My dad always told me, “Stephanie, you’ll pick and pick until you pick shit.”
It was hard to hear, but certainly provided me with the wake-up call I needed to differentiate my wants from my needs when it came to choosing a partner.
So the other day, when a reader asked me to write a post about how we know when we’re being assertive with our standards or whether we’re just being too picky, I couldn’t believe I didn’t think of it first.
One time, my sister suggested I write a list of everything I could ever want in a partner. Everything. From his background to his bad habits to his interests and his hobbies. Then she suggested I draw a picture of him on the other side of the page. Well aware of my inability to draw, I figured my imagination would suffice. Trust me; I had already seen his face a thousand times over in my head.
During the process of composing my list, I wrote down pretty generic things. I tucked my list into a drawer and kept it there.
Then, a few months ago, perhaps the most thought-provoking and empowering professor I might ever encounter gave an interesting anecdote during a journalism lecture. She discussed her lifestyle choices that made everyone question her sanity; pursuing a higher education, getting married a little later on in life and deciding not to have kids.
She told us about how people always asked her and her husband when they were going to have kids. People would tell her, “You two would have the most beautiful children!” But it wasn’t a part of her agenda.
She said that if she cared about what people thought, she would have gotten pregnant and reluctantly had children, only to result in her having a mid-life crisis in a few years’ time because she didn’t stick to her plan. The lesson she wanted us to take was to always differentiate between self-agency and performance.
When I got home, I revised my list. I didn’t want to be with someone who I had to perform for just to be in a relationship with them, and I certainly didn’t want to be with someone who was performing for me. So I changed “able to hold a conversation” to “able to discuss things that I find important”. I changed “a good listener” to “someone who cares about the things I talk about”. I crossed some of the things off, like “someone with similar cultural interests”. I could live with someone who wouldn’t follow me to a steel pan performance. And after that class, I held on to “someone who wants children around the same time I do”.
Truthfully, there are a lot of things we just can’t live with. And while some of them can sound frivolous to other people, only we know how deeply it will affect us in our relationship. For instance, I couldn’t date someone with a child. I knew I wasn’t ready to for that much responsibility at this point in my life. I also couldn’t live with someone who wasn’t passionate about something, anything! While some people take these things on, I had to accept that I could not.
At this moment, I realized that the only way for me to not follow what my father thought would be my fate was to distinguish between my needs and my wants. Otherwise, I would continue to pick guys I knew were defying my list.
Sometimes, we find ourselves so desperate for companionship that we settle for less than what we deserve, and we stick it out just for the sake of being part of the population with a partner. This is a performance.
But when will we learn that life is not a theater production? We don’t have to act like we don’t have our own agenda, our own plan, and our own list of what we want and need in our partner and what we want and need from our life. But for some reason, we feel the need to, only to disappoint ourselves and wake up in the middle of the night ten years from now wondering where we went wrong.
We go wrong in not listening to ourselves when we make important decisions. Sometimes we feel like we’re being picky because we have yet to meet someone who looks like the human version of our list. We are then faced with a pressing decision: do we change our list, ourselves, or settle?
So the answer to the question of when we’re being too picky is simple. It is to distinguish between your wants and you needs. You have to decide what is and is not a deal-breaker.
The thing is, you have every right to be selective of what you want in a partner. And yes, you even have the right to be picky. But in being picky, you must also be realistic. When you encounter someone you think you could become romantically involved with, you need to be aware of what could make or break it for you.