Move this to the top of your dating checklist.

My mom used to tell me that the secret to a happy marriage is to find someone who is just crazy about you. Unfortunately, it didn’t sink in at the time—my dating years were filled with wasted time pining away after boys, and then men, who were decidedly not crazy about me. My inexperience with real love had made such simple advice almost too abstract.

Three years and two babies into marriage, I finally understood the brilliance of my mom’s counsel. One day after we had our second child and the new-baby fog began to lift, I reflected on the sheer drudgery of the tasks my husband and I had undertaken. All of a sudden, I realized how selflessly he had loved me through it all. I thought about those times Kyle had seen me at my most sleep-deprived and crabby, my least showered, my most vulnerable, and still told me after a stressful evening, “You are just the best.” And I decided he was either nuts or genuinely crazy about me.

As we all know but tend to forget in dating, that initial attraction is just the beginning. But it doesn’t guarantee, or necessarily even mean, anything. At some point between the time you meet and the engagement, you need to know: Is this guy really crazy about you? The real you? Not the way you make him feel (you might not always be able to fulfill that role), not just your lifestyle together (that’ll change, and then change again), and not just your body or social status or whatever else makes you attractive in the moment.

When I look back, I can point to three things that were clear markers of a man truly crazy about me.

01. He pursued me.

As a single woman, I couldn’t get past the character and qualities checklist part of dating, the dreamy what-would-he-be-like fantasy. The problem was that, in reality, many of the men I met who should have fit the bill made dating seem frustrating and marriage elusive. They didn’t make me feel special or really pursue me. I found myself rationalizing and waiting around for nothing.

In dating, pursuit is not about the thrill of the chase or who initiates the first date. It’s about choosing one another again and again, prioritizing one another again and again. With Kyle, I never had to wonder whether he was really into me. I never waited and waited for a response to a text; I never found myself making excuses for his inexplicably too-busy schedule. He was consistent in making plans and genuinely excited to be with me. He invited me into his life—his friend circle, his family gatherings, his goings-on in work and school. I never doubted I was special, and I still never do.

In marriage, you still need to pursue each another. After a fight, a natural period of emotional distance, or an especially distracted or busy time, you need to come together again, to find your spark and your love again. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting your hand out to be held while watching TV. The need for pursuit never goes away.

02. Our “spark” was based on a deeper connection.

I knew early on that Kyle loved to hear what I had to say about things. He always listened carefully to my opinions, and even when we didn’t see something the same way, he was curious to know what led me to my view. Not too long before Kyle asked me to marry him, we attended a wedding together and sat at a table of my work friends. An older, married friend told me quietly, “He just watches you talk. It’s really sweet.” I knew that was something at the time—I just didn’t know what.

Many of the hours we spend together at this stage of life involve tasks that are, well, boring. We clean the kitchen, play mini-basketball with our kids, drive to the grocery store. But we like each other’s company. We want to hear what the other has been thinking or feeling that day or week. And we often say to each other, “Wow, it’s a really good thing we like to be together, because this just would not be fun with someone else.”

In his book Intentional Dating, Dr. John Buri advises, “Don’t use dating simply as an opportunity to be entertained. Dating is a perfect time to get to know each other. Use it for just that. Find out if you have enough in common to sincerely enjoy each other’s company. Find out if you can spend extended periods of time together without merely being entertained.” To do this, you have to be able to turn off the phones, pause the Netflix, or sit in the quiet car and just…talk.

03. Even when things got tough, he treated me with kindness.

Kyle and I are a fairly low-drama couple, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have our share of difficult times in dating. A few months into our relationship, I was unsure if we were really a good match. In my typical way of overanalyzing, I wound myself up into an anxious mess and tried to initiate a break. But when I came to Kyle with my uncertainties and fears, he treated me lovingly. Even when he thought I was going to break up with him, he patiently listened and treated me with kindness. His response to me was different from anything I had ever seen or experienced with anyone. 

In her book Marriage Rules, Dr. Harriet Lerner teaches the importance of simple kindness, which, in a difficult moment, might not feel so simple. She writes, “The goal is not to put a patina of false brightness over real problems. Rather, kindness, respect, and generosity of spirit prepare the way for authenticity, truth-telling, and problem solving.” Someone crazy about you will take the tough times as an opportunity to show love and make progress. And in marriage, there will be tough times.

At the moment, I am very pregnant with our third baby, and these last months, I have not consistently been my usual charming self. I have often been tired, uncertain, hormonal, over-stimulated, under-stimulated, and resentful of I-don’t-even-know-what. But Kyle, who treated me with kindness and patience in dating, has treated me with the same these last 8-plus months. And his unconditional love, based not just on a spark or a sense of duty, but on a genuine fondness for the woman he married, has gotten us through.

So, what I now know about my dating checklist is that at the top of it should have been: “Someone who is crazy about me.” That was the person I, too, could love like crazy.

Photo Credit: Nirav Patel