It’s all bachelorette Jen Schefft’s fault. And Neil Clark Warren’s. We watched the former date two dozen hunks and still not find someone up to par for a romantic relationship, and we’ve heard the latter talk up 29 (yes, 29!) areas of compatibility that are essential for a relationship to have any chance of lasting longer than a gallon of milk in your fridge.
But shows like “The Bachelorette” and Internet dating services such as Warren’s eHarmony are just part of the reason we singles can make the search for a suitable date (or mate) to be something akin to a quest for the Holy Grail. And when our churches encourage us not to settle for “less than God’s best,” we can be tempted to turn our noses up at anyone less than Barbie with a Bible degree or someone with Brad Pitt’s looks and Billy Graham’s faith.
Psychologist Dr. Les Parrott, co-author of Relationships and co-founder of realrelationships.com, says that he and his wife, Leslie, a marriage and family therapist, have noticed the high-expectations phenomenon in people they interact with. “We’ve seen many singles who are so tired of waiting for their ship to come in that they don’t even have the energy to go to the proverbial dock,” Parrott says. “Sometimes it’s because their expectations are sky high.”
So how do we avoid the factors conspiring to make us think we should hold out until Mr. or Ms. Perfect waltzes into our life? Here are six tips to start the trek from ideal to real dating expectations:
1. Kiss perfection goodbye.
Years ago, a Christian counselor gave me some great advice. She’d remained single until she was 29 (which was unusual 25 years ago), so she understands the dynamics that come with a prolonged search for a spouse. Armed with that knowledge, she advised me to look for someone who is “growth oriented.” In other words, someone who’s willing to work on his inevitable issues and who’s willing to grow throughout a relationship and a lifetime.
“No one’s perfect,” she told me, “but some aren’t perfect and aren’t willing to work on their issues; and some aren’t perfect and they are. Seek the latter.”
2. Ditch “the list.”
You know what I’m talking about—those spoken or unspoken things you’re looking for in a potential mate. As in “must be a blue-eyed brunette” or “must treat his mother like a queen” or “must consider the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy one of the best cinematic feats of all time.”
While it’s great to know what you’re looking for, the problem is, “the list” often describes some sort of superhuman who simply doesn’t exist—not so unlike those cinematic romantic comedy hotties who benefit from a personal trainer, a team of script writers, great lighting, and a whole host of other behind-the-scenes people who are pulling the strings of this marionette of a human being.
As psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud writes in How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, “Many people go much further than specifying the type of person they want. They have a laundry list of little requirements that eliminate some really good people… . If you are allergic to almost all foods, finding a restaurant to have a good dinner in gets pretty difficult.”
3. Know your non-negotiables.
Throwing out unrealistic expectations doesn’t mean you have to be completely list-less. “The most practical advice we give to singles on this topic is to make a list of 10 ‘must haves’ and 10 ‘can’t stands,’” Parrott says. “Neil Clark Warren recommends the same thing. We’ve done this with thousands of singles, and we often hear back from them on how helpful it was.” Parrott recommends sacrificing no more than one or two items from each list.
“This exercise enables singles to avoid the pitfall of settling for a person who isn’t really what you need and also keeps you from having an endless list of high expectations,” he says.
4. Expect something.
While being too picky isn’t such a wise—or fruitful—idea, don’t mend your ways so much that you swing to the other extreme. We all know what no expectations add up to: misery. Dating any breathing believer of the opposite gender certainly widens your pool of potential dates, but it’s also a recipe for disaster. God gave you—and the friends and family members who are hopefully also weighing in on your dating practices—good sense. So use it.
The key here is balance. On one end of the dating continuum is Diva (and whatever the male equivalent of that is) and on the other end is Desperate. Aim for somewhere in the middle. Think less Mr. or Ms. Perfect and more Mr. or Ms. Perfect for Me. That means someone with a healthy combination of strengths and weaknesses that complement your own.
5. Look in the mirror.
“Once you decide what you want in another person,” Parrott advises, “the most important thing you can do is to focus on finding those qualities in yourself. This is essential… . Once you find these qualities in yourself, you significantly increase the odds of drawing another person with these same qualities toward yourself.”
Makes sense. If you’re looking for someone independent and confident, you’re seriously not going to find that person by acting needy. And if you’re seeking a date who’s kind, you’re not going to attract that someone with sarcasm or caustic comments. So if you have character issues that need some work, ask God to continue to shape and reshape you.
6. Be open.
Cloud advises singles to be open-minded when it comes to potential dates. “Getting rid of the mindset that there is a ‘type’ for you opens you up,” he writes. “It clears the fog and takes off your blinders to real people, real humans you can experience and get to know. As a result, you will learn about yourself as well as the nature of relationship itself.”
Let’s face it—deciding on someone to spend the rest of your life with is daunting. It doesn’t help that we receive seemingly contradictory advice: “Aim high, but don’t settle.” If you feel like you’re lacking wisdom, take heart. When we ask, the God of the universe promises to give wisdom “to all generously and without criticizing” (James 1:5).
And what could be better than His help? We look at the outward appearance, but God looks at a potential date’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7). And isn’t that the best indicator of a whole, healthy person—one who might be a good complement to you? Pray for God’s guidance, ask those who care about you to do the same, and then listen for His voice. We know our great expectations of Him are never unrealistic.