Take a moment and write a List of everything you desire and need in a life partner. Take several moments, in fact. Put in everything—in detail, in color. Dream big.
Then separate that list into Must-Haves — stuff you just can’t do without — and Desirables — things you’d like, but could compromise on if they were otherwise wonderful.
All done? In my experience, most folks resist making their List. And that’s a shame, because your List is an amazing tool in the work belt of life.
With your help, it’s going to do three really vital jobs for you.
Find Hidden Singles
Have you ever gone car shopping? 10 years ago, I bought a Mini Cooper, and suddenly the world was choc-full of cars like mine.
The List is very powerful — not because it attracts the right people to you, but because you start noticing them. Just as I started noticing my brand of car everywhere once I’d narrowed my search, you will begin noticing your kind of sweetheart once you refine your own List.
The List helps you notice the right people.
Mr. Right might be where you work, live, worship, or shop. But have you noticed? Or is The One hidden in plain sight because you aren’t clear on your needs?
Do First Things First
There’s a saying, “First things first.” It means you need to do things in the order that makes the most sense. This sounds obvious, but without your List, you’ll probably do first things last. In these relationships, people meet, have sex, get emotionally involved, and *then* figure out whether this person is what they want.
You may think this is the exception, but research shows that hooking up on college campuses has largely replaced dating. An 18-month multi-campus study of American college life found that most women continue to enter and leave college hoping to find, yes, a degree, but also to find love and marriage. The decline of dating and the rise of hook-ups has cost them — more than men — a great deal in terms of confusion and pain.
Take this letter, from Gina (not her real name):
“I’m confused about ‘Sam.’ We hang out almost every night, and we have sex, and he says he likes me. We are each other’s fallback plan; it’s assumed we will see each other daily. But he’s never outright said whether I am his girlfriend. I asked once, and he laughed and asked why I couldn’t tell, and changed the subject! It’s depressing. How can I find out what I am to him?”
If you’re tired of being confused, or if you’re tired of getting into sex-first, questions-later situations, or if you’ve had enough of getting emotionally invested and only later finding out that this one is not The One — it’s time to let your List turn that dynamic around.
Ask the tough questions about and to this person before you get emotionally and physically involved.
And how do you do that? Know your standards. Then, listen closely to feedback, and ask the tough questions about and to this person *before* you get emotionally and physically involved.
I’ve read a study showing that a date’s friends will tell the truth about them. That fits my experience. I broke up with a man whose ex-wife called to ask me to reconsider: “You’re really special to Bill. I knew that as soon as I found out he drives an hour to see you. He never goes out of his way for anyone.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to the important part of her message: Bill wasn’t especially flexible or concerned with other people’s needs. Both times we broke up, the reason was: He was not especially flexible or concerned with other people’s needs.
So listen to what others say about your partner. Ask the person you’re dating, too: “If your ex were here, what would she say was the reason for your break-up?” You can be creative about it, but ask questions that add up to whether or not this person fits your Must-Haves.
Avoid Deal-Breaker Temptations
Doing first things first won’t help unless you heed your own List. The absence of even one seemingly tiny little Must-Have means that you Must Not; the whole relationship is a no-go for you, a heartbreak waiting to happen. So don’t go there.
Of course, a lot of us have trouble with this one. Almost everyone I know who has made the List has at least occasionally dated someone with a known deal-breaker.
So why do we ignore our own Lists? Sometimes, it’s because we question ourselves, or our standards. Or we’re lonely. We’ve lost hope. We think love is rare, and we have to hang onto it no matter what, because “all you need is love.”
The absence of even one seemingly tiny little Must-Have means that you Must Not.
Apologies to the Beatles, but science disagrees. Love is like roadside flowers in springtime: beautiful, but common. Sometimes, we fall in love with people where things just won’t work out, and most people fall in love more than once. Nearly all of the divorced were in love when they wed. If love were all they needed, they would’ve stayed put!
What’s enough is love, plus kindness, respect, similarity, and you sticking to your List. Before, you may have had heartache; now, it’s time for happiness.
Your right person won’t be perfect. But if you’re careful about this, they will be perfect for you.
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is a relationship coach and the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do; this entry is a partial excerpt. You can get a free chapter and see more at http://www.lovefactually.co