Imagine you’re arriving at a coffee shop for a first date. Your date is already waiting at a table inside, and you’re beginning to feel a little nervous. When you spoke to each other over the phone, it felt like you’d known each other for years. Your heart is doing flips, a good sign that this could be the one. You’ve spent all day imagining your future together, and the fantasy is perfect. You know this date is going to be perfect, too. You take a deep breath, put on your best smile, and walk through the door.
At a table across the room is your date, who you now see is NOT who you imagined at all. In a single glance, you have all the information you need to know that in every way – physically, intellectually, socially, and financially – this is not a match. Immediately, all your hopes for the night are ruined, and you settle in for yet another first date that you already know will go nowhere.
You’ve fallen in love with your romantic wishlist.
We all walk around with a mental checklist for what a “good” partner is. For many of us, those items include things like a level of career success or wealth, a certain body type, or sharing our specific pastimes. There is nothing wrong with having standards, but often these standards don’t fully align with what we want from a real relationship. Instead, they align with what we imagine we will want in the perfect relationship. We haven’t even considered what we truly want in the present because we spend so much time dreaming and planning the perfect future.
We’re told every day to never settle. We hear this in all parts of life, but most often – and most passionately – about love. And it’s true that we shouldn’t settle for less than we deserve. We should hold out for the partner who makes our heart race and our stomach flutter. We should wait until our most important boxes are checked. Then, against every romantic notion, we hold dear, we should ask ourselves whether it’s time to settle.
You’re human, so you care what people think of you.
I won’t deny that we are all attracted to different things in a potential partner, and there are different things that we’d call turn-offs. For you, maybe the real deciding factor isn’t whether you can talk about your hopes and fears without judgment. Maybe the most important thing about your future wife truly is that she weighs no more than 135 pounds. I encourage you to look over your own relationship do’s and don’ts, because standards are a good thing to have. However, it’s always worth asking yourself why?
If I had to guess, it’s because deep down you want other people to think you’re cool and successful and suuuuuuper sexy. On the whole, people have both a desire to stand out as individuals and to be deeply connected to a larger community. Because we want to be seen as exceptional, we want our partner to be the most beautiful, the most handsome, and the most successful. At the same time, we want to fit in, so we demand a partner whose mystique perfectly fits conventional beauty standards. Barbie, meet Ken. All is well in the dream house.
It’s so easy to point out why someone might be wrong for us. We say things like “If only he were two inches taller” or “If only she were two decades younger”. It’s even easier to call it quits when you don’t share many of the same hobbies. Despite the obvious differences keeping us all on the market, people are mostly alike in the important areas. We’re all searching for the same thing. We all crave connection to other people. We all want to be loved.
Your impossible standards aren’t even yours in the first place.
Often, we prioritize security over our true desires. We put off happiness for ‘later’ while we build our ideal life. Just three more months, six more months, one more year working hard to create the glossy magazine-perfect dream. You may see this kind of aspirational living as a recipe for singledom, and often you’d be correct.
For many of us, love is too important to fall by the wayside entirely. An ideal life includes a relationship, so we unconsciously seek out the ideal relationship partner. We look for someone who ticks off all the boxes – salary, body type, hairline. We swipe and swipe and choose a partner like a lobster from a tank. It’s really no surprise when we find ourselves stuck in unfulfilling relationships, or when we find ourselves waiting alone with a proverbial glass slipper.
You won’t find true love until you start to look for YOUR true love
If we never discover what makes us fall in love, then we’ll default to whatever the world around us decides is desirable. This isn’t even necessarily a problem; there are many happy relationships that get started this way. It becomes an issue when the opinions of others, spoken or implied, stand in the way of your happiness.
If life teaches us anything, it’s that fitting in isn’t the same thing as being happy. You can spend forever feeling unsatisfied and chasing after the perfect life, or you can embrace the flaws and live a full, imperfect, happy life instead. If you want to be in a loving relationship in the future, you have to find out what makes you feel loved today. You can be happy with an older woman, or a shorter man, or even someone who has never been to Europe.
If you want to be satisfied in a relationship, you have to emotionally invest in a unique individual and let go of the hypothetical person you want them to be. If you’ve dreamed you and your future husband would golf together every Saturday, then maybe you’ll meet a golfer and cart off into the sunset. If that happens, I wish you all the happiness in the world. But if you find yourself falling head over heels for a man who doesn’t know his way around a putt-putt course, then maybe your future husband can take you to lunch on Saturdays instead.