Dear Dr. Chani,
After several years of dating, I have still not found “Mr. Right.” When I look back at the many guys I have dated, I know that there were a few who had potential. Unfortunately, I rejected them after one or two dates without giving them much of a chance. They are no longer available or they will not go out with me at this point.
My parents and friends tell me that I am being too picky. They say that I always find something wrong with every guy I meet. It is scary, but I think they might be right. I would really like to improve my dating skills, but I have no idea what I am doing wrong.
When I meet a guy, I genuinely enjoy getting to know him. I am pretty good at making small talk so our conversations flow easily. We both usually have a good time. But when I get home, I start analyzing everything about the guy, and I get nervous about some of his character traits.
For example, one time I dated a guy who was really smart, charismatic, and ambitious. He was so amazing that he might have even intimidated me a little bit. After two dates, I realized that he was too arrogant and opinionated for me. He seemed to be more interested in hearing me praise him than in hearing my own opinions. I was relieved after I broke up with him.
I would love to find someone who had all of his qualities, but was more interested in what I have to say and more laid back. Most of the guys I date are not ambitious or confident enough for me. That is why I have not ever gone out with anyone seriously.
What if I am being too picky? What can I do about it? How can I know when to listen to my instincts?
Your frustrations about dating are very understandable. It sounds like you believe that the goal of dating is to find a person who has the exact qualities you are looking for and in the perfect measure. You assume that if a person has too much or too little of a character trait, there is not much for you to do about it. Yet, after all, people are… well… people. That being said, nobody is going to be exactly what you expect them to be. Even if you do find that someone you date seems perfect in every way, over time you are bound to discover some surprising aspect that bothers you.
So how can you avoid being too picky? How can you make sure that you are making a sound decision about who to continue to date?
Start by asking yourself the following question, “Does this person have what to work with?” Imagine that the person you are dating is like a work of art. When an artist creates a sculpture or a painting, he begins with the right raw materials, his skills, and his vision of the masterpiece. He needs to have these things to work with in order to make the final product. Yet even if he has all of these necessary ingredients, it still takes time for him to create on canvas the image that he has in his mind’s eye.
Likewise, when you go out on a date, your goal is to see if the person you are dating has the raw materials you need to develop the kind of relationship and the home that you envision. Even if a person has aspects to their personality that are not exactly what you imagined, you may have “enough to work with” to create a wonderful relationship and a beautiful home together.
Before you continue to date, it is important to clarify for yourself the personality traits and qualities that are most important to you in your spouse. If you have been dating for a while and have never had a serious relationship with anyone, it is possible that your list of what you are looking for needs to be explored, understood, and revised.
You may be unwittingly looking for personality traits that contradict one another. When you describe one of the men that you dated as ambitious but not laid back enough for you, that is an example of traits that are contradictory. While it is possible to find someone who is somewhat ambitious and somewhat easy-going, people who are very ambitious tend to not be very laid back. Review your list of what you are looking for in the people you date, and if you find qualities that might be contradictory, ask yourself which one is most important to you and why. Fine-tune your list so that you prioritize the qualities that are most important to you.
Another concept that might help you identify a person who has the potential for you to develop a great relationship with is to keep in mind that character traits usually have both positive and negative aspects to them. Consider a character trait to be like a coin, with a side that is heads and a side that is tails. When you notice the positive sides of this character trait you may be very impressed, but when you experience the negative sides, you may want to bail out of the relationship. Avoid overreacting when you feel that someone has negative qualities. Instead, first, ask yourself if maybe the negative character traits are actually the flip-side of the very positive character traits you admire about him.
For example, if you are looking for someone who is very confident and ambitious, you will be attracted to someone who is thought-out, decisive, and articulate. At the same time, he may also be less likely to wait for your opinion before making a decision or to be able to easily re-think his point of view after hearing your perspective. So too, there are both positive and negative sides to someone being very laid back. You may desire a spouse who will “go with the flow” and be very receptive to your ways of doing things, yet you might find that he is not assertive or decisive sometimes as well. Rather than rejecting someone who has a negative quality, pay attention to the possibility that the negative quality is a natural side-effect of the very same positive character trait that you truly desire.
Dating decisions can be difficult at times. Hopefully, by looking at dating as a “work in progress” asking yourself if the person you are dating has “what to work with,” and appreciating the complexity and nuances of the personality traits that you desire and admire, you will find it easier to develop a serious relationship and feel confident about identifying your future spouse.
Wishing you much success,