A few months ago I was talking to a woman who was telling me what she wanted in a guy. She was rattling off some very specific requirements, including what model year the guy’s car had to be. I was laughing and asked if she could show me her list. She didn’t have it there, but she told me she could email it to me later!
It didn’t surprise me that this woman was single. And, after a little digging, I found out she was single more often than not, in spite of being a pretty charming, good looking woman. She had a lot of guys after her, but none of them could meet her impossible standards.
This lady embodies one of the biggest problems in 21st century dating: a checklist mentality. While people have always tended to create a mental checklist, online dating has increased the tendency to look at dating as “checking off boxes.” That’s what internet dating is about: stats, check-marks, and alleged compatibility. But, it can go too far, especially when it’s designed to exclude nearly all partners and spills over into “real life.”
However, anyone who understands attraction knows that it’s not about checking off boxes at all. Attraction happens in the limbic system. It’s a gut reaction that in many ways is all or nothing. The limbic brain doesn’t say “this person meets 76.7% of my criteria.” Instead it says, “damn, this person is hot (or not).”
The checklist mentality puts attraction in the rational brain, the neocortex. And, there’s nothing wrong with using your rational side in dating. In fact, it’s a good idea to filter out the bad and crazy people. However, being overly rational about attraction, especially using the checklist, will keep you single.
The main reason is that the rational brain can always find a reason to override the limbic system, even if it’s not justified. This is especially true if the man or woman holds to ridiculously unrealistic standards. There might be genuine attraction and the person might be a great partner. But, since they own a 2012 model car instead of a 2013 model, the relationship can’t go forward.
I know that’s an extreme example, but it happens in many other ways. Part of it, I think, comes from the unrealistic desire to find “the one” or a “soul mate.” People miss out on some great relationships because they’re looking for perfection. The checklist attitude usually comes from the desire to find the ideal guy or girl (which doesn’t exist).
The best way to avoid the checklist mentality (and avoid keeping yourself single) is to relax and let your limbic system do its job. Go with your gut regarding initial attraction, then let your rational brain guide you based on your important values. However, ditch the checklist. Opposites sometimes attract and people can surprise you. Don’t close yourself to finding love and enjoyment simply because the person doesn’t meet numbers 3 through 8 of your 80 essential traits in a partner.