On to the next part of the dating mini-series! Let’s hope whoever I end up dating never reads this post.
Tough (aka Brutally Honest) Love
Two years ago, I sat across from my mom in her kitchen while we chatted about my plans while I was visiting, that status on my friends, what I thought about my MBA, and (drum roll) my love life or lack thereof. After a while the following, brutally honest conversation occurred:
Mom (Adeline or Addie, for short): Nicholas, why do you think you are single?
Nick: Ugh.. well.. ahhh [insert stammering here]. There are a variety of reasons, you know, ranging from how frequently I move to my commitment to my career, and…
Mom: Right… [insert skepticism here]… do you think it is because maybe your standards are too high?
Nick: Maybe. But, what part of my standards do you think I should lower?
Mom: All of them.
That was the first of several conversations that I would have about my standards and their effects on my ability to find and stay in a relationship. Nine months after my mom broached the subject, Porter staged an intervention that went a little like this:
Porter: Maybe you should lower your standards, a bit. I am not saying they should be as low as [unnamed Kiwi rugby player with an aversion to pants]; but, it would help if you lowered them a little.
Approximately, a year after that Carlton Brown offered more specific guidance. He suggested that instead of editing the long list of qualities I was hoping my next girlfriend would embody, I should figure out what are the few characteristics they absolutely should have. In essence, I should identify my deal breakers (e.g., If the girl doesn’t like dancing, I should cut my losses and move on (This is an actual deal breaker)). After a lot of wrestling with this idea and brainstorming out loud about what is important to me, Carlton offered one last very truthful piece of advice, “At this point of your dating life, you shouldn’t have more than 3 deal breakers, maybe even just 2.”
I’m not the smartest person when it comes to dating; but, at this point I would have to be a moron to miss the consensus opinion of my friends and family. These conversations prompted me to reflect on the fact that 1) I need to find new friends & family and 2) I should re-evaluate my standards (and/or deal breakers).
Prince(ss) Charming Checklist
I am not someone who dates a tremendous amount. If I include my tumultuous on-again, off-again courtship of my 2nd grade girlfriend, I’ve been in exactly 3.5 relationships. I have worked to supplement my minimal knowledge by carefully observing (and judging) friends’ relationships AND I watching the first two seasons of Sex and the City. Based on my robust secondary and primary research, I have concluded that expectations evolve over time for a variety of reasons – age, experience, and externalities (specifically, romantic comedies).
Initially, expectations and criteria were pretty simple…
If they checked “yes” or “maybe”, you were in! The discerning elementary student may have tried to sweeten the deal by pursuing a girl whose mom packed Lunch-ables. But that was about it.
At some point, the expectations start to rise. The increasing expectations could be because of older siblings and parents, romantic comedies, advice gleaned from Sex and the City, or Disney. The teenage and college years are spent establishing and refining the Prince(ss) Charming Checklist™. The checklist, whether explicitly written or intuitively felt, is a collection of the all criteria and attributes that someone is hoping their perfect soul mate will exemplify. The criteria range from physical attributes – age, height, weight, hair color, amount of back hair – to personality and values – religion, views on finances, values, do they believe in gravity.
Best case scenario, you fall in love with your soulmate the first week of college. Typically, it is the person who helps you move into your dorm or the individual that fate partners you with during your college’s orientation square dance / hoedown (Fun fact: This actually happens at Gustavus).
If you don’t find your soulmate during the first two years, the Prince(ss) Charming Checklist™ criteria starts to shift but doesn’t seem to decrease. You start to admit that you didn’t really want to date a 4-year Varsity Track Start who triple majored in Pre-Med, Pre-Law, and Ancient Greek…. Instead what you want is 2-year varsity golfer (better for networking) who quit so they could make time for volunteering.
If you are unable to pull off a successful “Ring by Spring” your senior year, you have to march into the real world clutching your diploma and dubious concern you may not find true love until you’re 24. Thus begins the revising and elimination of criteria. First things to go are the inconsequentials (e.g., matching horoscope signs, shared beliefs about the authenticity and power of Avril Lavigne’s song “Complicated”).
If Mr(s). Right still hasn’t saved you from a burning building by your mid-20s, you start to remove some of the more meaningful criteria (e.g., an appreciation for traveling (you want to see the world and live on the Falkan Islands while they hate leaving their house [and when I say their house, I mean their parent’s basement).
Somehow the late 20s sneak up on you. If you’re smart and single, you’ve probably considered going to graduate school because that way you can at least step of the Life Treadmill for a couple years and try to figure out what the hell is going on. If you skip grad school or end up, unfortunately, graduating… you arrive at the point where only deal breakers are left… (e.g., have the same faith, less than 10 cats, etc).
Eventually, sometime in your 30s you reach the bottom of the proverbial checklist valley, known simply as, “Not a Felon”. At this point, you are basically looking for someone who doesn’t try to steal money from the offering plate at church. Good luck with that.
I am not actually sure about the uptake that occurs after the “Not a Felon” valley. Older friends promise me that after dating a few terrible relationships with absolutely no expectations or criteria, you learn that it is important to adhere to a few key standards. I’ll report back in a few years on what I find.
And the Standard(s)… They came Tumbling, Tumbling Down!
The pace of descent to the “Not a Felon” varies for everyone. There is no hard and fast rule (unlike the Icarus Bullseye – link). While there are a number of things that influence individuals, the driving factors I’ve discovered tend to be as follows:
Speed Checklist Erosion
# of aunts + uncles x (frequency of family reunions)
# of friends getting married
# Nicholas Sparks novels converted to movies
# of friends with babies under 2 weeks
# of single siblings
Slow Checklist Erosion
# of weird marital arguments at family reunions
# of friends getting divorced
# of “19 and Counting” episodes you watch
# of friends with babies over 2 weeks
# of married siblings