He was talking about a third guy I'd seen online. This guy seemed smart and interesting, and he was an involved parent, but he wore a Pink bow tie in his photo, he was short, and he was nearly bald. Not my type. So the dating coach told me to make a list of "needs"—as opposed to my "wants"—and I came up with fourteen things. But here's the catch: I was allowed to have only three.
I was surprised. Only three?
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"The difference between 'needs' and 'wants' is crucial," he explained. "If you have fourteen 'needs,' it means that if a guy has thirteen of the fourteen qualities, he's gone! And even if he's most of these things, you have to remember that a lot of good qualities flip over and become bad qualities. Someone highly intelligent and analytical can also be opinionated and a know-it-all. Someone easy-going may have no opinions or be lazy."
He told me about a client of his who'd had her heart broken by a charming, but commitment-phobic man. When she was ready to date again, she went online and sifted through her responses. She was excited about one guy who reminded her of her ex. They went out on a date, he said he'd call, and he didn't. The Six Archetypes of Love
But another guy did. "In her view, he wasn't the most compelling candidate in the bunch," he said, "but he just kept asking her out. Every time my client would go on a date with him, she would have fun. And then she'd complain to me that he wasn't what she was looking for."
He was too short for her. He wasn't rugged enough. But he met her needs: he was thoughtful and reliable, he had the same values as she did, and he shared a similar lifestyle. And when she distinguished between her wants and her needs, she fell in love. She thought she wanted the charming, manly-man guy—and maybe on some level she still wants that—but what she needed was someone fun and thoughtful and reliable who had similar goals and values.
"What you want isn't necessarily good for you," he said. "And in going after the person you think you want, you ignore what you really need."
It's true. After all, sometimes our desires even contradict themselves: I want someone with strong opinions... who never argues. I want someone who's spontaneous and wild... who has a stable job.
Needs, on the other hand, go like this:
You want someone creative.
You need someone you can trust.
You want someone who shares your love of jazz.
You need someone who appreciates some of your interests.
You want someone who is athletic and physically active.
You need someone who accepts you even if you let your body go.
Using this as a guideline, I was able to narrow down my list to three essential needs: intellectually curious, kid-friendly, and financially stable.
Obviously, these weren't the only qualities I would be looking for in a partner, but they would be the only basis on which I could rule someone out for a first date. In other words, I couldn't say no to a first date with a guy who wore bow ties, but met these three requirements.
And guess what? Bow-tie guy became my boyfriend. No, he didn't match the mental check-list I'd been carrying around with me. And he wasn't what I used to think of as my type, like the guys I'd always dated in the past (but who, incidentally, never worked out). The great surprise about Bow-tie guy was that he met my three needs and my most important "want": I wanted to be with him.
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Lori Gottlieb is the author of the new book, MARRY HIM: THE CASE FOR SETTLING FOR MR. GOOD ENOUGH, which has been optioned for film by Tobey Maguire for Warner Bros. Her website is www.lorigottlieb.com.