Are my relationship expectations too unreasonable?
May 18, 2008 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Are my relationship expectations too unreasonable?

I'm 28 and I've had two girlfriends in my lifetime. The first relationship lasted three years and the second one lasted about a month -- it ended a couple days ago. After the ending of the most recent relationship, I've been trying to evaluate and document what typically creates a spark between myself and a woman, and I'm worried that I may be trying to hold out for an optimal situation that may never happen again.

I feel incredibly pretentious breaking it down into a list like this, but I don't really know any other way convey what I'm trying to get at, so here goes. I need someone who: is sweet and kind and somewhat bubbly, is capable of loving someone deeply, loves their family, is appreciative of a good sense of humor and laughs often, is intelligent, accepts and gives compliments equally well, likes to hold hands and give hugs and is very affectionate, and is cute (I'm not very picky when it comes to appearance, but I do need to be attracted to the person).

I don't think I'm going over the top with those criteria, but given that I don't really meet many women who are like this and go on dates with even fewer that end up throwing off sparks, I'm thinking it may be time to try to to open up to new characteristics in people. The thing is, I consider myself to be a good, decent, funny guy with a pure heart, and all I really want is someone who is similar.

I just feel very lost and very old right now, and it feels like I'm running out of time for some reason. It may sound sad, but it is part of my very being is to want to share love with someone like this. I guess what I'm really trying to ask is: Do many women exhibit these types of qualities? If so, where are they!? Detailed latitude/longitude coordinates would be much appreciated! ;)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You don't say where you live or where you're seeking out these people. That might help us help you. I have to say you did describe me and half my friends.
posted by MeetMegan at 10:49 AM on May 18, 2008

Are my relationship expectations too unreasonable?

No. They sounds quite reasonable and normal.

Do many women exhibit these types of qualities?

Yes, I think so. I think they are pretty common qualities for people in general.

Maybe you just need to branch out and try and meet more people in new or different places. Expand your social circle.
posted by at 10:50 AM on May 18, 2008

I guess what I'm really trying to ask is: Do many women exhibit these types of qualities?

Yes. There are still plenty of intelligent, interesting, independent women left. And more are turning [18/21/25/50/whatever your cutoff is] every day.

If so, where are they!?

They're your friends' friends or your friends' friends' friends, in my experience, but sometimes they are in your classroom or your office or at the grocery store or you just run into them. You sound like a pretty nice guy. Say hi, don't be creepy, don't be desperate (there's no reason!) and you'll be fine.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2008

There are lots of nice people out there. They may not all be right for you, but that doesn't mean they fall to live up to bullshit criteria lists. I suspect that, yes, you do need to make changes to your attitudes to dating and women, but I don't think it's quite the way you think. Forget checkists, and just keep an eye out for people you like. Don't analyse why you like them. Just arrange to meet them again. Keep meeting people as long as you like them and they like you. The rest will take care of itself. It sounds like you're being overly judgemental.
posted by nthdegx at 10:55 AM on May 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

given that I don't really meet many women who are like this

Plenty of women meet the criteria you describe. But nobody exhibits all those criteria all at once all the time- I'm not bubbly all the time or sweet all the time, or, heh, intelligent all the time. You need to give people more than 10 seconds before you write them off as not meeting your standards, because I bet you're missing out on a lot of opportunities. Stop judging people against the model in your head and start looking for people you like being around.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:57 AM on May 18, 2008 [9 favorites]

Your expectations are totally normal.

I may be off base, but I think a stumbling block may be the 'bubbly' part. If you're going after woman who are extremely bubbly and not looking at woman who appear shy at first, you may be missing out on some great people. I know a lot of woman who are pretty shy around strangers, but who transform into woman exactly like you describe once they get comfortable with someone.

I really agree that we need to know where you're looking for dates. If you're just looking at coworkers and friends-of-friends, you need to start doing some new social activities, like clubs, that'll allow you to meet new people. Book club, cycling club, knitting club, bitching-about-politics club, whatever.

(Don't know why 'loves their family' is so important- a lot of great people have really shitty families.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:02 AM on May 18, 2008 [14 favorites]

Stop judging people against the model in your head and start looking for people you like being around.

What is he doing, if not defining the type of women he likes being around?
posted by jayder at 11:05 AM on May 18, 2008

I don't think it's an unrealistic list. In fact, I made a list of personality traits I wanted in a partner right before I wound up dating my husband. Having a list helped me concentrate on the personality qualities I really cared about and ignore other reasons I might pursue a relationship with someone (he has an interesting job/lives close by/is cute). And yes, I met my husband on OK Cupid.

However, as ThePinkSuperhero mentioned, you have to give someone time to display all qualities you're looking for. So keep trying, keep getting to know people, and you'll find someone you want to be with.

Good luck.
posted by christinetheslp at 11:12 AM on May 18, 2008

Most of the things you list are elements of someone's inner character. With the exception of attractiveness, they're the kind of things that you can't really assess until you know someone reasonably well.

What concerns me a bit in your question is your statement that you don't meet many people like this. How do you know? Are you unconsciously filtering out women on the basis of more superficial characteristics because you think those things speak to these other things you've identified as essential? "Oh, she couldn't possibly be a nice girl, look at all those tattoos/she smokes/she's wearing Ugg boots."

That can be a problem because it prevents you from getting to know a lot of women who might be great for you. If you avoid sizing people up too quickly you'll be surprised at how many will show you unexpected things. Cast a wider net.
posted by shadow vector at 11:18 AM on May 18, 2008

You sound kind of depressed, like you're in that post-breakup phase where you wonder vaguely if you'll ever meet anyone, etc. This is a phase in which it's often tempting to wander into self-pity and sullen recriminations land, so watch where you're going.

Your list is fine - and even more fine is your awareness of how odd it is to have to make such a list. My suspicion is that there are *lots* of girls who would love to meet you and who you'd enjoy spending time with. Indeed, with such an innocent sounding list, I find myself wondering how come you haven't had more relationships. Are you shy at meeting new people? Do you go out much? What do people who know you well think the problem is in your relationship life? Might you maybe have some anxiety about being in a relationship?

I think the best way to find new relationships is to give yourself permission to experiment and to get involved in social activities you care about. Like if you enjoy nature, don't go on solitary walks, go on club-sponsored meetup type walks, like those sponsored by the Sierra club -- that way you'll be doing what you enjoy and you'll also meet people who enjoy the same things.

It's not an unrealistic list - the problem may be more of how you *use* the list. If it's kind of an admission ticket to your time (e.g., ok, you're cute, but you don't like your family, sorry...), then you might be using your criteria as a way to protect yourself from whatever fears you might have about being in a relationship.
posted by jasper411 at 11:25 AM on May 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

Plenty of women like that exist; the problem is finding them. The fact that you're introverted works against you here. I have the same problem. For me, just finding a man who is *single* and anywhere near my age group (and that part isn't even important to me) is something that seems near impossible 99.99% of the time.

One thing you should try, if you have the opportunity, is to go on more dates with more people, regardless of whether you think they meet your criteria. When first meeting people it can be hard to tell what they're really going to be like. So again, if you are able (if the women exist and you know where they are), date more individuals, even individuals who don't seem like Ms. Right just yet. This applies to women in the online dating pool as well.

For me, meeting an available guy in real life is simply impossible (I work at home and don't enjoy the activities that my friends do when they meet their future SO's) so I do the online dating thing as well. And no, nobody has stuck. But I tend to get exhausted after meeting about two people, and then I take a 6-12 month hiatus (one of which I'm in the middle of right now). So I know the problem is my method. :)
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:30 AM on May 18, 2008

Are my relationship expectations too unreasonable? ... The thing is, I consider myself to be a good, decent, funny guy with a pure heart, and all I really want is someone who is similar.

No, not unreasonable at all. Lots and lots of people are just like how you describe yourself (good, decent, etc) and have the attributes you say you are looking for. That doesn't mean that you are doing the things it takes to find, attract, and keep a person like that, though -- their list is probably similar, and so the question becomes: Are you displaying these qualities in ways that are apparent to the sort of woman you want to attract? That is, we can easily take your word that you are decent, funny, etc -- but do these qualities manifest themselves in your initial interactions with a woman (like in the bookstore, or in the first email, or wherever), or are you so introverted that you are (as the cliché goes) hiding your light under a basket?

I just feel very lost and very old right now, and it feels like I'm running out of time for some reason.

I think that is a normal way to feel at that age. I felt the same way, and then met my wife shortly thereafter. When all around you people are "finding true love" and getting married and having kids and all that, it can be kind of tough to keep from feeling down on yourself. And I think that maybe there are some parts of the aging process that happen around the late 20's, where you start wanting the nesting thing more -- at least, I did, and female friends were having the "ticking clock" in a big way. So it's normal to feel that way (because if no one did, then no one would bother to hook up, right?), but really you have loads of time yet. Five years from now you will look back and think, Man I was so young!

Do many women exhibit these types of qualities? If so, where are they!?

All around you. Perhaps in places you aren't looking. Lots of people cut out entire huge swaths of demographics preemptively -- "I could never marry someone who is older/from another country/Jewish/taller than me/who is Christian/etc etc etc" -- and if you are doing that, then you may be cutting your dating pool from big to very very small. And the way you have stated your expectations here is totally reasonable, but be sure that you are really looking for those reasonable things, not some vision of perfection (such as an idealized memory of a past girlfriend, which is unfair because no one can compare to a perfect vision like that), and that you are reciprocating and providing her with the same reasonable set of attributes.

Online dating works for some people, but not for everyone. It was a big failure for me -- there was a rhythm and pacing to the online contacts that didn't work for me at all; I found I did much better in old-fashioned face-to-face interactions. If you aren't meeting people that float your boat, change what you are doing. Different online service, different profile, different choices of whom to contact.

And if by "introverted" you mean "I have no social life and sit in my basement all day," then consider what kind of life you would be offering a future girlfriend -- are you expecting her to be your complete 24/7 social life, and to provide all the extrovertedness in the relationship, and to compensate all on her own for your isolation?
posted by Forktine at 11:31 AM on May 18, 2008

The women you're looking for are all around you. They are your co-workers, your fellow students, the friends or relatives of friends, the people you meet throughout the course of your day.

Open yourself up. Are you showing the world that you are a good, decent, funny guy, or is that how you feel on the inside, but outwardly you come off differently? Sometimes introverts (of which I am one, so I know the routine) use that as an excuse: "Well, I'm an introvert, so I couldn't possibly be expected to just go up to that cute, bubbly barista and ask her out", or "Introverts don't join CLUBS!". Suck it up, and just do those things.

You aren't running out of time. It's not too late, I promise!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:37 AM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hell, I'm single, and I'd probably fit the bill :)

I find, however, that many guys are much more willing to put out a list of what they're looking for rather than what they'll do to get it. It seems that across the wide swath of guys I've known, many of them think that all they have to do is find the "right person" with that magical combination of qualities that will fit beautifully with their own. Which is fine, but that puts an awfully large burden on the other person. What about you? Are you willing to do silly things that make her more bubbly? Are you interested in sharing time with her own family and your own, not just taking the "loves family" quality as a reason to either spend copious time with (or abandon) your own? Do you want her to inspire you all the time, or would you hope that she can inspire you as well?

As someone else has pointed out people don't ALWAYS exhibit these qualities. Seriously, though, it's a two-way street. I'm sick of relationships where people think that finding the right person will mean that they can go on living their live the way they please because the other person just fits in so well. Change, compromise and vulnerability are mandatory.

I'm not saying that you're not doing these things already, but look to yourself before you look to another person. The bubbliness might be masked by shyness; the intelligence unconventional. You're on the right track.
posted by Madamina at 11:48 AM on May 18, 2008 [12 favorites]

Take it from me: You aren't running out of time.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:00 PM on May 18, 2008

Your expectations don't strike me as unreasonable, but they do seem very vague. I mean, is anyone looking for someone who is mean, ill-tempered, shallow, and hates her family? Maybe there's a way to get more specific and figure out what your most important, deal-breaker type qualities are (for example, I like guys with a "good sense of humor" but can't stand show-offs, so I would be inclined to dig deeper into what my idea of "good sense of humor" means in order to avoid wannabe comedians). Or, alternatively, stick with the vague stuff but try to give every nice-seeming single girl a shot--don't assume you'll be able to recognize all of those qualities in someone if you haven't spent a fair amount of time with her. My now-fiance asked me out without knowing much other than that he thought I seemed nice and cute. At the time I thought, "he seems nice and cute, so ok I'll go out with him." He figured out that I had most of the qualities you're looking for over the course of a few weeks/months. I'm pretty shy, so he didn't see my "bubbly" side until I was really comfortable with him. Same for showing affection and being goofy. He wouldn't have gotten any of that if we had just been exchanging e-mails, or if he had made a decision about me without going out a few times.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:26 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also can be rather introverted.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!!!!

What is your plan for meeting this woman that you describe? If it involves not going out because you work a lot and go to grad school, then I'm sorry to say it's not likely to work out for you.

This guy has some great (and useful) advice. Follow it, and the universe will provide all of the love and companionship you could possibly desire.
posted by mpls2 at 1:10 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Focus first on the most wonderful relationship you can have, the one with yourself. By loving yourself, your ability to love grows. Then, when you enter a relationship, you don't go into it because you need to be loved. It becomes a choice. You can choose someone if you want to, and you can see who they really are.

Then, what makes you happy is love coming out of you, and if you're generous with your love, you will receive love back. You don't have to feel old and alone if you are generous.
posted by netbros at 1:18 PM on May 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

No, you aren't too picky. As others have noted, you are likely to be making snap judgements about people before you really get to know them, and ruling out lots of nice women. It's good to evaluate your list before you get serious with someone, but as long as someone is intelligent, attractive, and kind you might want to give the "benefit of doubt" and get to know her a bit better before you decide she doesn't fit your criteria. Many of the traits you want are traits a woman won't necessarily show or share with a stranger, but readily shares and shows with friends. So wait until you are "friends" to see how much of this comes out, and then decide if you want to take the relationship further.

The best way to attract someone is to be attractive. If you are introverted enough that you find it hard to meet women (in general) work on that. Learn how to meet people more easily. Examples of things you might try: Join Toastmasters and learn to be more confident speaking to strangers. Join a club. Take dance lessons. Join a hiking group. This is also a great way to get over a breakup.
posted by jcdill at 1:27 PM on May 18, 2008

I think it's a bad sign when someone shows up with a list of qualities that their dream mate must have. In reality, no one will meet any set of criteria at all times, under all circumstances. Better to just meet people and find out who they are.

The strongest, happiest couples I know are of the "opposites attract" variety. It requires respect and strength to be with someone who is not a mirror of you, but it leads to real, enduring love.
posted by OlderThanTOS at 1:28 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't answer in here except that you said Minneapolis, and I'm a transplant to the Twin Cities, so I might be able to add a tiny bit of local perspective. Sorry for the length, IANA relationship expert, YMMV, consult a physician if symptoms persist, etc.

I need to second the poster above who questioned the "love of family" qualification. I'm mostly from the West Coast and Southwest, and I have to say, I had no idea, until I moved here, that there were that many adults in the world who saw their parents regularly, talked to them on the phone all the time, etcetera. So... I think it'd be great if you gave people a little slack on that one.

Also, everyone who suggests that your list of qualifications might not be so easy to evaluate without knowing people better- amen! I find that even in Minneapolis- which is where individualists and ambitious, confident, non-mainstream Minnesotans tend to end up, people are still very geared towards their social circles, the friends they've had since kindergarten, etc.

Put another way- they're used to being surrounded by people who've had most of a lifetime to get to know them. Which is great! But that also means it might take quite a while to get to see some parts of their personalities, especially if you're doing that internet-dating getting-to-know-each-other stuff, which is always a bit awkward and artificial.

OK, enough stereotyping! Almost! I don't know what exactly you mean by 'near Minneapolis'. Could be Bloomington, could be St Peter. It makes a difference, I'm sure- and again, this isn't scientific at all, but in their 20's, a lot of people are still struggling through their first marriage or whatever, settling down and having kids, or- they're living in the Cities. Scratch that- they're in Minneapolis, not St Paul, even- it tends to be that specific.

One more thing. I'd like to suggest that 'spark' and 'girlfriend material' are not necessarily in the same ballpark, and you may find that if that spark is strong enough, you become a lot more flexible about the list of qualifications.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with what you say you're looking for, just seconding everyone who said that yes, maybe you should give people more of a chance to surprise you.
posted by hap_hazard at 1:58 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you may also be prone to archetypes. Your list of characteristics is pretty generic - but at the same time, if there WAS a spark in the long-term relationship, you may also be mapping those characteristics onto a very particular type of girl (in which case, nobody is going to be able to easily match up).

Also, keep in mind that the easiest way to kill chemistry is to worry about it. If you're at all easy to read, you may be sending evaluative signals without realizing it -- in which case, it's going to be very hard for the opposite party to open up and feel comfortable around you. Nobody likes feeling judged!

To second the other posts: Spark / chemistry / alchemy is hard enough to quantify - don't make it harder on yourself by setting impossible standards. Which is not to say that you should lower your expectations - but giving people time / space to meet them (in their own way) is a must.
posted by puckish at 2:28 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Perhaps it would be better to take this time to reflect on yourself rather than on what you might desire in others. Breakups - no matter the length of the relationship - are notorious for screwing with your critical faculties, your expectations, and your perspectives, and decisions made now are not necessarily those you might make a month or so from now. Take this opportunity to let your spirits convalesce.

But, yeah, I'm after somebody like that too, and they have to be a reader. I can't stand people who don't read! Cute glasses optional.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:39 PM on May 18, 2008

Don't know why 'loves their family' is so important- a lot of great people have really shitty families.)

Just a guess, but maybe he wants to avoid marrying into a dysfunctional family and all the non-stop fun therein.
posted by jonmc at 3:24 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your criteria are not unreasonable as you have listed them, but I think they are a bit too vague to determine whether or not you are being too picky. These characteristics could mean different things for different people. Without knowing how you define, for example kindness, having a good sense of humour or intelligence its impossible to tell whether you are asking for too much. For example you could be defining intelligence as being well read and informed about current events or you could mean you need someone who has a Ph.d in advanced mathematics.
It might be worth thinking about what someone would need to do to show you that they have the qualities that you want.
posted by Laura_J at 3:49 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You mention being a graduate student, so my advice is to find out what sort of events your graduate student organization on campus hosts. The ones at my school inevitably involve free booze and lots of socializing with people from other departments.

As for the checklist, I hope you aren't bringing that to the first date. Those are things you can only learn about over time.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 5:23 PM on May 18, 2008

Word of advice from someone older than you who's had a relationship or two: abandon all 'checklists,' you're not shopping for a car. Just meet people and let things happen.
posted by jonmc at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Minneapolis ... for those characteristics, your hunting grounds are good.

So are many, many other places.

The balance of opinion so far, if I may oversimplify, is to change your attitude, and get out more. I wouldn't disagree. But here's something else to chew on: while there are zillions of good women all over the world, interactional style can vary from region to region. It's possible you'd have an easier time elsewhere. (To the gallery: yeah, yeah, when you move, you take yourself with you ... ) So also consider how you've been interacting with people. Do you bring out those characteristics in others?
posted by coffeefilter at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2008

JRF I think that you feel the way you feel because you just broke up with that person with whom you had a one month relationship. Some of us are soo picky that not a lot of people come by and capture our imagination (among other things). However it is important to know that in Minneapolis there are not only two girls who will fulfill your requirements. There are plenty, eventually she will come and she will blow you away, keep working on you, and keep looking for her. Dont use the excuse of being an introvert as a way out of meeting new people. I think as time passes (and you forget about your current break-up) you will feel better and you will start liking other people, and letting them into your heart.....examining yourself is good for now as it will help you move on to the future, just know that if you keep on doing whatever you were doing will always get what you always have gotten....
posted by The1andonly at 7:53 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't forget, people play it close to the vest when they are in the initial stages of meeting someone. So a lot of those traits aren't clearly evident when you meet people. Once you get to know them, they become self-evident.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:27 AM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

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