I want to talk to you a little about the idea of success and dating.
There is no one definition of success when it comes to a person’s love life. We all come into this with completely different goals, goals that may well change over time. One person’s definition may be to fulfill his desire to be the king playboy of his social scene. Some may want a life of polyamory or a few friends-with-benefits arrangements while another may want to find the love of his life, settle down and raise a family with 2.5 kids, 1.8 cars and the white picket fence.
But while the definitions of success in dating may vary, there’s one thread that runs through it all: it’s about having standards. Nobody found everlasting happiness by saying “Well, I guess I’ll take what I can get”.
You need to know what you want… and more importantly, you have to know how to get it.
It’s About More Than Looks
One of my eternal pet peeves about the dating scene is the idea of rating people on a numeric scale; by reducing someone to a point-scale you’re dehumanizing them and reducing their value to how society will view them as an ornamental object. It ignores all of the other aspects about them – personality, interests, life’s goals and ambitions, whether they’re a good person – and focuses on a subjective value. You’re not interested in a person so much as you are in bragging rights. It also becomes a way of justifying a lack in other areas; sure she may make you miserable, but c’mon man, she’s a 10! You gotta put up with that shit because she’s someone you’re dating who makes your friends insanely jealous!
It’s also a great way to make yourself miserable.
No matter how attractive someone is, it takes more than looks to make for a relationship that’s going to last longer than however long you need to get your rocks off.
Speaking from experience, even if all you’re looking for is an hour or two of squishy noises with out any of those pesky “relationship” strings attached, you still need to be able to talk to whomever you’ve just gone to bed with if you want to avoid doing the real walk of shame.
A relationship that works – one that you can be proud of – is more than just sexual attraction. It’s about how their personality meshes and compliments yours. It’s about their interests; they may not be a nerd, but they might well be nerd-curious. It’s about a complimentary lifestyle and outlook; a homebody with no intellectual curiosity isn’t going to work well with a voracious reader with a spirit of adventure and a drive to visit far-off lands.
It’s all about how you relate to one another, about whether or not they’re cool enough and awesome enough to hang with you.
What Do You Want In a Relationship?
Before continuing with the rest of this article, I want you to indulge me. Take some time and draw up a list of ten to twenty non-physical aspects of what you would want in a romantic partner. These can be anything: a love of music, a passion for culture, someone who likes to get stoned and watch movies… but they have to be non-physical qualities. No “She must have double-d breasts” or “he has to be at least six feet tall and able to breathe through his ears”.
Take this seriously; these are the “must haves” and “should haves” that would make someone more compatible with you. While it’s tempting to make joking statements like “must be able to suck a golf-ball through a garden hose”, you should think about sexual compatibility; after all, it’s an incredibly important part of a relationship and something as simple as mismatched libidos can be a recipe for heartbreak.
These are going to be aspects you care about; the more you care about them, the more important it is to list them and even more important that you learn to screen for them.
Adopting A Screening Frame
When you’re looking for a partner-in-crime, you want someone who measures up to your expectations of what you want. You want someone who impresses you, who’s qualifications meet or exceed your standards for a relationship. Sure, you’d like them to like you… but it’s just as important that they prove that they’re worth your time. If you’re money and you know you’re money, you want someone who is equally awesome.
Screening your dates means that you’re looking for someone who works with you, someone who has the attributes you want1 . You don’t want to just grope around blindly2 and hope to get lucky3 – you want to be actively looking for those specific characteristics.
Online dating is a great resource when it comes to screening for particular qualities; if you’re a nerd looking for a fellow nerd, scanning dating profiles is a great way to get a quick read about whether someone might be worth getting to know. But what about when you meet in person? You don’t just want to start grilling them for information.
Whether you’re meeting via OKCupid or you met at the holiday party, you want to be searching for the aspects that you want in a partner without treating it like an interrogation.
This is why qualification is such a valuable tool.
“What Do You Have Going For You Besides Your Looks?”
Qualification is an important part of finding the relationship you want. When you’re looking for someone who’s awesome in all the ways you want in a potential romantic partner, you don’t want to treat getting to know them like a job interview.
Using qualification is a great way to learn about someone. You’re asking them to explain to you just why they’re awesome… and then using that as an opportunity to reward them (as it were) for being awesome. This helps create a positive feedback loop that helps generate attraction for both sides; you’re finding out what this person has going for them in their lives and they’re being told that yes, that does make them cool.
You want to use low-investment open-ended questions as a way of starting the conversation: “What do you like to do for fun?” for example, is fairly low investment; you’re not asking someone to justify their existence, just to tell you a little bit more about themselves. “What do you have going for you besides your looks”, on the other hand, is pretty damned high-investment; by asking a question like this, you’re explicitly saying “Impress me with something personal about you.” Someone who’s very attracted to you, who has invested more of herself in the interaction will be more likely to respond; someone who is – theoretically – still vetting and being vetted is far less likely to respond at all, never mind taking it seriously.
The benefit of using open-ended questions means that you can direct the conversation towards the areas that you find most important in a potential boyfriend or girlfriend. If you’re interested in the arts for example, you can start by asking “Are you creative?” or “Who’s your favorite painter?”, or “Do you ever listen to opera?” then take that answer and build on it. “Oh man, I love people who are really into culture; I always feel like that people get so caught up in TV and movies that they forget how amazing theater is” or “That’s so cool. Art’s something I’m really passionate about. I can just lose myself in museum or gallery for hours. What draws you to painting/sculpture/bronze-working?” You now have a topic you can both riff on – how great live theater is or opera vs. symphonies or painting vs. sculpture, Neo-classical vs. Impressionist, whatever – before moving on to another qualifying question like “Are you adventurous?” or “What are you passionate about?”
The great thing about qualifying as a dating tool is that not only is it a good way to screen for compatibility with a potential partner-in-crime, but also as a way of building attraction and rapport quickly. After all, you’re finding all of these commonalities – presumably ones that you’re passionate about – that you share. It also helps justify your attraction to them; when you’re reaffirming that yes, their love of $COOL_THING makes them cool, you’re establishing that you are interested in them for more than just superficial reasons (such as “amazing tits” or “great ass”).
In addition, the use of qualification helps weed out the undesirables earlier; if you’re a travelling type, you’d want to know whether or not the two of you are going to be jetting off to exotic vacations and sun-drenched foreign coasts. By asking qualification questions – “Do you love to travel,” you use your time much more efficiently; better to find out that no, they hate travelling in the early, “getting-to-know-you” stages than to be six months in and getting bushwacked as you try to plan a romantic get-away.
The Soft Bigotry of Low Standards
When you’re socially inexperienced or have been rejected over and over again, it can be difficult to feel as though you should expect anything. There are many people – even in the comments on this blog – who feel so desperate for a relationship that their attitude is “I’ll take whatever I can get.”
It’s understandable how one might start to feel this way. Hell, I felt this way, back in the bad old days. When you feel as though you’ve been beaten down enough times, it’s natural to think “I want someone, anyone.” Unfortunately, this very same attitude ends up being part of what is holding you back from dating success.
The problem with this idea – that you’re so desperate for a relationship that you’ll take anyone – is that the people holding on to it often don’t understand what they’re really saying. You may think that you’re just saying you’re open to finding love anywhere, even if it isn’t the Disney-esque happy ending with cartoon birds singing you off into the sunset while blind cherubs floating around shooting people with arrow… which is, to an extent, fairly admirable. Unfortunately, however, that’s not what the rest of the world hears. The rest of the world hears “I have given up and want someone to take pity on me.” The feeling of desperation radiates off of you in waves, projecting your need for validation and lack of self-confidence to everyone around you. It doesn’t read as openness, it reads as neediness and neediness is the opposite of sex. It is the Anti-Sex Equation.
If you’ve sunk so low that you’re reduced to wadding up your dignity and tossing it aside in the name of finding someone to date, why would someone want to date you? After all, you’re advertising that you don’t believe you have anything to offer… so what incentive is there for others to take an interest?
Moreover, you need to think about what this says to the people you do try to date: that you don’t care about them, so much as what they represent. They’re not a person, they’re a warm body that you can use to plug the hole labeled “relationship”. Nobody likes feeling as though they’re the booby prize in the dating game.
In declaring that you would take “anyone”, you are telling the person you would date that they have no qualities that you find attractive; the only thing they have going for them is that they happened to say “yes”.
Hopefully, you might see why this is an attitude that isn’t conducive to romance.
Of course, having just said that…
Settling Down Means Settling For
It’s important to realize that nobody is perfect; nobody is going to match up 100% with your list of must-have qualities, nor does anyone get 100% of what they want in a relationship. There is no “The One” out there, just a lot of “The .75″s and “The .81″s that you round up to The One.
I realize it can be a hard mental shift after I’ve just finished explaining that having standards is important and finding people who meet them is a key to a lasting relationship. But you have to rememberthat it’s entirely possible to have standards that are too high or to have expectations that are out of the bounds of reasonability. It’s a bad thing to have no standards, but it’s just as bad when you’re letting the idea of “perfect” keep you from the reality of “pretty damn good”.
One issue I’ve seen on more than one occasion are people – women and men – who have a list of “must haves” so long that reach the point of impossibility; the only way to a person could actually match those expectations is to be fictional.
This is why I recommend keeping the list of desired qualities comparatively short; once you get past a certain threshold, you no longer carrying around a list of “must-haves”, you’re carrying a list of why you’re still single.
The fact of the matter is though, that while you may not get 100% of what you want, that 60, 70, even 80%? It’s pretty damn amazing.
And well worth holding out for.