How Skilled Are We at Choosing a Mate?

The three major characters in No River Too Wide are not as diverse as they first appear.

Choosing a mate can be dangerousWhile they are varied in age and outlook on life, Harmony, Jan and Taylor have one major thing in common. Each woman is examining exactly what she looks for or looked for when choosing a man to love.

Falling in love is a wonderful theme. We have an entire classification of genres dedicated to this: the romance novel. I wrote many romances myself and was happy to do so. But No River Too Wide isn’t a romance novel, although it certainly has romance in it. No River is about the way we select the men with whom we want to spend our lives, the men with whom we want to fall in love.

If you do a quick Google search on “choosing a mate” you’ll find more advice than any sane person could want or use.  For instance Psychology Today proclaims that when choosing a mate, pay attention to the person you become when you’re with the person you love. (Good advice, I think.)  Both Jewish and Christian websites stress the importance of choosing according to character.

Wikipedia explains it all scientifically: “Five mechanisms that explain the evolution of mate choice are currently recognized. They are direct phenotypic benefits, sensory bias, Fisherian runaway, indicator traits, and genetic compatibility.” Want to know more about that? (I didn’t.) You can find that article here

No River Too Wide, of course, is a novel, and as the author I make more than a few observations about the relationships between men and women and what to watch for. Without ruining the story for you, here are a few:

  • Learn to take care of yourself and be wary of a man who makes you feel incapable.
  • Physical violence is intolerable, as is allowing your partner to isolate you from your friends and family.
  • You can’t force yourself to fall in love. Logical choices are important, but so is physical and emotional attraction.
  • Some things can be forgiven and should be. Some things mean you should walk out the door and never look back.
  • Take your time when choosing a mate, because despite our divorce rate you’re supposed to be in this relationship for life.
  • Trust your feelings and don’t let yourself be talked out of them.
  • A bad relationship can’t be saved by your own good behavior.

Many years ago when I was a marriage and family counselor, not a novelist, I observed a number of troubled relationships. The one thing each had in common? The couple could not and would not listen to each other. As I sat there trying to help them untangle their lives, I always wished that I could have seen them together in the early days of their courtship. Did they listen then?  Was “not” listening the result of years of friction? Or had they begun their relationship that way?

So to the list above I’ll add: Find a partner who listens to you, and in turn, listen to everything he says to you, even the things you don’t want to hear.

Especially the things you don’t want to hear.

Sometimes a man has no interest in listening: Jan and Rex. Sometimes a man and a woman are unable to express anything important that’s going on inside them: Taylor and Adam. And sometimes a man and a woman can talk about anything except how they feel about each other: Harmony and Nate.

What would you add to the list from your own experience?

No River Too Wide is now available at bookstores everywhere.  Buying links are available here.


  1. Eva Maria on July 1, 2014 at 1:32 am

    I think, at looked for a mate who was able to make me to the best version of myself – happy, generous, loonging for “growing” more. A person who still after 23 year is able to say to me: Yes, I still beleive, you can do this and I will help you to live your dreams…:-)

    • Emilie Richards on July 1, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Very similar to what Psych Today was saying, and very good advice.

  2. Debbie Haupt on July 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Great advice Emilie. I can totally see you as a counselor from reading your many novels. After 35 years of marriage I think a very important thing to mention is tolerance. Another is that after so long it’s nice to have a friend at your side to grow old together.

  3. Lynn Ross on July 1, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I always tell young women to form friendships with other women and to not expect their man to be their girl friend. The thing I treasured most about my own relationship is that he had his life, I had my life and we had our life together, and we both supported each other’s personal interests. Friendship is also important.

  4. Jayme Moore on July 29, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I wish I could add something that I have learned after 22 years of marriage. Your blog just confirmed everything I did wrong. I chose a mate more from flattery I think. I married someone after only knowing them for two years (most of which was long distance). I didn’t get to know myself at all. In the end, it seems that my “partner” was more narcissistic than anything else. Not that he is a textbook narcissist, but he certainly had a way of letting me know the things that went wrong in our marriage were my fault. Now, here I am 22 years later with 3 children (15, 17 and 21) and I am struggling to find a way to end it. I fought for years to make it work, to compromise on the things that he said were the problem. In the end, compromise meant only I had to make changes and only I had to fight for the marriage. Change from him, didn’t come until I told him I wanted a divorce, but after 22 years of fighting for my family, my feelings were – are- finally gone. And even so, his changes are inconsistent. When I was ready to file, he was diagnosed with cancer, and lost his job a few months later. Needless to say, I didn’t move forward. I decided to stick it out and support him through it. Now he has a permanent colostomy, a new job, and he’s about halfway through his remaining chemo treatments. We are sleeping separately, as we have been for many months, and certainly not in a healthy relationship. I want to move forward. But, I am struggling with the right time to tell my kids, and whether I am going to be able to make it on my own financially. Ugh.

    • Emilie Richards on July 30, 2014 at 8:32 am

      Jayme, I hope you’re getting some counseling because talking this through with an objective bystander trained to help might make all the difference. As for your children? Perhaps they are completely aware of what has gone wrong and might even be relieved eventually that they are no longer living with the tension between you. But a counselor can help you decide what you should do next. I certainly wish you well at this very difficult time and hope the right path for you opens up soon.

      • Jayme on July 30, 2014 at 11:44 pm

        Thanks, Emilie! Yes, we went to counseling together this past winter and then I continued to go for a few weeks by myself. Since I didn’t mean to take up this blog with my story, I won’t go into the results.

        So much of what I stumbled across in this blog hit home. There was actually something that was said, or thought, in the Sam and Christine story in Endless Chain that caused me to yell, “Yes! That’s exactly what I feel!” So, thank you for sharing!

        What I’m struggling with now is the fact that I fought so hard to keep my family together and now I am the one who wants to end it.

        • Emilie Richards on August 1, 2014 at 9:31 am

          Another way to look at that, Jayme, is that your husband, by not making any real effort to change or improve things, has responsibility for ending it, too. I wish you the very best and hope that you come to a decision you can live with and that your children–who have lived through this with you–will accept and understand.

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