Updated: Apr 2, 2019
Most people believe love just happens. I believe people make it happen and how intentional a person is about doing so can make all the difference.
Nia Hamm | @niahammTV
Many people use lists to organize their lives. ‘Doing life’ wouldn’t really be possible for me without my grocery lists, to-do lists, and the army of Post-It notes all over my walls. While we may not get to check off everything on our lists in one day, getting to scratch off a few things helps us plan better and live more efficiently. I’d like to think the same is true when it comes to dating: whether you’re ready for a serious relationship or just looking for someone to get to know gradually.
Any friend of mine who has vented to me about her (or his) dating woes, has probably heard me mention the list at least once. My really good friends may even give me the occasional eye-roll behind my back when I bring it up because it’s become a constant refrain in my conversations about dating. In this context, the list is what I tell people to make when they’re having trouble meeting a potential mate or partner whom they’re compatible with. Manhattan Psychologist, Dr. Vijayeta Sinh describes this list as a set of values that reflect your character as well as qualities you desire in a partner. They serve as a guide to ensure you’re investing time into people you’re compatible with. “When you’re talking about a list, I’m actually thinking about values,” Sinh said. “What are the things that are important to me? What is my value system and how can I kind of find that in someone else or at least something similar where we kind of think about things similarly or we want similar things?” she said. If done thoughtfully, the list can help you transform your romantic life into one you desire. Months after I made my list, I met my fiancé.
In this sense, the list should be a manageable and reasonable set of attributes you want in a potential suitor. It should not be a rigid set of criteria used to disqualify someone within the first few minutes of meeting them. A recent study shows that the success of a first date is often decided within the first 12 minutes of meeting. Women tend to be less forgiving than men in this regard. Sometimes you can tell within minutes. Other times, it can take a few dates or more to determine if you’re compatible. The idea is not to be too rigid with your list. Use it as a guide, but be flexible.
Transformative Coach, Nando Rodriguez, cautions not to use the list to talk yourself out of a potentially good thing. “People call it deal breaker list, I call it, ‘it’s going to keep you single’ list,” he said. Rodriguez believes that too often, people focus on phenotypic features such as material wealth, work history, and academic pedigree. “And then you wonder why relationships don’t work out, because it wasn’t values: compassion, kindness, family oriented.” Again, it goes back to values.
As I was preparing to launch my podcast, Skooled, I thought it would be a good idea to find the list I made before I met my fiancé, since were planned on discussing these kinds of lists in the context of dating in the first episode. Prior to recording, I hadn’t actually seen my list in over 4 years. Amazingly, I was able to dig my list out of a tote underneath my bed. I remembered it being a bit more pristine. In reality, my sacred list was jotted down on a paper towel. Not even a full sized, nicely quilted paper towel. One of those half sheets you get on a roll that’s either meant to save the environment or save you money. Luckily, the writing was intact. It reads: kind, compassionate, intelligent, generous, loyal, down to earth, giving, successful, ambitious, attractive (because I’m human) and romantic. These are all of the qualities I was looking for in the next person I dated. How this list came to be was a matter of trial and error of the most heartbreaking kind.
Admittedly, I don’t always take my mother’s advice, but after years of painful, abusive and traumatic relationships, mother dear made the point that I wasn’t dating people who shared my values. She promised that if I made this a priority, I would see a shift in my love life. She was right (don’t tell her). So, I took a dating sabbatical, which is like a body cleanse for your life, which I definitely recommend it if you find yourself on a hamster wheel of disastrous relationships like I was. This particular hiatus followed yet another incredibly toxic relationship. I didn’t want to waste any more of my time on someone who was not going to value and honor my life. When my dating sabbatical had run its course, I made my list and used it as a guide when I was read to start dating again. Sure enough, I began attracting people who possessed the qualities on my list. If I attracted someone who did not possess enough of the values I deemed important, it was easy to move on because my list was top of mind. Several months after making my list, I met my fiance who possesses everything on my list. That was fast!
Each list will be different for each person. My list, reflects a set of values (minus the whole “attractive” criteria because again, I’m human) that align with who I am and what I need in a relationship. I was looking for someone who is comfortable and confident in being emotionally connected, and has the caring and compassionate qualities I never attracted from the “winners” I had previously dated (slight dig). For all intents and purposes, your list should represent values that align with your character and your individual needs.
However, one of the most important aspects of a list isn’t even what’s on it. It’s equally important what you choose to omit. In other words, in order for your list to work, you need to have a clear sense of self. The old adage that “struggle builds character” fits perfectly here. Before I made my list, I had to unpack the pain of past relationships and understand the root causes. That’s a blog post for another day. Suffice it to say, once I began doing this, I became more clear about who I was and had a better understanding of what I wanted and needed. I was also able to use my past painful relationships as examples of what I did not want in a future relationship — without letting the painful memories they evoked consume me. As Dr. Sinh suggests, your best list is created when your sense of self is strongest. “Knowing what you want in someone else means knowing who you are,” she said. “You have to have a strong sense of who you are and a strong sense of what you want. And then [ask], is that reasonable,” Sinh said.
If you’re seeking love or a romantic relationship, I invite you to create your list and see how it changes your life.