I’m dating Viv, a woman who is never satisfied with what I can give. Either I work too much and don’t spend enough time with her, or I work too little and there’s not enough money for everything she wants. And she wants a lot. I love her, but I’m unhappy and I don’t think this will change. Am I being too picky and tossing away my best shot at love if I leave, or is staying settling? Should I find someone I mesh with better?
Dating is the time to pick the one who makes your heart sing, not the one who’s got you singin’ the blues. Based on your chronic unhappiness with Viv’s chronic dissatisfaction, it’s tempting to advise dropping this relationship like a dinnertime telemarketer. But you are the expert on you and your needs. Let’s leverage that expertise to help you answer your own questions so you can get a relationship that is more joy than job—whether with Viv or someone else.
How can you tap into your own expertise?
Identify your Traits For A Mate:
- If you don’t know what you want, you’re unlikely to get it. Make a list of everything you can think of that you want in an ideal mate+. Yes, really. Put in the stuff about how your ideal woman loves backgammon and sumo wrestling, thinks you’re hilarious but takes you seriously, wants or doesn’t want 2.5 kids, possesses or ignores particular religious and political affiliations, and prefers certain sexual acts a specified number of times per week/month/year.
- Next, separate your list into two categories: Must-Have’s and Wants. The Must-Have’s are just that, and absence of even one makes the relationship a no-go for you. You might have some Must-Have’s other people would not include, such as “non-drinker” or “Lutheran”; the key is to be honest about where the lines are drawn for you so that you can adhere to this Standard even when it’s tempting to turn a blind eye to a deal-breaker. And the Wants are all the qualities you’d like in an ideal mate, but could compromise on if you were otherwise happy, such as “willing to move to Greenland” or “hates golf”.
- Keep this list where you can periodically read and revise it. The computer is perfect, because you can revisit your list any time to keep true to your Must-Have’s, and you can make edits easily; for instance, after Viv, you might add to your list, “is satisfied with what I can give.”
Everyone’s list is different, of course. But science does designate two Universal Deal-Breakers:
— No Haters. Research clearly shows that relationships can’t survive happily without Kindness. And a person who is mean-spirited when they don’t get their way, or cruel to those who can’t retaliate (animals, children, the wait-staff), will eventually mistreat you.
—No Chronic Criticizers. One of the best-validated long-term love findings is that receiving and showing basic Respect for a mate is a necessity, not a nicety. Respect can create love where there was none, but habitual character assassination will kill even the most fervent romance.
Test your List for appropriate Standards:
Now, let’s discern whether you’re just being Too Picky and should Settle for what you’ve got. Put a check mark next to every list item that describes you. If you put “likes golden retrievers” and *you* like golden retrievers, that’s a check mark. If you wrote “is a science nerd” and *you* are a science nerd, that’s another check. (Oh wait, that’s from my list.)
Seriously, if you’re anything like the hundreds of people I’ve done this exercise with over the years, almost everything on your list has a check-mark next to it. And that’s a good thing; it means you have Excellent—not too high, not too low, juuust right— Standards.
Those are the Standards to stick with, because abundant science shows that the happiest dating, engaged, and married unions are made between Equals—people who are a great match in almost every regard, from having about the same level of good looks and intelligence and education, to having similar social and economic backgrounds, to enjoying the same activities, to sharing similar core values, goals and lifestyles. It’s not true that it takes a 100% match to achieve harmony; every couple has differences. But it is true that differences—not similarities—tend to be sources of conflict. So Birds Of A Feather flock together…and opposites usually detract.
Then again, if you insist on a Megan Fox look-alike, that Standard really *is* too high. Yes, sometimes, a “10” lands a “2”—not that you’re a “2”! But all over the world, that notable exception occurs when the gorgeous “10” trades her youth and beauty for a male “10’s” wealth, and versa-vice. The good news? Abandoning that particular Standard in favor of finding a woman about as good-looking as you are opens you up to making a happy match, and reduces your odds of being cheated on or dumped by She Who Is Out Of Your League. So says science.
Test your Relationship for a fit with your Standards:
Now that you know what you want and you know you’re right to want it, let’s evaluate your current relationship. Does Viv match up on every one of your Must-Have’s? Is she kind, respectful, and respectable to you? And in the absence of deal-breakers, does she meet enough of your Wants that you can be happy? Or does the pain outweigh the pleasure?
My suspicion is that Viv isn’t passing the test, but it’s still really tough for you to leave. That makes sense. You love her, and most of us have been told that love is rare and all-powerful—so we’d better hold onto it if we find it. Yet in reality, falling in love with poor matches is commonplace, and love alone is not enough. Love requires support, too. The kind that comes from finding the right person now—and being the right person thereafter.
And the right person is someone a whole lot like you, Charles. Your List will help you stay available for and recognize her, and leave off pursuing false leads. Your right person won’t be perfect—but she might just be perfect for you. And that is lasting Satisfaction.
I thank the following authors and/or scientists for bringing to light the necessity of compatibility, kindness, respect and love in creating and sustaining romantic attachments:
+—Susan Page, author of what is, in my opinion, the best dating advice book of all time, If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? , from which the Traits For A Mate exercise in this article is derived. Ms. Page is not a scientist, but science backs up nearly all that she writes. I highly recommend that singleton Love Science readers read and apply her book to their lives.
—John Gottman and Julie Gottman, authors of my favorite long-term love relationship books, And Baby Makes Three and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work . Their books are grounded in decades of science, yet they are easily applied to daily life, with marked effects.
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All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2009