Sunday, August 2, 2009

The laundry list

A lot of people make the mistake of creating a huge laundry list of attributes that their prospective partner should have, or have not. The ability to create your own profile and choose from a seemingly infinite supply of potential partners (ignoring geographic and demographic realities) make it awfully tempting to order yourself up a perfect mate. Detail by detail, your lover becomes more and more wonderful.

The problem is, nobody is quite like your fantasy. It's simple math: if 30% have Attribute A, and 20% of those have attribute B, and 50% of those have attribute doesn't take many attributes before the odds become staggeringly high against anybody having all of them. And all you've succeeded in doing is turning off any number of people who don't pass muster, according to your profile.

The thing is, you don't really care about most of that stuff. Trust me, you don't. You might think you care about a lot of it, but if somebody is fun and terrific and makes you laugh and is nice to you and you find yourself wanting to be around them, all of a sudden your fantasy will start looking more and more like that person, and less and less like the imaginary character you described in your profile.

Here's the list of what you should care about:

(1) Do you genuinely respect each other?
(2) Is your prospective partner generally kind and considerate? (Note that these are two slightly different things. A person can be kind-hearted without always being considerate, and a person can be considerate and follow the right protocol without being particularly kind).
(3) Are you compatible in terms of lifestyle and philosophy? You should be on the same page about kids, and either agree on things like politics and religion or be comfortable with your differences.
(4) Do you find yourself fundamentally attracted to the other person? Note that they need not necessarily fit your original perceptions of physical beauty. If you want to move in their direction and end up in the same bed, that's all you need. For example, a lot of women think they want a taller man, and a lot of men think they want a shorter woman. But if you move beyond the initial impression, you might be surprised how attractive someone can become.
(5) Do you genuinely enjoy the other person's company, and will you continue to over time?

And that's pretty much it. Note that nowhere in this list is any mention of having the same tastes, or the same activities in common. If you meet all five criteria for each other, you don't need that stuff. Nobody said you had to be the same people, or spend every minute of every day together. Your time apart and your differences will give you that much more to talk about.

You can quibble about something you think I've left off, but the larger point is the same: there are very few things that really matter, and among them are each of the things I've listed.

It might take time to figure it all out, but until and unless you can check off every item on that list, then forget about how gorgeous your date is, or what superficial things you have in common. Turn in the other direction. If on the other hand you can check off the entire list, then you can stop listing. And if they can check it off, too, then away you go...

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