Reader Questions: How Selective Should I Be?

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about what I think single people in their thirties should do. A few people emailed my about it, and one reader named Jack asked some really good questions. Rather than reply to him directly, I asked if I could reply to his email as a blog post. Here are his questions, as a single thirty-something-year-old, and my answers.

I’m not sure how selective I can be. And I am an inherently selective person.

I actually think most people are not selective enough, or are not selective on the correct criteria. For you to really succeed in a healthy relationship, you should be able to be happy single too. Someone should add to your life, not “complete” it. Someone who is in that position will naturally be selective. I remember distinctly thinking that I’d rather be in a great relationship than single, but would rather be single than be in a merely good relationship.

We all have our own criteria, but there are also some universal ones that I think everyone should consider. Among the most important would be a commitment to growth, and good communication skills. It’s great to find the most perfect person ever, but what’s more important is the quality of the relationship you will build together, and these sorts of traits will lead to a much higher quality relationship.

That said, I think it’s important to know what your dealbreakers are and to stick with them. After being frustrated with how difficult it was to find someone who doesn’t drink (one of my dealbreakers), I tried to relax that and date people who drank once in a while. They were fine people, but after going on a few dates I had to be honest with myself and accept that I’d rather be single than date a drinker.

I oftentimes will tell myself I need to be less selective, only to get into relationships that I’m not really interested in or feel wrong. And then I leave.

This is a tough balance, but I’d say that there’s no harm in going on a lot of first and second dates. Date people who may not fit your most specific criteria, but once you know they’re not going to be the one, move on.

I’m waiting to feel smitten with someone. And that seems just never to come to me.

I think that this is an overrated indicator. Sometimes it means great things, sometimes it means that the person is terrible for you and that taboo is attractive. I found my now-wife to be extremely attractive when I met her and also recognized many of her amazing traits early on, but if you had asked me if I was smitten with her then, I would have said no. I even wondered if it was a problem, but we were so compatible and were building such a great relationship that I actually just decided to accept that I wasn’t going to be totally smitten with my wife. The funny thing is that it slowly grew over time and now I’m definitely smitten.

Do you think there is a group of people who maybe would be well suited to marriage but just are intrinsically too selective to find the right partner other than by luck? I feel like that’s me. My premises:

I want to be in a relationship because I know it would help me learn to be more selfless, have a person to share things with, and to grow with. All things I want.
I want to be in a relationship with someone I am deeply attracted to (physically and personality-wise) and is also attracted to me.
I want to be in a relationship with someone who can appreciate my faith and moderate/conservative morals.
I just intrinsically have very high standards in #2 and #3. That’s just my personality. I’ve tried to ignore it and it doesn’t work out.

Your article makes it sound like finding a partner for everyone is a tractable problem. I’m just not so sure. It is at least plausible that, for some people, finding a partner is either a very difficult venture or perhaps at times an intractable problem. I’m curious to your thoughts on this. Should I just bite the bullet and try to work out a relationship with someone I’m not initially very attracted to or that seems intellectually or personality-wise incompatible?

I think Jack’s reasons for wanting to be in a relationship are the right ones, and are some of the things I value most about being married. Attraction can be a little bit different in a long term relationship, where the emotional attraction adds to the physical attraction. The way my wife treats me and our mutual bond has added to the physical attraction in a way that can dwarf the physical attraction alone. So while I do think that it’s important to have someone who you are attracted to, I think whether you think of her as a 7 or a 10 will end up not being as big a factor as you think it will.

If you haven’t experienced this, think about a time when someone very attractive annoyed you and you lost all interest in them. This is basically the opposite.

Your values and morals are important to you and they should be respected by your spouse. That doesn’t mean that they have to be the same, though. In fact, being slightly different can lead to growth because you end up having two respected opinions in your household. I have at least a few friend-couples who are on the other end of the political spectrum from each other and it seems to enhance the relationship. Again, I think that’s why communication skills and a growth mindset are important.

I really liked these questions both because they’re interesting to answer, but also because they’ve come from someone who has good clear thinking on the subject and is worrying about the right things. My advice would be to pare non-negotiables to a minimum, test them to make sure they’re really non-negotiable, and be more selective as you get deeper in the dating process. I’d be looking for 65% compatibility on a first date and about 90% on the wedding day, with a few “must-haves” covered.

Hopefully this helps, and when you do find someone I’d love to hear back and see how they meshed with the questions.


Photo is a bigger picture of the ducks we fed on Lake Mead.

I’ve started with some new coaching clients and am finishing up signing up a couple more, so I think my schedule is full now. I’m no longer doing a waiting list, but will probably make an announcement in 12-18 months if/when I decide to take more.





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