I’m 52 years old. To this day, my Pakistani mother says things like, “You should get a husband,” because that’s truly how her world works. When I was young, my mother would explain to me that each of us will be given a partner based on our kismet ― our fated life story written on a star.
So when my mother was married off to my father in an arranged marriage, it was her kismet and no human can change that. They have now been married for 55 amazing years. They believe that because they did all the things they wanted ― achieved great career and financial success, raised three pretty amazing daughters and continue to enjoy each other’s company ― that is proof they actually are each other’s kismet.
Love, however, was explained to me differently. My mother would say, “When you bring a pet like a puppy home, do you immediately love him, and does he immediately love you? No, you growwww to love each other. That’s like marriage. You need to train your husband: live with him, and then you will grow to love him and he will grow to love you.” This is real to her. Husbands are trainable like dogs. Also you just “get one.” These are the messages I grew up with in my home.
But, outside my house, as an American girl, the messages I got were wholly different. Countless Silhouette romance novels, movies, country music (Randy Travis … swoon!), and even my closest friends whose own parents fell in love and got married the American way, convinced me that true love was real. It is real, right?
I didn’t believe in kismet and I wanted to believe in American love, but I have come to the conclusion that preordained kismet ― love that you find with your heart ― and marriage ― a government-sanctioned partnership ― are two different things, can be mutually exclusive, and are not what I’m looking for in a lifelong partnership. The person or people you choose to build a life with might not be the person or people with whom you share your heart, and it’s unlikely that the stars will reveal their knowledge readily.
Whether you’re a man or a woman or nonbinary or any other gender, I’ve come to believe it’s all about PENISES. But let me back up…
When I was younger, I thought I would just “get a husband” and an arranged marriage wasn’t out of the question for me, but I still wanted to fall in loooooove. The endless parade of Pakistani medical students who began showing up randomly at my home in my teens were definitely not fall-in-love swoon-worthy like … like … Bruce Willis was in “Moonlighting,” or, oh, let’s say, Pierce Brosnan in “Remington Steele”!
So in my early 20s I decided to find “the one” and prove mother wrong. I was going to fall in love and commit and have the happiest “happy ever after” building my own happy world.
I set out to find my true love through what I called DWI, or Dating With Intent (to marry). This was back when dating was dating. I got asked to dinner. I went to the movies. I got kisses goodnight.
I was ready to date but how was I going to find “the one”?
Having seen the result of successful arranged marriages all around me, I knew kismet, if it were real at all, was only part of the formula ― there was also a common foundation. My parents were both graduate school educated and they shared the same religion and country of origin. More than kismet, there were specific matching components of their personalities that allowed them to faithfully work through each and every conflict with the goal of staying together and remaining each other’s comfort and support system.
“Having seen the result of successful arranged marriages all around me, I knew kismet, if it were real at all, was only part of the formula ― there was also a common foundation.”
That’s when I started looking for my “PIE” — someone who complemented my Physical, Intellectual and Emotional needs. I reasoned that if our “PIEs” matched, we would fall in love, and then we would get married, have kids, and live happily ever after.
Up until that point, I had all the confidence of a 20-something with an exceptional academic history and unending optimism. If my parents met on their wedding day and made it work, how much easier would it be with someone I could choose myself using a system I had devised?
Then I met Ted Nicholas ― my future ex-husband. I knew our PIEs matched, but I soon learned something else critical was missing. Our social selves were diametrically opposed. At first, the fact that he was an introvert and I was an extreme extrovert was fun. I “got him out of his shell” ― but that only lasted so long.
Three years into our marriage, I thought I was a genius for suggesting we take separate cars to the same event. We would arrive together, then somewhere in the evening when he’d had enough, he would simply vanish. That eventually led to me just going to events alone and calmly explaining to my friends that we would have more fun without him. Needless to say, Ted Nicholas and I didn’t last, and I added the “S” (social) to my system: another critical area that needed to be vetted before committing.
Recognizing my error and setting forth with PIES, I was confident I had the four foundational corners of a lasting relationship. Until I met Strongman…
I never realized how important food is in a relationship’s viability. For me, my love of feeding those I love became the ultimate sticking point when I started dating a man with very strict dietary preferences. I learned if I can’t feed you, I can’t love you. If I can’t pick off your plate, I’m suffering silently. Food isn’t just about sustenance for my body ― it’s an important part of how I live and love. And since my divorce I knew I had no issue walking away the very moment I thought “this won’t work” ― so I did, and my PIES got an N for nutrition. The PIES were now a PENIS. Now this acrostic ― and the formula to long-term happiness I was seeking ― had to be complete, right?
It was, for a little while. I was satisfied with my dating life until I met the 5/5 guy ― our PENISes aligned completely ― but I discovered he was super-religious and I am not. In fact, his idea of spirituality directly conflicted with my own beliefs. So I added a capital S for Spirituality to my scale.
I also learned he was a spender like me and incredibly generous with what he had. I liked that, but more importantly, I realized that agreeing on financial matters was important for a relationship to work long term. I had long overlooked economic considerations in my dating method and my acrostic because I was convinced they shouldn’t matter. I thought I would find a partner and we would build an economic empire together. At 50, though, my options to build from scratch were starting to feel limited, and it is unrealistic to think my partner won’t have his own way of thinking about and dealing with money. So I added yet another match point — another E for Economics — that brought me to my final, seven-point matching system that I’m now using as a guide to find my forever friend and life partner.
PENISES is an easy-to-remember acrostic representing seven critical match points to find and negotiate a winning long-term relationship. An old love once told me, “I might not know what the right thing is, but my gut always tells me when it’s wrong.” So, now, I’m trusting my gut.
PENISES: My Guide To Dating (and maybe yours too):
Physical: There’s a reason I keep this one at the top. This isn’t about just physical attraction but more about important things like: Do your sex drives match? Do you live in the same area code? Both of these ideas fall in the physical realm.
Emotional: How important is it that you share your feelings with your partner? That your person shares their feelings with you? Are you a heart-on-your-sleeve type or more aloof? Remember that matching doesn’t mean you are the same, but that you can complement each other’s emotional nature.
Nutritional: Are you a feeder or an eater or both? Does food hold a priority in your world? Do your priorities around food and/or food tolerances match? If you eat meat and your potential partner is a vegan, will that be an issue?
Intellectual: This category is less about academic credentials and more about intellectual agility. A mentor once told me, “Make sure he can teach you something, and that you can teach him something.” I’ve dated men with graduate degrees and I’ve dated men with GEDs ― and a few with neither. It’s more about how you both see and experience the world. Are you curious about learning new things? Do you have things to talk about? Unmatched intellect can quickly become boring for one partner and frustrating for the other.
Social: Are you a natural introvert or extrovert or ambivert? Knowing yourself is key to choosing a match. This is easily observed because our social lives are demonstrated and we have a track record of things that define how we move socially, as well as what we enjoy. A party animal might have a tough time dating a homebody.
Economic: Where are you financially now? What are your goals? What about your potential partner? Are you a spender or a saver? Would you rather spend money on material objects or experiences? This topic may not be something you bring up on the first date, but talking about your lives, where you have been and how you imagine your financial future can offer a clue as to what the other person might be planning and what their priorities are.
Spiritual: Do you both share a common sense of the universe and your role in it? Do you share beliefs in organized religion? Are you looking for a partner that can elevate your current spiritual plane? Does the person you are with want you to have a specific set of beliefs to consider you “eternally bonded”?
After 52 years of living ― the last two and a half years of which were spent facing a pandemic ― it can sometimes feel like I’m the only single person who still remembers when dating was dating. Now that I’m back to “dating with intent” again, having the PENISES in my back pocket allows me to look across a table, ignore my beating heart, and focus when they or he or she says, “My dream home is a yurt, and I plan to forage for at least a year.” I can still have fun, but I would know and share at the outset that this relationship is probably temporary because we don’t match on some very key points.
“The most critical thing I’ve ever learned about relationships started with these words inscribed at the Oracle of Delphi: Know thyself.”
While the scientist in me wants to collect, analyze and disseminate a cogent algorithm that’s accurate for all, the optimist in me believes my person is out there, and the realist in me knows relationships take work and mutual willingness to engage in that work. The matchmaking yenta in my soul knows each of us is made up of parts that may or may not mesh ― knowing your parts is paramount. The most critical thing I’ve ever learned about relationships started with these words inscribed at the Oracle of Delphi: Know thyself.
PENISES is definitely not “I must find someone who has exactly these seven attributes” or “If I like someone and we only match in a few categories, there’s no way this can work.” It’s more like, “This is who I am within each plane, and I would like someone who can absolutely nail what I’m looking for.” It’s a starting point on a quest to be both optimistic about what you want and realistic about what you need.
The PENISES are for partnering but start with self-insight. In ranking them for myself, it’s important that my date knows that if they are lacking my main priority, “P,” it’s game over, thank you, next! Differing on other parts of the acrostic may be less of a deal breaker. I like to share all of this up front with the person I’m newly seeing to learn what priorities, emphasis, or weight they might attach to one of the realms that I might consider negotiable.
I have a few friends already using the scale and, so far, it’s been successful for them. I’m crossing my fingers it will work like a charm for more people. I’ve already made so many dating mistakes myself, so I’m hoping breaking them down into these seven categories will help me ― and maybe you ― avoid them in the future. Hopefully PENISES will serve our country well, and maybe it can finally Make America Date Again!
Rubi Nicholas is a lot of things: a mom, a stand-up comedian, an educated lady with three master’s degrees, a Mensa card and a “Fairy Brown Mother” to multiple young people. … She’s also hot. But, she is shockingly single and, at 52, knows exactly why. Her journey has led her to conclude there are seven essential elements each of us needs to review with a potential partner to deem them viable for long-term commitment. She calls them the “PENISES,” because who would forget that? Spoiler alert: None of them are “love” because that’s just silly. Follow her social media as she continues the journey using PENISES to help others meet their match: on Instagram @rubinicholas, on Twitter @FairyBrwnMother and on TikTok @fairybrownmother.