Please, Put Down Your Dating Checklist Already


Lists: we all have them.

For some, it is a mental list tucked inside their brains of the things they quietly hope to find in a future romantic partner. For others, it is a physical checklist they've been compiling over the course of their dating lives, a masterpiece of sorts that becomes more specific and detailed as the years go by. Take for example, the list generated by a young blogger named Jessica Doyle. It's titled "What I'm Looking For in a Man," and it features 129 qualities—starting with intelligence, and moving quickly into the ever-important world of computer preferences. She wants a guy who uses Macs, as opposed to PCs. She wants him to be five foot ten, or taller. She wants him to have full lips, to be in shape and out of debt, to love his family and friends.

Many relationship experts and dating websites advise people to make similar lists so they might understand exactly what they are looking for in a mate. The goal, perhaps, is to add a bit of logic to an otherwise illogical process of falling for someone, and a little logic never hurt anyone, right?

But what happens when even the lists become illogical? What happens when they become, dare I say it, unrealistic? Narcissistic? Larger than life? When the lists start bearing an eerie resemblance to those Build-A-Bear Workshops in the mall—only, instead of building toys, you're building fake human beings inside your head—fake human beings that you hope and pray actually do exist because THIS is what you want and expect, and the more you think about it, you just won't settle for less!

Because nobody wants to settle. And nobody especially wants to be seen as the type of person who settles, because those people are kind of pathetic, if you're really being honest. Those are the people who have given up on life—given up on their dreams. No, you do not want to become that person.

If you're a Christian, this burden of not settling carries an extra weight because settling is seen as indirectly proportional to faith. The common Christian narrative claims that true faith exists when we settle for nothing less than "God's best for us." However, pinpointing what exactly that is can be a bit tricky sometimes, and I would argue that even for non-Christians, what we think we want and need is not always what's best for us. In fact, holding too tightly to an idea of what our lives should look like can often be debilitating and actually keep us from finding happiness.

As important as it is to have standards and self-respect when choosing a mate, it is equally important to recognize how your steadfast adherence to lists may be more of a hindrance than anything else. 3 Mistakes You May Make When Looking For Love

When I consider the millions of single people in this world who are searching for love, yet never able to find the right person, it makes me wonder if those lists don't have something to do with it. Are all of these lists and the fantasies they create actually keeping us from happiness? Have we given them too much control? Have they made us far too picky and narrowly focused?

When I first considered these questions, my initial thought was that being picky might be a newer phenomenon—a generational thing, so I asked my mom if she or any of the women she knew in the 1970s ever had lists of the qualities they wanted in a man. She told me she didn't, and that she'd never heard of such a thing—even when she thought back to all the young, single women that worked in her office. None of them had lists. None of them were overly specific.

More dating advice from YourTango:

We speculated as to why my generation has gotten more selective, and my mother noted that online dating might have played a small role. "In the 70s, we didn't have detailed profiles and questionnaires and compatibility tests to consider. Nowadays, it seems a lot of people do online dating, and it naturally makes them think about all that stuff more than we ever did." 

She also noted that women today are more educated and more concerned with their careers than they were in the 1970s, which would then lead them to want men with comparable backgrounds and goals. "But, was there any specific way that you and the women in your office approached dating?" I asked. "Not really," she said. "We just went out with whomever we wanted and decided from there."

Go out with whomever you want and decide from there? A novel idea, isn't it? In the spirit of balance, how might my generation learn to do the same thing—while still maintaining some sort of standards, of course? Here are a few ideas...

1. Make a list, but don't let it rule you. Dale, age 32, is a single Christian who tells the story of his female friend who allowed her list to rule her dating life. She was in her mid-twenties and had been single for quite some time when she finally met a guy she was interested in at church. They began to date and to care for one another, but before she was able to make a commitment to him, she felt it necessary to consult her list.

"I couldn't believe it when she brought it out because it had something like 200 things on it," Dale explains. "When she wasn't able to check off more than 20 items from her list, she got concerned and thought, maybe this isn't the right guy for me. Yet, the irony is that before she looked at the list, she told me she was crazy about him." Allow Yourself To Let Go For Good

The point of making lists is to give yourself a general guideline, not to create some sort of law that you set in stone. Dale's friend wasn't allowing her intuition to guide her at all, and neither were the following women my friend Kari told me about.

"I've seen women use their lists as a way to justify staying with guys who treat them like crap," says Kari, age 25. "They ignore the way they are being treated simply because their boyfriends fulfill a good 50 percent of the items on their checklist. There's this fear that if they break up with them, they'll never find anyone else who fits their list so perfectly. Meanwhile, these guys aren't even good for them!"

To avoid both those traps, Tracy McMillan, author of Why You’re Not Married . . . Yet, encourages women to choose two or the dealbreakers from their lists and then let the rest go. She writes, "When you're faced with an actual human being, sometimes things that you'd think you just couldn’t deal with suddenly turn out to be not that big a deal. The other factor is that being in a relationship matures a person, so what [you] consider a dealbreaker now might just be a preference five years down the road."

2. Recognize that there is a difference between preferences and dealbreakers. The reality is that you're probably not going to find someone who fits all of your preferences all of the time. For Dale's friend, her massive checklist was likely packed with preferences—some of which may have even changed between writing the list and meeting her potential boyfriend. Yet, preferences are not needs, they're wants. For example, I can want to find a guy who is tall, with dark hair, and a high-paying job, but none of those things are actual necessities. 

In regards to the women Kari spoke of, I don't know what their lists looked like, but my gut reaction is to think they might have been heavy on superficialities, such as tall, dark, handsome, drives a nice car, owns his own home. Perhaps the men they were dating had all of these traits, but did these men treat them with respect and kindness? Not so much. Which brings me to my next point...

3. Ask yourself if the traits on your list are overly shallow and superficial. McMillan calls it "thinking like a teenager" who doesn't know how to make clear decisions because she's too busy trying to impress the people around her. McMillan writes, "A key feature of adulthood is letting go of what other people think and making choices that are right for you even if other people don't approve of or understand them." She also adds, "Unless you are planning to be someone's trophy wife, adolescent thinking will tend to keep you from getting married. And even if you do manage to wangle a husband who fits your list, the marriage itself will be sort of shallow. How could it be anything else? It's all based on superficialities."


4. Shift your focus outward, rather than inward. Instead of spending mountains of time and energy daydreaming of what you want and can possibly gain from a relationship, why not shift your perspective a bit? "The thing with lists is that they're so selfish and one-sided," Kari explains. "When I hear women going on and on about their lists, I just want to say to them, 'Have you ever given any thought to what you might bring to the relationship?'" 4 Selfless Actions That Reveal You're In Love

Point taken. Once again, ouch.

5. Practice letting your guard down. This goes for women of all stripes, but is especially helpful advice for Christian women, who, in my humble opinion, tend to throw their guards up whenever men are within the premises.

For example, I know many Christian women (and I am one of them) who get hit on a lot by men who aren't Christian, and who therefore do not fit within the confines of their lists. They want a man who shares their faith, and it is frustrating that they often meet amazingly wonderful men who don't. They don't want to fall for these men, so they put their guards up whenever they meet them. They do this over and over again until it becomes a habit with every single guy—because even the ones who claim to be Christian might not be strong enough Christians, and they don't want to risk falling for them, either.

Experience has taught me that men can tell when you're being guarded and when you're being open. And they usually don't ask out girls when their guardss are up, so practice letting them down—even if the guy you're talking to doesn't seem perfect off the cuff. Just try letting him in a tiny bit, and go from there.

6. Stop searching for "Spiritual Superman." What do I mean by "Spiritual Superman?" I'm talking about your Christian fantasy man—the one you dream about who is so amazingly in tune with God that he raises his arms in praise during every worship song, he volunteers on mission trips, he prays boldly, he wears a purity ring, and maybe even plays guitar during Bible study group.

If you've grown up in Christian culture, you've likely been taught that the man needs to be the "spiritual leader" in the relationship, which then makes you question whether the men you date are actually capable of this. Is he spiritually mature enough? you wonder. Should You Stop Looking for Mr. Perfect?

Meanwhile, all this questioning and anxiety has multiple drawbacks. It puts a ton of pressure on men, and it asks the women they date to judge them prematurely. Rather than searching for "Spiritual Superman," why not try meeting men wherever they're at in their spiritual walk by asking the following two questions: 1) Is God working in his life? 2) Is he receptive to it?

If the answer is yes to both of those questions, try pushing point number four a little bit more. Try letting your guard down just a bit further. Start getting to know him. Acknowledge his humanity and the fact that he's probably going to make mistakes. He's going to have questions and doubts about his faith, just as you will too.

And lastly...

7. Don't take yourself or your dating life so seriously. Creating a massive list that draws a detailed portrait of everything you want in a mate is a sure-fire sign you may be taking yourself too seriously. You're letting your vision become larger than life, and potentially even assuming you know what's best for you.

Newsflash: You probably don't.

I know I sure didn't. I'm in my thirties, and I am still in the process of figuring it out. Once I stopped taking it all so seriously, this process actually became fun. It became a game of sorts—a game I only sometimes win. But that's OK; I am almost to the point where I've stopped keeping score.

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.