Over the past decade or so, anyone who has dated online has suffered somewhat from the tyranny of choice. This concept can be understood as a paradox where having more options may in fact lead you to misery.
In the case of dating, this misery is largely self-made. In response to the huge numbers of single people out there, we ramp up our expectations. Instead of a few deal-breakers, now people have dozens. After wearing ourselves out in search of unicorns who check every box, we settle for situationships rather than real relationships. These shallow connections often leave us underwhelmed, jaded, or worse — heartbroken. We ask ourselves what the point of all our effort is, since it seems no one is exactly what we want.
Instead of looking at these other real, three-dimensional humans as people who, like you, are searching for love — we regard them as chaff to be weeded out on the road to someone better, someone perfect. We either end up mistreating others, or being mistreated ourselves when we fail to set reasonable expectations and date in good faith.
Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with having preferences. I do think, though, that we need to be a bit more realistic, and go back to narrowing those preferences down a bit. At the same time, we need to leave room within the essential categories so that good people are not thrown away before they’re given a chance. For me, there are five basic traits which are absolutely essential for love to develop. Let’s see if my five resonate with you:
Intelligent: This person does not need to be formally educated, but must be able to have interesting conversations and bring something mentally stimulating to the table. Perhaps they’ve owned their own business, or educated themselves by reading, or both.
Kind: This is surprisingly complicated, but entails a balance of qualities such as generosity, thoughtfulness, and supportiveness. Likewise, a kind partner does not belittle, criticize to excess, or disappear when needed.
Attractive: Though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in the context of a relationship, it is not unreasonable to need to be physically attracted to the person your eye beholds.
Honest: The honest partner avoids lying at nearly all costs, and as a result gains trust and respect. An honest person is also loyal, and does not cheat.
Independent: There are a lot of ways to be independent, but essentially this means that you do not lean on other people often, if ever. You’re capable of taking care of yourself and charting your own course, and do.
As you can see from my descriptions, these are pretty loose interpretations. Attractive doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be of a certain height, or ethnicity, or eye color. Honesty leaves some room for hiding a surprise party, or other reasonable misdirection. An independent person doesn’t need to own their own house, or have a six-figure salary.
For the most part, people can demonstrate these qualities to me over time, and so I am able to date with an open mind. Of course, some of these will clearly be present or absent quickly. Did your date lie to you? Do they hate reading and learning? Do they lack ambition beyond watching television on their sibling’s couch?
You’ll have to decide for yourself what is essential for you. Perhaps you don’t need an especially intelligent partner, and would prefer someone who is hilarious, and light-hearted. Maybe you don’t require an independent partner, but must be with someone who is mysterious and endlessly interesting. For some people, fidelity is no big deal. Those folks might instead need to look for someone who wants an open relationship.
To escape the tyranny of choice, we need to ask ourselves what things are truly essential for love, trust and happiness. We also need to look at our own lives, and be sure we are of the same standard we expect of others.
We’re all human, and there is a lot to be gained from building an intimate, loving relationship with another person. We shouldn’t be sizing each other up at a glance, but regarding each individual as a complex puzzle of possibility.
Maybe after some conversation you determine that they aren’t right for you, but they’re perfect for your friend. If you are unkind, if you use them, you will probably lose them forever. (In truth, I think we also lose a little of ourselves each time we treat others badly.) Even if there’s no romantic spark, maybe you share interests and want to work on a project together, to start a band or write a script. There is so much to gain from being fair and honest, and so little to lose.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself what your perfect partner is like, close your eyes and imagine them, and then go over your image with an eraser a bit. Scuff your ideal up so that when someone close comes along, they are able to fit.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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