When I ended a long-term relationship in my early 20s, I did what many people would do: I called up my closest friends for an ice cream and wine night. We drank a glass or three of wine and ate straight from Ben & Jerry’s cartons while validating the demise of my relationship. (I imagine men probably do the exact same thing after broken relationships.) They fed me lines like “You deserve sooo much better!” or “He’s not good enough for you!” or “Just think, now you can finally date a man!” And with each remark came a collective “Yeah!” Eventually our conversation turned into what we were looking for in this yet-to-be-found significant other.
“He has to have a job!”
“And a car!”
“He has to be living on his own, and definitely not with his parents.”
“He should love his family, but still make you a priority.”
“He can’t be more into himself than he is into you!”
“He must look fit, but never talk about working out.”
Our list went on and on, and soon, I adopted them all as non-negotiables.
Over the years, I drifted in and out of the online dating scene, trying the latest websites and apps. However, none of the guys lasted to a third date. They just couldn’t meet my standards (aka non-negotiables), and I wasn’t about to waste my precious time on anyone less than perfect. After each failed attempt, I would delete my profile and decide that I simply “wasn’t ready for a relationship.” A few months would pass, and I’d talk myself into trying the current popular dating website or app. And the cycle would repeat.
Recently, I decided to try online dating… again. As I began to answer the many questions about myself and what I’m looking for, I had to pause. I am in my late 20s, I recently quit my job, I live with my parents, and I’m not sure what I want to do with my life. (Sounds like the perfect time to begin dating again, amirite?) I began to panic a little: What am I going to describe as my occupation? How am I going to explain the journey that I’m on to a complete stranger? If my own non-negotiables are actually non-negotiables, then I would never even entertain the idea of dating myself. Am I being a hypocrite?
This pause lasted longer than three seconds and moved me into deeper thought.
So what if he lives with his parents? It might be a smart financial move for him at the moment. And, according to some recent studies by the Pew Research Center (here and here), it is quite common for millennials to live with their parents these days.
No job? Maybe he’s in transition, searching for his passion, and bringing his dreams to fruition.
Why should I let these unrealistic expectations hold me back from meeting a great guy who is on a similar path as I am right now?
As we learn more about ourselves, it is important to have an idea of what we’re looking for in a relationship with a significant other. Through lessons of failed attempts, we have a better idea of the qualities we are attracted to, and we begin to stand firm in our values and beliefs. These mindsets are necessary for serious relationships, and should not be compromised. But I encourage you to take a second look at your non-negotiables, and perhaps ask yourself: Are these really “non-negotiables?” Or, are they just preferences but not necessarily deal-breakers?
You may prefer to date a person who has a job, what she or he earns is negotiable. The non-negotiable is that she or he is a hard worker who is kind to coworkers and customers. Perhaps you prefer your significant other to have a car, but it’s not the possession about which you actually care. You may realize that you want to date a person who is independent and has a way of transporting him- or herself around town, to work, or (most importantly) to see you! Maybe you prefer certain physical characteristics because in the past you have been attracted to them, but you meet a great person who fulfills most of your ideals. Would that physical “flaw” (in your eyes alone) be a deal breaker?
I am not suggesting that you compromise your values and beliefs. I am inviting you to take a deeper look at yourself, and what you want in a relationship. Are your standards and expectations in another person also seen in yourself? Are you able to take a few things off your “non-negotiable list” because you realize that they are not actually deal breakers but just preferences? Once you modify your list to reflect the person you’re honestly looking for, you might be able to open your eyes to real people in that sea of fish.