You’re sick of dating and the series of dead-end relationships you find yourself in. It’s just plain painful, tedious and brings up every fear you don’t want to confront. You feel like you’re always starting over, never sure why your “picker” is off. You keep attracting the wrong partners, which inevitably leads to asking WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
The good news is there’s nothing “wrong” with you. The problem is your way of looking at potential partners, and the idea you have in your head. You have a limited perspective of who you are in a relationship, and it translates to the limited way you see potential partners.
When you have a fantasy of what you THINK you want (one you’ve likely had for many years), you create a very narrow opening of what you’ll accept. Then you look for people who fit your criteria, not realizing those criteria don’t serve you and they aren’t based on anything real. Most of them were developed in childhood according to what you believe you didn’t receive, so you created your limited reality from that place. This in turn limits the potential for happiness in partnership too.
Let’s use online dating as an example for the criteria you use, consciously and unconsciously, to look for a partner.
You flip through profiles looking for attributes that catch your eye. Maybe you’re drawn to a particular look: tall, slim, lots of hair, fit, good teeth, etc. If you don’t disqualify them based on their appearance, you read what they wrote. You want someone smart, funny, charismatic, independent, sophisticated, drama-free, etc., so you look for indicators of those qualities, weeding out those who don’t qualify. This is when you start dinging them for poor grammar or the movies they like. You decide they live too far away or don’t hold a “good enough” job or have bad taste in music.
You dismiss people based on what you think is important. “How can I have a conversation with a vegetarian who watches Game of Thrones and has never traveled outside the US?” This approach is fear based—you’re not looking at people with an open heart. Truthfully, you are not emotionally available. Instead you are looking for someone to make you feel okay about yourself… except it doesn’t work this way.
The characteristics you think matter only solve the perceived problem based on who you think you are. If you find someone you believe to be an amazing person, everyone will think YOU are amazing, and that you have succeeded. As a result, they will treat you as an amazing person instead of triggering the inner wounds you’re hiding. But it’s all inauthentic.
This approach says you have no interest in meeting an ordinary human being who you connect with on a heart level. You are trading in that potential connection for external validation and acceptance. If they don’t possess the characteristics that make them an “amazing” human, you won’t experience those high-in-the-sky intense feelings which only distract you from your feelings of lack: what you didn’t get as a kid or the qualities you don’t believe you possess. The checklist in your mind has very little to do with emotional intimacy and everything to do with looking for someone to fill you up, make you feel safe and value you.
Values and deal breakers
Checklist qualities don’t speak to someone’s true character. Instead of selecting based on characteristics, you need to dig deeper. What values are important to you? Make a list, and ask yourself WHY each is important. What does it give you? What are your deal breakers?
Values may include:
- Positive outlook
- Importance of family
- Strong sense of self
- Intellectual curiosity
- Emotional availability
It’s important you list values rather than characteristics. As you write your list, ask if these are values you embody and practice yourself. For example, if kindness is important, are you kind to yourself? Do you treat yourself with the same kindness you expect of others? You cannot receive what you do not give yourself. No one can make up for your perceived deficit. For each value you don’t prioritize in yourself, look at what stops you from treating yourself in that manner.
On the flip side, if you’re looking for a relationship and they make it clear they aren’t interested in anything long-term, plus you find yourself becoming attached, look at what you believe you lack. I guarantee you will see those qualities in this person… whether or not they want the same things you do. You’ll ignore what’s important to you (i.e. a relationship).
It’s time to be honest with yourself and accept the truth of what someone does and does not want. If you delude yourself into thinking you can change their mind, you’ll only be wrapped up in a cycle of self-defeating behavior and disappointment because you can’t convince them. Only they can decide for themselves.
Your criteria aren’t based on anything real
You likely have an idea in your head of the kind of partner you want. Maybe you’ve created it from movies, books, your perception of other “successful” relationships, etc. Or it comes from what you feel you didn’t get as a kid. The problem is, you’ve never connected those ideal qualities to your own experiences.
You look for a sharp wit because you’ve seen it work for other people… except you don’t actually know if it works for other people. You just assume it does. And even if it works for them, that doesn’t mean it will work for you. But you imagine yourself sitting across the table from someone, being captivated by their witty charm, then riding off into the sunset together. The fantasy distracts you from being present and feeling the connection you have with this person—or don’t have.
The truth about attraction
A lot of people think they can’t help who they’re attracted to. If they don’t feel that zing, it means there’s no connection. FALSE. You are attracted to people based on your beliefs and patterns… and you can absolutely change them.
Chemistry is not a good indicator of connection because healthy relationships aren’t dependent on highs and lows. In fact, intense chemistry can cause you to shelve your values, leading you away from what you say you want. Who you’re attracted to is a reflection of how you feel about yourself, looking for qualities in a potential mate based on what you lack in yourself. This is how we end up attracting the wrong partners.
Approaching things differently
First, it’s important to build your own value by giving yourself what you need. Don’t look for someone else to fill you up. Refer back to your list and ask how much you embody those values yourself. Remember, you can’t openly receive what you don’t give to yourself. Then, when looking for a partner, you’ll have a better idea of which values are important to you and why, distinguishing them from surface characteristics which are usually rooted in fear, lack and scarcity.
When you make these shifts, you allow space for someone who may not fit the picture in your head, but who you deeply connect with. And isn’t that what you ultimately want?
For more on this topic, I have several related podcasts: