Me: otherwise easygoing SF, 29, in desirable neighborhood near excellent schools and world-class cheese market. You: 31-36, Ivy League (except Penn), minimum 5’ 10", maximum 180 lbs., pectoral-to-waist ratio .33; fiscal conservative/social liberal; profession: law, medicine, banking (employer must have innovative paternity leave policy); hobbies: pan-Asian cooking, helping the needy, foot rubs; civil to (but not “friends” with) ex-girlfriends (maximum: 2); informed, witty, self-starter: equally comfortable chatting at state dinners and changing tires. Send introductory email along with photo, high school and college transcripts, 3 recommendations (1 academic, 1 professional, 1 non-threatening friend-girl) plus two 750-word essays on the topics: (1) “A Man of Quality is Not Threatened By A Woman For Equality” and (2) “Why I Always Share My Feelings.”
Your online profile may not look exactly like that, but for some people — and you know who you are — it sends out practically the same vibe. According to some dating experts, there’s a “picky” pandemic: women (and men, too, but to a lesser degree) with impossible-to-meet standards who wear their massive checklists on their sleeves. Women who are… well, still inexplicably single. Does this sound even a little bit like you? If so, how do you manage your expectations without selling yourself short?
There’s a difference between being “picky” and “unrealistic”
First, a disclaimer. At some level, you should be picky. After all, if your goal is marriage, we’re talking about the one person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with; being a little choosy goes a long way. Look at the tales of divorce, infidelity, domestic violence, serially crappy relationships — not to mention uncomfortable weddings where you know something’s off and it probably won’t last. Arguably, plenty of people aren’t picky enough.
Focus on your deal-breakers first, then re-evaluate the rest of the list
So, then, how do you determine what is truly important and what isn’t? Many people are willing to concede — or, at least, they know they should concede — that looks, really, are only skin deep. Yet they still, explicitly or reflexively, rule out (for example) short men, tall women or people with weird laughs. “They say things like, ‘That’s just not what I’m attracted to,’” says dating coach Evan Marc Katz, author of Why You’re Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad. “But maybe attraction isn’t the most important thing.” That doesn’t mean you give up on lust, passion, or even simple chemistry. It just means you may not feel it like a lightning bolt when you walk into the First Date Café and that you should at least give it a chance to develop — even with people you may not consider your “type.”
Why? Because then you can focus on what is important. Not the person “on paper” or in a vacuum, but on the relationship you can potentially build with someone. “If you say, ‘Grandma, what’s the secret of your relationship?’ she doesn’t say, ‘Grandpa is smoking hot,’” Katz says. “It’s the ‘boring’ stuff. The trust, laughter, honesty, compassion and shared values. You need to remember that you’re making an investment for 40 years, not three months. Who’s going stick by you to raise children, or when you get sick... or a parent dies? That’s the character stuff that only partially reveals itself on date #1. You need to look at what’s going to endure after the initial ‘thrill’ is gone.”
Hasty rejections can lead to missed opportunities
Gottlieb agrees. She herself wound up falling for a guy who — had she not ultimately followed her own advice — she would have ruled out based on his profile photo alone. “What kind of a dork wears a bow tie?” she initially thought, but, pushing past her prejudices, she found out the offending accessory was part of a story about his family that made her like him even more. And even if there hadn’t been a great story, Gottlieb says, it still would have been fine: “So what’s the big deal about a little fashion faux pas? Is that the kind of thing that makes your marriage unhappy?”
So if you’re in need of some too-picky therapy, think of it this way: you’re not lowering your standards; you’re expanding them. Here’s how:
Edit your checklist. You are allowed only three essential requirements and none of them can be physical attributes. For example: “Kind to others, intellectually curious, likes animals” — or if you’re not into pets, “wants children” (as far as you can tell on date #1).
Go on a second date. Anyone who passes your three-point checklist gets to date #2. Anyone.
Broaden your “type” but trust your gut. If, after two dates, you honestly can’t see it — e.g., you struggle to make conversation, or you clash on a moral principle — you may let it go guilt-free. After all, you’ve got to make time for all the new possibilities you’ve now opened up for yourself.
Lynn Harris (www.lynnharris.net) is co-creator, with Chris Kalb (www.chriskalb.com), of the award-winning website BreakupGirl.net. A longtime journalist, Lynn has written about dating, gender, and culture high and low for Glamour, Marie Claire, The New York Times, Salon.com, Nerve.com, and many others. She is currently the communications strategist for Breakthrough, a transnational organization that creates pop culture to promote human rights. Submit your dating questions via email@example.com.