"I did but see her passing by,

And yet I love her till I die"

No one is sure to whom these haunting words were addressed. But one thing is certain: since the beginning of time there have been women like that, women who seem to have been born with a grace and charm that makes them live on forever in the hearts of those who know them.

What makes them unforgettable? Why does one woman have this magic while others, though they are kind and attractive, pass and are gone? There is no easy answer. Yet if you query men (who should know) certain characteristics are mentioned again and again.

Sex appeal, of course, most unforgettable women have; yet by itself it is not enough. Many of the memorable women of history retained their captivating charm in old age and kept the devoted attention of the men who had loved them in their youth. Beauty, certainly, does no harm, but some of the most intriguing women have not been beautiful.

Perhaps the most universal answer is that the unforgettable woman is warm and responsive. In my own informal poll three out of four men thought that responsiveness was what indeared a woman to them most of all. "There are people," said the brillant French essayist, Raoul de Roussey de Sales, "who transmit to others their particular emotional atmosphere; who show you how to love, to suffer, to be happy, to laugh at the humorous things in life."

The unforgettable woman is like that. You know that she is aware of you. Her mind is hospitable to your ideas, her heart to your joys and sorrows. She is not an onlooker of life. On the contrary, she is in the middle of it. She cares; things happen to her; she happens to them.

Everything a man does with such a woman becomes a memory. Because she was delighted, intrigued, curious...he remembers the morning he took her to the Fisherman's Market for breakfast; because she made it fun to walk in the rain the night the car broke down, he remembers her every time it the reain falls. She can eat happily in a rowboat or in the most exclusive restaurant. "She belongs to the mmoment she is in," said a stockbroker. "She gives herself to the thing she is doing." Almost all greatly loved women have had this quality of joy in the moment.

Since she is responsive, the unforgettable woman has a genius for discovering what is worthwhile in another person. This one is witty, but his shyness prevents people from knowing it. She sparks that wit and sets if flowing. Under a hard-boiled exterior, this other one is a dreaming idealist. The responsive woman comes quietly on this hidden bloom and rejoices in it.

Paradoxically, the unforgettable woman has a deep core of "aloneness." She is a person in her own right. She is not lost in the crowd, and this is not to say that she stands out as the life of the party. It is rather that she has a sense of serenity and personal security, that some of her joys are inward, that she has a satisfying existence in her own mind and imagination. This integrity and inward richness keeps such a woman from any slavish desire to please. It gives her a wonderful simplicity and protects her from fussiness and pettiness.

The unforgettable woman is also feminine, but she is not necessarily assertive about it. Recently a young dance instructor, who sees hundreds of women a year, make a remark that struck me as illuminating. "The woman who keeps pushing her femininity isn't really feminine at all," he said. "The really feminine woman isn't proving anything. She isn't always getting into the conversation. She doesn't try to make you notice her and her clothes. It's just that when you are with her you feel like a man."

Other men agree. This feeling, they say, is induced by the fact that the very womanly woman has a tenderness for a man. She never thinks of herself as engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle to get what is coming to her. She likes men, respects and admires what they are trying to acheive, hopes to make them happy. It is not sexual prowess or a fawning helplessness or the ability to wear clothes that makes a woman feminine, but tenderness and concern and the willingness to sacrifice for others.

Must the unforgettable woman be intelligent? "Yes," say an astonishing number of men. Intelligence can flower into a rich and mellow wisdom, a magic something that helps us get the most our of the world we live in; or it can be a weapon with which to destroy. If a woman's intelligence is the whetstone on which she hones the little barbs that destroy a man, she'll be unforgettable all right-but not in a way that can give her much joy. But if her intelligence is an adjunct to the subtler understanding of the heart; if it helps her to build a bridge between a man's thought and hers; if, when he talks to her, he finds himself thinking more brillantly and profoundly that is his wont, then he will remember her with warmth and delight.

What else? Victorian though it may sound, a woman is unforgettable because she is good. To be sure, some very unvirtuous ladies, both free with their favors and stingy with their love, have lodged themselves in men's minds. But, to an astonishing degree, the women who have lived in history as unforgettable have been "good" women not always conventional, perhaps, but honorable, loving, courageous and generous.

Indeed, the woman who lacks these qualities has a short tenure on charm, for goodness is more imperishably beautiful than anything else. Pettiness and hatred, meanness and greed take very little time to inscribe their unlovely handiwork on a woman's face.

Finally, the unforgettable woman makes other people feel larger than life. She gives a man the sense of being more than he thought he was, leads him further than he thought he could go. "When you're with a woman you really know and trust," said a thoughtful acquaintance, "you say and do things you've always wanted but somehow couldn't bring yourself to say and do with your everyday friends. In the end, the most unforgettable woman is the one who leads the spirit out of its hiding place."

Not many women can blaze through the pages of their time bright in the memory of thousands of people. But every woman could be unforgettable to the man who loved and chose her. For the woman a man remembers in the end is the woman he needs, the one who comforts, the one who can give him security and fruitful experience. And the more a woman seeks to live naturally by the best of herself, the more she loves, the more gentle she is in her life, the warmer her responsiveness, the more she will be the woman needed and, therefore, the woman unforgettable.

~Ardis Whitman

More Station Master's Opinion Pages

First Steps in Winning the War
Stay at Home Women
Check Your Attitude
The Rules

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