago I published a short rant about the troubles I have with dating, including some tips for men and a generalized statement about what I am looking for boiled down to one word: Character.

One Freshly Pressed link, 4,000+ views and 200+ comments later, I realized that I am not alone in my desire to find a man of character, not alone in my pursuit of a great single life “in the meantime”, and not alone in thinking dating shouldn’t be so ridiculously . . . ridiculous.

The agreements were really validating, and I feel even more empowered to stand up and say “This isn’t what I am looking for!” and not fear that those words will imprison me in singleness for the rest of my life (versus not admitting them and being imprisoned in a terrible relationship, which would be worse than singleness). I hope a lot of the readers and commentors feel similarly empowered.

Along the way there were a few comments that really stood out to me, mostly the ones disagreeing with my perceptions and request for valiant men to be more available to all of us single ladies.

One such comment went like this:

I think you are watching Too many Humphrey Bogart Movies. I am a guy, and you are asking for too much. I wouldn’t show all of these things on a first date or even a third date. That’s something you see when in a relationship and that’s how you really find who I am. Dating is just to get in on the relationship. And relationships fail, and you move on. Honestly, you will regret it the moment you are settling down and a thought may arise, ‘Maybe I should’ve dated more.’ Just saying!!

Good post though.


I disagree that character is something that is only available after really getting to know someone and I am actually proposing that a woman of character can spot of man of character a mile away just by the little things he does.

For example, over the weekend my family had a picnic and my brother-in-law brought a friend from work that we hadn’t met before. This man shook each of our hands and looked us straight in the eyes when he met us. He engaged in our conversation, was polite and shared about his own children. He helped clean up after the picnic, grabbing the trash from me and running it across the street. He carried all the heavy stuff back to the car so my mom didn’t have to do it.

These might seem like small things, but character can be shown in service.

Another example: I had a customer at work recently that broke his collar bone so I helped carry some stuff out to his car. He then walked me back to the building and opened the door for me before he left. Character can be shown in gentlemanly behavior. 

I got in on a late flight a couple of nights ago and had to take a bus to the airport economy lot. The bus driver let me off at my stop and waited until I got safely to my car before driving off. Character can be shown by naturally protecting someone that is vulnerable.

These men weren’t on date number four with me. They were being themselves, and obviously caring about the people around them in even a casual setting, even in small ways.

[This versus the guy that took me out to a movie last week, complained about the fact that he had to drive us there and told me on the way that I had to pay for parking.]

Granted, I don’t know how these men handle financial trouble or arguments with their spouses or treat their children, but I believe character seeps through into action and these men revealed their character in small, simple acts.

They say that you can judge how a man will treat you by the way he treats his mother. I think there is a lot to be said by the way he treats the people around him – the barista, the server, the terrible driver in front of  you, the homeless man on the street corner.

Here is another comment from the post, So What Do I Want, Anyway?

My response to your summary of what you want. Good luck, that’s what we all are dreaming of and misled to expect!

It doesn’t exist, well maybe a few which are already taken at this point in our lives. …Modern culture does not create Humphrey Bogart anymore.

I believe there are good men out there. I believe some of them have been “taken” and are in amazing relationships with amazing woman. I also believe that some of them are still looking for amazing available woman and probably wondering why they can’t find them just like I am wondering why I have yet to find a great man to walk beside.

If modern culture does not create men of integrity, we have much bigger problems than a few people’s dating lives. 

The idea of character to me isn’t a set of personality characteristics. It isn’t about if they are extroverted or introverted, but how they treat the people they are around at any given moment. It isn’t about the decisions they have made, but about how they have learned and grown from those decisions. It isn’t about being cinematically romantic, but about caring deeply and seeing value in people. It isn’t about being perfect, it is about being and actively growing into being a deeply good person.

And that is my definition of character – the one word on my list of things I am looking for in a future date/boyfriend/spouse.

To be fair, I am not letting myself off the hook here. I don’t expect to skate by without being a woman who loves deeply, treats people with respect and protects her family. I know that asking for a good man means I need to be a good woman. But, I want to let any guy out there know that I, and probably a few others, are asking you to step up, to be a Man, to be your best self. Not because we are our best selves, but because it is who you were meant to be.

I give men permission to open my door.  I give men permission to ask me out on a proper date, walk on the traffic side of the sidewalk, take off your hat when you meet someone. I give men permission to show up with flowers if you want, let me order first at the restaurant, and treat people with respect. Just in case you were wondering, these things are okay.


Ladies and Gents,

Do you agree with me? Is character important? Can you see it in acquaintances and the everyday interactions you have with people?


Am I way off base, asking for too much and bound to be disappointed as I set up the entire male specious for failure in they eyes of females?


What does this high standard for men mean for us woman?


24 thoughts on “The Character of Modern Dating

  1. Wholeheartedly agreed. Manners get me every time – please and thank yous are definitely one of my achilles heels when it comes to men. (I also have shallower ones, of course, like glasses and long eyelashes, but that’s a story for another time).

  2. Great thoughts on character. A few years ago I read a quote by Emerson that has become my mantra – “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Your post is an example of that. Wish there were more men and women who lived that way.

  3. Are you saying that most of the people you “date” do not have this character (as you describe it, sounds like gentlemenly curtesy more than character). I guess I am lucky to be surrounded by many people with this character. But that quality has little effect on long-term compatibility.

    My readings in psychology and sociology make me believe that people largely respond to their environment. So the presence or absense of this character quality you seek is less about what the person is like and more about the environment they are in. Since we expect more gentlemenly behavior out of southern boys compared to boys in NYC I think this idea is at least partially true. So what can we do to encourage the character?

    Personally, I’m not as complimentary as I could be toward people who open doors for me. Generally it annoys me, but if I can make the person feel special and show them how they have made me feel special, that might have a great effect. Thanks for the idea for my next post.

    • It may be true that the qualities themselves do not point to long term compatibility, but I believe they are a window into what I am looking for long term. They are, at least, the first few impressions that help me decide how far I am willing to go into a relationship and that is why I think it so important. I will keep an eye out for your next post!

  4. You’re probably on the right track, looking for someone for whom those characteristics are second-nature. It’s not so tall an order, unless you’re in a hurry.

  5. I think men are designed to have character and integrity. Maybe the reason alot of men don’t is because they don’t “have to”. Alot of women don’t set standards for their relationships, and those that do often set shallow ones like height, hair color, money, etc. Maybe men would be more conscious of the need for strong character in a relationship if they thought it mattered.

    I’m not talking about opening doors for you, or making your coffee, or whatever…that’s specific stuff. I’m talking about genuine character that comes out in whatever way that is in line with his personality. You’re not wanting a “robot”, just someone who knows who he is and isn’t afraid to show exemplary character and integrity.

    “Noble”, maybe that’s the word for it. My point is that (most) men do possess at least the DESIRE for character, nobility, integrity, or whatever you want to call it. Maybe as women, we need to set those standards a little higher and encourage men to be who they were designed to be.

    • I think this is very wise. Nobility and character do matter and it isn’t about specific actions, but about actions congruent with these ideas and his personality. I both desire to “inspire” and allow this in my relationships as well as be a woman of noble character (whatever that means!!). May we all be who we are designed to be!

  6. After reading your blog and everyone’s replies: I agree with all of it. A man who shows character on a first date: opening the car door, paying for the movie, opening doors, etc to me shows me he’s going to be a good person/man. A lot of guys these days just don’t care anymore, but then again a lot of women have become so independent that opening doors and stuff like that doesn’t matter anymore.
    I believe that a man should open doors and things like that for a woman, but maybe I’m just a little old fashioned. I like a man who shows good characteristics the first time we meet. It shows you that he’s going to be kind and will watch over you, which is what I need. I don’t personally know if this is making any sense at all, but it does to me.

    • Lots of women and some of the men I have talked to mention this vicious cycle of women not desiring men to be an old-fashioned gentlemen, so the men don’t do it, and then we are left without any old-fashioned gentlemen. It is part of why I added that I, and others, are 100% okay with opened car doors and all the other stuff that is sometimes looked at as out of date. I am not saying it is for everyone, but I think there are more and more of us that wanted to be treated with that kind of intentionality.
      Your thoughts make complete sense and we are not alone! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  7. Brava! You have put into words what I have been trying to explain to those who tell me I’m too picky when it comes to dating men. I even once had someone tell me that if I wanted a boyfriend, I should just lower my expectations and get more realistic about being with someone who isn’t perfect. I can now reference your blog and ideas when feeling the need to defend myself (to people who are bored with their relationships and are trying to “bring me down with them”). I will keep myself open to what life brings me in the way of men. I will go on all sorts of dates and keep on trying to see if I connect with a man. I don’t need perfection. I need someone who is willing to be himself at all times and show, through his actions, that he is a man of integrity and honor, a kind soul and a NICE human being. Thanks for this post. Glad I caught you on “Freshly Pressed”.

    • Over the past few days several great men have told me that a woman SHOULD have high standards! The ones with character are willing to be with a woman that does. It isn’t that any of us are looking for perfection, but I know I don’t want to settle for a mediocre relationship either. My best friend asked me the other day, “If it were just the two of you left on the Earth, would you be happy that it was him left with you?” Until I can say “Yes!!!!” (with excessive exclamation points) I am fine having a great single life.

  8. I agree with you wholeheartedly! Character is so important and is shown in many ways, subtle and not, as you described. I have a blog post coming up in two weeks that addresses this issue from another angle. Hope you catch it. I’d love to hear your opinion on it.
    Keep the high standards!

  9. Darcie! Please do not EVER let someone tell you that there are not men of integrity and character available to you! These people exist, or you wouldn’t be able to imagine dating one. I will agree that it seems as though they are few and far between, but I think that is just because the others are much more dominant and outspoken (more noticeable). Also, these men of character are busy doing meaningful things as opposed to searching for a hot chic. Do not look for them, look for opportunities to bump into them. I am a firm believer that you happen upon relationships by means other than your own. I commented previously that my boyfriend helps my attitude stay positive and light-hearted, he is a man of character in many ways as well. I met him at a bar. (Nooo, I wasn’t there trying to get free drinks from cute boys. ;] It was a mutual friend’s birthday.) He engaged in conversation with the smaller that was sitting close to him, he recognized my attempts to flirt, but he made no particular move in my direction. I took opportunities to be around him and he eventually showed interest, cue happy ending (hopefully). It was a different set up for a relationship than I am used to. I would have expected him to show interest right as I did. In fact, I almost thought he did not even find me attractive or something and wasn’t interested. I realized that men of character may present this attraction differently. We, women looking for men of character, may have to present ourselves differently in order to attract them.

  10. Thank you thank you for saying these things! I wish I could just walk over and give you a big hug! YES where are the men of character?! And YES you can certainly tell them by their actions and very quickly. I too am disillusioned with the dating world and frankly I feel like dating depresses me more than not dating at all. Men treat women like chess pieces, it is all a game (it seems) to see how quickly they can use us and then walk away. They will stop at no amount of lies or future faking to make us think that we have found “the one” only to be abandoned shortly thereafter when they get bored or restless because the chase is over.

    I will say though, that part of the problem is that women allow men to treat them this way. And the lack of boundaries and character that women exhibit in relationships possibly lack of self esteem have shown men that they don’t really need to try too hard. Women chase men now regardless of their treatment. And I think that this shift has caused a lot of men to take a back seat in dating.

    I think when more women start demanding respect and character from men. They will have no choice but to step up to the plate. I am a firm believer in an “it starts with myself” mentality. We need to be strong enough to reject the jokers and stand on our own if need be to make the point you are trying to make. The longer we give in and accept that “settling is our only option” the more likely it is that we will end up in a miserable relationship.

    Keep at it! Stay strong – and know you aren’t alone. I am standing there with you girl!

  11. The funny thing is,it seems the minute men make up a list of things they think define character in a woman, they get shouted down and called sexist 🙂

  12. I agree, character is important – very important – and like you said, it can be seen in how men, and women, interact with all those around them. High standard? No. I think is completely realistic and it’s frightening that you are having such difficulty finding it. Hold out for a good one. You attract what you project you want. He’s out there waiting to meet you too.

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