We’re Lori and Jeff, married, licensed psychotherapists specializing in couple-to-couple relationship counseling and coaching at Aspen Relationship Institute. We’ve journeyed through the joys and challenges of marriage to create a connection that is powerful, tender, raw, and intimate.
She Said, He Said is a dual-perspective relationship advice column. This week we’re looking at how the myth of the “perfect one” can be used as a way to avoid relationship commitment.
Dear Lori and Jeff,
I can’t seem to find the right guy. I’ve dated some really great men but after about six months, I realize they aren’t the one.
Most of my friends are already married and say that I’m too picky but I know what I want and feel as though I should keep looking until I find it. The only problem is that I feel like I’m running out of time. What should I do?
Possibly Too Picky
Jeff: First, let’s address your belief that there’s someone out there who’s your perfect match. Columnist Dan Savage says that the idea of “the one” is a myth and destructive lie. The best we’re going to find out there is a .64 and it’s your job to round them up to “the one” (and hope they can round you up, too because you’re not their “one” either). This is a gift you are giving to each other because what you value and love about the .64 part of them is enough to build from.
Second, we’re curious if you might be a relationship dabbler. With the current explosion of digital technology, it’s never been easier to switch jobs, move from place to place and to find love (or at least a hookup). We’ve become a culture of dabblers, where once something becomes more work than reward, we label it as the “wrong job” or the “wrong guy” and move on to the next new, shiny thing. Relationships have begun to bear the brunt of these trends in alarming ways.
We all know how amazing new love can feel and how little work it seems to take to get in sync with our partners but as soon as the honeymoon is over and things start to take more effort to figure out, resolve, or accept, we begin to question whether or not they’re the “right one” for us. It’s become more common to bail on a relationship—knowing how easy it is to find new options—than it has to stick it out and put in the work.
Lori: On one hand, I admire your resolve in not compromising. On the other, your pattern of cycling through relationships makes me wonder if you actually know what you want. I encourage my single clients to make a list of the top five to seven nonnegotiable characteristics they need in a partner and to not start relationships with anyone who doesn’t fit the list.
Dabblers often don’t have a clear sense of what they need, or have a list that they continuously change based on what they are wanting in any given moment. What are you looking for in a partner? Is it someone who complements your personality, lifestyle, and goals, or someone who you believe will complete your world by filling in the spaces of uncertainty that you have about yourself.
If your list of needs for a mate is a dozen deep, you may need to take an honest look at whether you’re avoiding your own work by trying to pawn it off on a partner. Relationships that seem to have that special magic aren’t fairy tales come true—they’re the result of two partners working on loving with conviction. To be all-in in this way requires having awareness of your own shortcomings, motivation to continue finding your best self, and enough confidence within you to allow your partner to be imperfect.
Lori and Jeff: There’s a power in mastery—especially in relationships—but not many people make it there. Because they aren’t committed, they dabble with partner after partner. They’re searching for the quick fix and never get to the place where deep love and connection live.
Coaching guru Tony Robbins says an intimate relationship is one of only half a dozen or so things in life that really matter. It’s where the most juice in life comes from and is worth mastering instead of dabbling.