Picky, Picky, Picky!

When it comes to love, are you pursuing an impossible dream? Find out here if you need to loosen up your standards a notch.

by Erika Rasmusson Janes

hen complaining that you haven’t found a special someone, you’ve probably heard the comment, “You’re just too picky.” Sure, it’s annoying. And no one is saying you should settle—after all, people who share the same beliefs and values tend to get along better, says Alicia Fortinberry, the author, along with her husband, Bob Murray, Ph.D., of Creating Optimism. But the question needs to be asked: Could your standards really be so sky-high that they’re sabotaging your love life?

“You have to strike a balance between being picky and being realistic,” says Mason Grigsby, co-author of Love at Second Sight. “On the one hand, nobody wants to waste time in this day and age. But if you’re going to have a relationship, you have to take some risks.” Here are some signs that the P-word applies to you—and advice on how to broaden your dating horizons if it does.

“Don't presume this means a person is not relationship material.”
You’re too picky if: You turn down a date because of someone’s social status—because they didn’t go to college, because they don't dress a certain way, or because they don’t covet season tickets to the opera (or because they do!).
Why you should loosen up: A huge gap in social status can be hard to overcome. But if you’re using perceived social status as an automatic deal-breaker when you’re actually attracted to someone, you could be missing out on a great mate. If you give that person a chance, you might find that they have other qualities that outweigh their job or where they grew up. Grigsby points out that on the last season of The Apprentice, “street-smart” people were pitted against “book-smart” people—but as the show progressed, the groups were intermingled and it was hard to tell the difference between those with college degrees and those without…indicating that perhaps such things as a B.A. don’t matter as much as many of us believe it does.

You’re too picky if: You say no to someone because they haven't had a long-term relationship in ages—or because they just got out of one.
Why you should loosen up: “Don't presume either of these [situations] means a person is not relationship material,” Grigsby says. Someone who’s recently ended a relationship may be eager to find a better match; someone who’s been dating around for a while may simply be picky (like you!).

You’re too picky if: You’re saying no because you’ve heard negative rumors via a friend or acquaintance about a person.
Why you should loosen up: “Gossip and rumors about another person are rarely correct,” Grigsby says. “When you hear a comment such as, ‘He’s very high-maintenance,’ or ‘She walks out on relationships,’ just remember there are two sides to every story.” Your opinion is the one that counts—find out for yourself what the person is like.

People with inflated standards might be afraid of dating and using that as a self-protective mechanism.
You’re too picky if: You turn down a date because the person seems self-centered or talks too much about himself or herself.
Why you should loosen up: “This is often nervousness or a lack of confidence,” Grigsby says. Nervous daters may clam up—or blab non-stop to avoid uncomfortable silences—and thus “may not be at ease right away.”

The list could go on and on…and in fact, if your list of deal-breakers or deal-makers in a potential mate goes on and on—and includes things like physical traits, like only dating blondes—that’s another sign you’re too picky.

Here’s how to get over it
Get a new perspective on why you’re dating. Even if you’re looking for long-term love, remind yourself that dating is an adventure; a chance to meet new people. “One woman we know told herself that she dated simply to hone her social skills, so the outcome didn't matter,” Fortinberry says. “She was much more relaxed and open to dating people she wouldn't have gone out with before—and met the love of her life.”

Make a list, but keep it short. Grigsby recommends listing three to five traits you either can’t stand or must have in a mate—like “intelligence” or “non-smoker”—and leaving it at that. Fortinberry and Murray refer to zones: green-zone needs are preferences but don’t matter that much to you; orange-zone needs are important but not deal-breakers; and red-zone needs are absolute no-no’s—someone who’s overly critical or controlling, for instance. “If you have 10 to 15 needs altogether, then you’re doing fine,” Murray says. “But if you have 10 red-zone needs, that’s an indication that you really don’t want to go out on a date at all.” That’s where the next step comes in...

Get to the bottom of your pickiness. Ask yourself why you’re so picky. Are you afraid of rejection? “Pickiness is a form of self-protection,” Fortinberry says. People with extra-inflated standards (like refusing to date anyone who’s overweight, even though you need to lose 15 pounds yourself) might be afraid of dating and using that as a self-protective mechanism; or they may suffer from such low self-esteem that they require a stunning date to prove their worth to others.

Of course, rejection from anyone hurts, but it’s an inevitable part of dating. The only way you can find a great relationship is to open yourself up to possibilities—including the possibility of rejection. So try going out with someone who doesn’t meet every item on your checklist. At worst, you’ll learn a little more about what’s important to you. At best, you could find lasting love.

Erika Rasmusson Janes is a New York-based freelance writer and editor.
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