I used to make lists of the qualities I wanted in a man. On paper, in my head. I judged myself by these lists: the perfect list, neither too long nor too short, meant that I myself was probably worth dating (and thus obviously marrying) because I was into things just-so. I focused on strength, or moral qualities, on intelligence and wit, but I had to sneak in hot, succinct as the X on a treasure map, and the draw of hot was stronger than any gold-lust there was. Hot like heat, like the smell of trees in summer, like the sweat standing out against bronzed musculature, like a close-cropped head shading my own. Hot represented the desire behind the neat lines of smart, loves children, employed. I felt shallow for including this, so at times I tried to leave it off. Hot made my list seem like I was treating my imagined relationship and my imagined partner like a commodity, like I was looking for Something instead of Someone.

But now it seems less that way than the other things, the things I really meant by smart, loves children, employed. Hot was the one thing on my list that represented a state of being, an undemanding constant, some ineffable animal quality — the gravity of the nose in heat. Hot meant it was real, that I was not just pragmatically checking off items from a list.

Any joke is funny because of the truth or pattern behind it, and “I want you because you’re rich” or “I want you because you will impress my friends” is no exception. Because in our culture, and perhaps in all cultures, we tend to define relationships (at least when we’re looking to get into or get out of them) by what we want the other person to do or like, and become distressed or annoyed when people fail to deliver in the ways we expect. We want someone who makes us feel superiorfree therapy, hot meals, idealized sex, a stable yet romantic sperm donor, someone to pay for our clothes, free labor. Real people tend to be a good deal messier than this, in bad ways and in infinitely good ways.

It would be great to end this with some pithy fix-it: do this and you’re ensured to have amazing relationships with amazing people all the time. When I come up with it, I’ll share it. Until then, I’ll be cracking jokes in an effort to crack the bigger egg of life.