So you’re in — and on — the market for a new relationship? If you don’t already have a checklist of the qualities you’re looking for in a partner (or partners), I want you to take a minute and jot them down on a sheet of paper. Heck, even if you’ve already got a list, do it again. Humor me. Make the list as long or as short as you’d like, add as many checkboxes and columns as you want, take as much time as you need. I’ll wait.
Done? Okay, now fold up your checklist nice and neat, find a lighter, and burn that no-good guide from edge to edge. You’re not going to the grocery store, so ditch the list. There’s a big sea of possibilities out there and clinging to your checklist can hold you back. So, it’s time to jettison that anchor and be free to find true love, or at least a promising relationship.
According to Match.com’s Singles in America survey, a quarter of all singles have a checklist of what they’re looking for in a long-term partner. Those numbers bump up to 40% for singles in their 20s. So what’s so wrong about having a checklist? Glad you asked.
1. They can focus too much on the physical.
I spoke with two former matchmakers and both lamented how many of their clients’ dating criteria was based on physical appearance. It’s fine, it’s human nature. We’ve all hastily ushered someone out of the door of possibility because they failed to check off certain boxes in the looks department (I “Nope” guys so often, I’ve developed a callous).
Jenny Hart, one of the former matchmakers I spoke with, cautions that we shouldn’t let our checklist box us in — though that doesn’t mean diving in when there’s zero attraction. “There should be at least an inkling of attraction,” she says. “But have it be only one of the factors. Really consider what your priorities and interests are because, ultimately, at the end of the day, that’s more important than attraction.”
Luckily, she takes her own advice. Jenny cites her type as someone “tall, dark, and handsome” and a few years older than her. Her last boyfriend? A fair-skinned redhead who was a year younger and only about an inch taller than her — in other words, the opposite of what she usually seeks out.
“I had never dated anyone that looked like him before,” she says. But when they met at a friend’s birthday party, she felt it and went for it, and doesn’t regret a thing. “We dated for five years, were deeply in love, and had this wonderful relationship.”
2. It’s hard to know what you want versus what you actually need.
Chances are you can easily conjure up an accurate list of what you want in a partner. But knowing what you need in a partner? That’s a whole different can of worms.
As Adina Mahalli, a mental health consultant from Jerusalem, warns, being honest enough with yourself to actually get your checklist right takes a high level of self-awareness. “You might want someone who is spontaneous like you,” she explains. “But you may need someone with a little more stability to balance you out.”
Truth hurts, but I’m going to give it to you straight anyway. When we make our checklists, we’re not only idealizing our partners, we’re also idealizing ourselves. While we may have a good idea of what we want in a partner, we’re not always the best judge of what we might need from someone (or what we can give back). Sticking to an ill-informed checklist just might create the wrong kind of filter.
3. You never know who might be waiting right around the corner.
Love loves a good surprise and often shows up when you least expect it. When Annie Kingston, the other former matchmaker I spoke with, left Vancouver to join a year-long, around-the-world program for remote workers, meeting someone was the last thing on her mind. In fact, it was kind of out of the question. A major box on the literal checklist on the back page of her journal wouldn’t allow it.
“It was ridiculous,” she says of her checklist. “It was so specific, down to the fact that I wanted them to be from British Columbia because I wanted to stay living in Vancouver forever.” She’d also never dated anyone who wasn’t Caucasian. “My town was pretty white,” she admits. “And I wasn’t really willing to go outside of the boxes of what I’d done previously.”
The universe took its cue. Early into the program, Annie met fellow program-goer Kash, a handsome, six-foot Indian guy from Iowa. They clicked and started dating. Over the last three years they’ve hit up 25 counties and currently live in Singapore, which — if you’re counting — is 7,962 miles away from Vancouver.
4. We are fickle beings.
Ask almost anyone and they’ll admit that their checklist has changed over time. Even big-ticket items that were once completely non-negotiable can fall victim to the circumstance of time. It would be a shame to miss out on a great relationship because you didn’t consider how your needs and wants might change over time.
“You know it’s funny,” says Miracle, a real estate agent from Florida. “When I was younger, I was still toying with the idea of whether or not I wanted kids — my own kids.” She says if she’d met someone back then who’d already had kids, it would have been a deal breaker. She’s now engaged to Glen, a father of two adult children. “Now that I’m older and have decided that I don’t want [my own] kids, someone else having the kids is nice.”
Religion is another huge checklist item and, according to both Jenny and Annie, is usually a non-negotiable. Patrick, also from Florida, tells me he’s always had a few things on his checklist that were important — or so he thought. “I used to think, Oh, I’m Catholic, so I need to date someone that is Catholic,” he says. Patrick now identifies as an atheist and doesn’t think he could handle the disconnect of dating a Christian. “I want to be with someone who has that same sort of spirituality, like East-meets-West. And I have that with [my partner,] Norman, and that kind of connects us in a way.”
5. No one is perfect.
Checklists create rigid, often unrealistic versions of your perfect person, closing the door to an unknown number of fish that could have been a catch.
“Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations when looking for a partner,” notes Meredith Futernick, a licensed counselor to individuals and couples in Florida’s LGBTQ community. “We may have a list of checkboxes, but what if you can’t find someone who meets all of your expectations?”
When my friend’s older sister was hesitant about getting married to a man she’d been with for years and had virtually no big conflicts with, her mom sent her a cartoon of a clothed skeleton sitting alone in a chair. Underneath, the caption read, “Waiting for the perfect man.” Chills, right?
We live in a world full of real, faulted-ass people. Just because you can write down what makes up your perfect person on paper doesn’t make it so. “Sometimes what you have in your head, that person does not exist,” says Jenny. “You know, in your town or in this time of your life.” Or, might I add, at all.
For those not quite ready to strike the match to their lists, Adina offers a good compromise. Try not to think of the boxes on your checklist as the “things that define a person” but rather as things “you wouldn’t mind if your partner had.”
For the rest of us: Light it up.