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Ditch the Relationship Checklist

By on Nov 07, 2017

Nobody thinks they have an unreasonable relationship checklist when looking for a partner.

I talk with singles about their relationship life just about every day, and this is a common occurrence:

I’ve been looking, but there aren’t many good guys out there!

So what do you want in a partner?

Well, he needs to be tall and have a good job. He needs to treat me like a lady. I don’t want to have sex right away, but I want sexual chemistry…

He can’t be too young because they aren’t serious. He needs to have a sense of humor. Wanting kids are a must. He must be attractive, and I don’t find most guys attractive—and I only date people of the same race. He needs to be local and not travel much, but I want someone who is global in their thinking. I don’t like guys who drink too much…

And the list goes on. For a long time.

Sometimes it takes 10 minutes before I can stop them and point out that they’ve defined a pretty specific person, probably someone who rides on a unicorn.

At this point, many singles back up and say they don’t really need all those things, they just want them. But you can tell this is just words. They might know in their heart that this checklist is too long, and admit it when pressed. But they’re also unwilling to actually give up the long list of criteria.

I mean, this is a life partner, right? Why would anyone compromise?

There are plenty of reasons, actually. And it has nothing to do with “settling” and everything to do with having an actual relationship with a human being.

Shorten that Relationship Checklist

Let’s start with the obvious: If you have a really long relationship checklist, and your potential partners do the same, the odds of matching become pretty slim. Meeting the right people can take time in any situation, but you’ve made things infinitely harder if you walk into a crowded room and there’s at most only one guy or girl who could possibly fit your specs. Then we reduce that number further because the other person also has their long checklist.

We all know this, which is why many singles think that dating successfully is a numbers game, and a depressing one at that. This is what the dating apps encourage, and what a lot of the relationship industry is built around: people are commodities, and you just have to search until you find the right one who fits your needs. And until then, you have hookups or live a lonely life.

The problem is not with others, though. It is not about there being no good singles out there. The problem is with you.

That sounds harsh, but actually that’s really positive news: that means you can do something about it. You aren’t passive and waiting for fate. There is an element of chance with dating, sure, but it is more like 1/6 odds instead of 1/3000 odds if you approach dating in the right way and don’t have a crazy long list or criteria.

Chances are strong that you’ve already found the right person two or three times in your life, probably more. You just weren’t ready for them. You excluded them instead of giving them a real chance.

Relationships are Not Transactions

Aside from the numbers game, you should ditch your long relationship checklist because it just doesn’t work. Good relationships are not transactions.

The relationship you want deep in your heart is not a relationship based on a checklist. It is one based on love and a deep connection with another person. That need for connection and partnership is a human need, and why most people want a relationship even though it is messy and inefficient. Yes, we could live alone and have a meaningful life without a partner, but something subtle is missing: that human connection at the deepest level.

We confuse this fundamental need for connection with transactional wants when searching for a partner, looking instead for things like kids, social acceptance (being “in” a relationship), an activity buddy or support.

Transactional elements in a relationship are nice, but they’re not the point.

The single man or woman who says they don’t need a life partner is half right: We don’t need a partner for our transactional needs in our modern world; we can get most of that alone, and fill the gap with friends and services. There’s no longer a need for children to till the field and take care of us when we’re old, or for a second income and an extra pair of hands to make ends meet. It is easy to meet people and survive in this world today, and we’re almost past the social stigma of living single.

What we’re not past is the need for connection, however. That’s a fundamental human need and the real reason we date. We keep trying and hoping for a relationship because we know something is missing, even if we’re doing quite well materially and socially. Many of my clients are wildly successful professionally, but they’re still missing something. That something is the emotional connection with another person.

What Really Matters for a Good Relationship

The reason you don’t want a relationship checklist is because it confuses you more than it helps. The relationship checklist does a decent job at checking for your transactional needs, but that’s missing the real reason for being in a long-term relationship.

What you really want is a deep connection with another person, and things like height, job or even attractiveness are far secondary. Nail the deep connection part and most of the rest falls into place, even sexual chemistry.

That’s really good news if you’re feeling hopeless, because there are lots of people out there who could connect deeply with you, far more than your relationship checklist might indicate.

This is why I am a relationship coach and not a dating coach. You don’t need help finding the right person by and large. You need help learning how to connect more deeply with people, and maybe changing the habits of how you look and what you focus on when you meet someone. Dating is not about games or playing the numbers, it is about showing up and knowing how to connect deeply with another person.

When you share yourself and help others do the same, good things happen. That’s when the right person magically appears.

The Checklist Doesn’t Disappear, However

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can pick anyone off the street and have the marriage of your dreams. While it is possible for you to love just about anyone you meet (and we teach Indians in arranged marriages how to turn them into “love marriages,” actually), there are some criteria that make a huge difference and should be considered when looking for a partner.

You do need a relationship checklist. It just should be a really short checklist!

The checklist consist of two sections: what people need in general for a good relationship, and what you specifically need for a good relationship.

The list of what you need in general for a successful relationship is actually quite short: you need someone with real commitment who will work with you no matter what happens in life, and you need this person to ideally be healthy enough emotionally that they know how to love themselves (which is needed to truly love you).

A short list, right? You can learn more about these basics in my article about knowing when to commit.

The slightly longer second part of the checklist is what you personally need for a good relationship, your non-negotiables. It should have all the true dealbreakers, things like wanting kids if that’s something you need, being open to travel if you’re a travel monster, and shared spiritual beliefs if you’re devout and really must have someone of the same faith.

The key is making this list short and only including the true non-negotiables. This is not a wishlist, because a wishlist expands your criteria and makes you needlessly picky. It also focuses you on transactional wants. Your personal checklist should only contain things that you would not accept under any circumstance—things that would make you walk away from them even if everything else was perfect.

Does the person’s height matter based on this criteria, for instance? Probably not; a 5’8” Prince Charming probably still is worth your time.

Shortening your relationship checklist is not easy, however. I totally get that. Most of us have built extensive expectations around our future partner and the life we will lead with them. The problem is that these expectations are not always realistic.

So if you know your relationship checklist is too long, or you think it is short but still are having troubling finding the right person, reach out to me at Kowalke Relationship Coaching and we can help make sure you’re focusing on the right things—and only the right things.

Your life partner is out there. You just have to give him or her the chance.

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Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.