Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Petey's dating manual: Find a good match for you

"But you're so great! How are you still single?"

Some people are practically perfect in every way. They're smart, talented, funny, and attractive. They're also kind, humble, and generous. When people like this are single into their late 20s or 30s, many observers are mystified – or even dismayed; after all, if someone that perfect isn't married, what hope do we mere mortals have? There are some important misconceptions in this process and it leads to some erroneous conclusions. I'm hoping that by pointing them out, I'll convince my readers (and myself) to think differently.

The consternation over our wonderful single friends seems to come from the way we think about dating. The idea seems to be that we go looking for the most incredible person we can who is willing to date us. Then, we convince that person to date little old us. It's like playing chicken. This mental model demonstrates the insecurity that's embedded deep within our societal consciousness. It also is a recipe for frustration and failure. And it ignores several crucial facts about people and relationships.

Most importantly, people can't be scored and placed on a continuum: "50 points for playing the piano!" "He just lost 400 points because he smokes." "She listens really well. That's a solid 275 points." Does it sound silly? It ought to. It's silly because we all value different things differently. It's also silly because no one is capable of identifying the intensity of feelings with such accuracy and precision. And it's silly because the characteristics we observe, even if we could quantify them, would probably not combine simply with addition and subtraction.

The bottom line is that dating is not a game where one keeps score. Attractiveness is not objective and can't be measured, even subjectively. And the milestones of dating – exclusivity, engagement, and the like – aren't really milestones. If I've dated someone for three days or if we break up three days before the wedding was scheduled, I still start from square one.

Stop keeping score.

We also need to discard the idea that one's success in dating is directly tied to one's actions. Some will dismiss this as an Un-American sentiment, but it remains true. The fact is that we rely on the actions of others and on circumstance (that is, on God's actions) for these things. A person might truly be attractive and desirable in every way and still have trouble with dating.

Instead, we should think of dating differently. It's much more productive to think of it as a search for someone who is compatible. Look for someone who is like you enough that you can understand and trust each other – and who is different enough to make things interesting. My dad said it many times and it took me a long time to figure out how deeply right he was: just find someone "whose company you enjoy." This will be different for different people (thankfully). The rest of it will take care of itself.