Neely Steinberg with her husband Dave and their daughter Stella, shortly after she was born. (Courtesty of Neely Steinberg)

I met Dave on Match.com five years ago. Two years later, we were married. A year and a half after that, we welcomed the most beautiful creature onto the planet: a baby girl we named Stella. I delivered Stella via Cesarean section, an insignificant detail except for the fact that the experience deepened my love for my husband.

Recovery from a C-section isn’t pleasant. Managing the pain requires several days of constant medications; for the first couple of days, you urinate through a catheter. When the catheter is removed, so begin the wild adventures of getting into the bathroom and onto the toilet. One of the nurses dutifully helped me take my first trek while my husband was sleeping inches away, contorted on a pull-out chair-sofa. For the remainder of our hospital stay, Dave was the one, often in the wee hours of the night, who helped me navigate across the cold, sterile floor to the restroom.

I’ll never forget the way Dave helped me into the bathroom and onto the toilet. Taking my hands as I rolled myself out of bed, he repeated the words, “slooooow, deliberate.” Walking to the bathroom at a snail’s pace, “slooooow, deliberate.” Taking down my granny panty hospital underwear to reveal an enormous bloody pad and helping me onto the toilet, my face twisting into all sorts of anguished shapes, he repeated: “sloooow, deliberate.” Watching me pee, wipe, stand, flush the toilet, he helped me back into bed, “slooooow, deliberate.”

[I love my boyfriend, but I never want to get married]

At the time, I thought: This is why I married this man. Not for his fabulous head of hair or his beautiful, light-brown eyes — though those things were certainly bonuses. But no. It was his gentleness, his thoughtfulness, his loving heart, his caring nature that sealed the deal for me.

As a dating coach who works with singles in their 20s to 50s, I see a lot of people focusing on superficial things that have little to do with a potential partner’s character. I get it — I once obsessed over those things, too.

Most of all, I see how the trap of chemistry can lead people astray. Chemistry is important, but as far as relationships go, it’s only half the equation.

So how do you look for these deeper, more important qualities in the early stages of dating? Some might argue there’s no way to tell in, say, the first several months of dating someone — after all, it is the honeymoon stage — if this is the type of person who will help you onto the toilet during times of trial. I disagree.

[Warning! The engagement avalanche begins at age 25.]

Looking back to the early days of dating Dave, all the signs were there. He treated my friends with care and kindness, which showed me he had the ability to be compassionate. The way he scoured the Internet for the perfect gifts for my parents and nephews showed me his thoughtful, generous side. He rubbed my back and wiped my tears after I suffered a heart-wrenching squash match loss, showing me that validating my feelings was important to him (even if I’m the most competitive person alive and it was just a squash match). He listened to me vent after a difficult fallout with a colleague, showing me he was ready and willing to be a part of my support system.

When he stayed up until the early hours of the morning, helping me with Web site issues relating to my coaching business, I knew I’d found someone who would support me in my professional goals as well as physically and emotionally. When he held my hands and said “We’ll figure it out” while I was dealing with a frustrating medical situation, that was probably my biggest clue that he’d be so supportive in that hospital room years down the line.

Singles should keep their eyes open for these signs. They’re more telling than a person’s job, salary, ambition or education; whether he or she is the “right age”; has the perfect body; or can dazzle you with their charm and wit.

Keep your eyes open for the type of person who one day might lovingly help you onto the toilet.

Meet 10 incredible couples and hear the fascinating stories behind the start of their relationships. (McKenna Ewen/The Washington Post)

 

READ MORE:

He wouldn’t kiss me until I got tested for STDs

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, professional soul mates

These breakups really slayed. History’s three biggest splits.