Do I Need To Lower My Standards?

Do I Need To Lower My Standards?


Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

Hey Doc,

I noticed something that may or may not be holding me back in terms of dating. That I’m, well, frankly perhaps too selective, too picky and get easily turned off by well a lot.

For example I don’t like smokers; I can’t take the smell, the breath is awful is and well frankly they’re slowly killing themselves with cancer sticks and I don’t wanna be part of that ride. I don’t wanna date a virgin (compared to another guys who want a virgin) because being a virgin in your 20s is a walking pile of red flags cause well if nobody wants to sleep with you this late in life that must speak volumes of your character. I don’t wanna date fat people because I don’t find them sexually appealing or attractive nor can I picture having sex with one and sex is very important to me. I don’t wanna want to date a Christian or anyone religious because that sounds like an incredibly dull, restrictive life style and there is a non-chance they’re probably racist or homophobic which GTFO with that. I don’t wanna date with autism (despite being one) or any mental problems I’m not a therapist or a punching bag (both metaphorical or very literally) I’ve got my own shit to deal with and I don’t want to be dumped with more.

I know people say be open minded and people change my mind but don’t open your mind so wide that your brain falls out. So what do I do then? How do I stop writing off people so easily based on one characteristic? Or dismissing them based on immutable or very mutable characteristics? Am I being too shallow? How do I overcome this? Should I forced to date people that I’m not attracted too?


Don’t Gamble with Maybes

Right off the bat, DGWM: you can you can set your standards wherever you choose and be as restrictive or permissive as you want. If you decide that the only people you would want to date are PhD candidates who sing Italian opera and paint Warhammer minis semi-professionally, then that’s your lookout. Similarly, you can have as many dealbreakers as you choose to. If someone parting their hair on the left instead of the right is something you can’t stand, then you do you my guy.

But there’s a corollary to that: the longer your list of dealbreakers and the higher and more exclusive your standards, the shallower and smaller your dating pool will be. The more reasons you have to not date someone, the longer you’ll be single. That’s the inevitable trade-off, and you have to decide for yourself if that’s worth it for you. For some people, it absolutely is. But it also makes it much harder for people to be sympathetic if and when those people complain about how long they’ve gone without a date or how hard it is to find a partner. They set that difficulty level themselves; they’re free to lower it to something easier if they prefer. Nobody is telling them to date people they’re not attracted to; they’re just saying “you did this to yourself.”

Now, it’s tempting to just leave things there and move onto the next letter. But I think one thing that is important for everyone is to occasionally take stock of ones must-haves and ones dealbreakers and examine them and ask yourself “why do I feel this way?” It’s important because sometimes what we assume are our standards or our dealbreakers aren’t necessarily accurate. That is: there’s what we think we want and what we think we don’t want and then there’re things that we actually do want or can’t work with. Sometimes they’re the same thing. Sometimes, they absolutely aren’t. And sometimes they say more about us than they do about the people we do or don’t want to date.

Take appearance and looks, for example. Nobody would say that they like dating people who they find unattractive. But it’s good to ask why is a particular look or set of features important to you or important for them to not have. A lot of the reason, for example, why East and South Asian men struggle with dating isn’t because they’re inherently unattractive but because of a literal centuries-long campaign of proclaiming them to be sexually null. From the days of when Chinese labor helped build the railroads to today, Asian men have been othered; when they weren’t portrayed as being filthy and diseased degenerates, they were being portrayed as asexual and effeminate – as opposite of “traditional” masculinity as one could find. Black women, likewise, struggle with dating in part because of cultural hegemonic values that continually elevate northern European features in women while denigrating features more likely to be found in indigenous people – flatter faces, broader noses, thicker cheekbones, darker skin tones and so on.

The same goes with fatness. A lot of men actually are attracted to fat women… but they don’t want to be seen as someone who “has” to date fat women. Because of how fatness is treated, how we equate body composition with personality types, with moral judgement and attractiveness, being fat is treated as a social failing… but being with a fat person is seen as being even worse. It’s taken as “proof” that the person who’s with them has “settled” or is somehow “reduced” to being with them, even if the reality is that this person has actively chosen a fat partner and is thrilled by his or her body.

This is especially true among men, where much of our supposed value and status as men is equated with the “quality” (read: conventional attractiveness) of the people we sleep with. The social shaming of a man who dates a fat woman is part of enforcing that cultural hegemony and reinforcing the standards that men are “supposed” to derive their status from. Someone who willingly bucks those trends and doesn’t allow the opprobrium to force them back in line threatens that social order.

So it’s always worth examining your preferences and trying to determine where they came from and how many of them are actually what you want or what you’ve been told you should want.

And this is important because it applies to your dealbreakers as well: how many of those are because of experience and self-knowledge and how many of those are based around either received information or even just supposition and ignorance.

Case in point: you wouldn’t want to date a virgin because an older virgin is a walking pile of red flags. Ok… says who? What makes you certain that an older virgin is a virgin because he or she has something wrong with them? Why wouldn’t it be a sign of, say, someone who has high standards and only wants to have sex with someone they love? Or who didn’t want to fuck just anyone, but the only single people around were folks who demonstrated through their actions that not fucking them was the right choice?

Why couldn’t it be a sign of someone who, until recently, didn’t make dating or relationships a priority? Or who may not have had many opportunities to date for reasons that are outside of their control? Would you assume that a gay man who’s a virgin at 20 to be a “walking pile of red flags” when they were the only out gay person in their very conservative town? Or who lived in a place where being openly queer meant running the risk of being beaten, jailed or even killed? Why would that be a mark against them, rather than just a series of unfortunate circumstances that made having sex a nigh-impossibility?  

Similarly, not wanting to date a Christian. As much as I have my issues with organized religion in general, being religious doesn’t automatically mean that someone is a bigot or a homophobe. Yeah, there are a lot of bigoted people out there who are Christian. There’re lots of people who are bigots who aren’t Christian too – not just followers of other religions but atheists and agnostics as well. Similarly, being Christian (or Jewish or Hindu or Muslim or Sikh or pagan or…) doesn’t automatically mean they’re racist or homophobic; there’re many, many churches and denominations that aren’t just accepting of queer people but welcoming and supportive. There’re churches and denominations that are actively anti-racist and for whom civil rights and social justice are a core component of how they’re called to love and to serve.

The same goes with their beliefs and restrictions. Not every branch of Christianity insists that dancing is a sin and having fun is how the Devil gets you, any more than all Jews are like the ultra-Orthodox who believe in the strict separation of the sexes, or how all Muslims or Hindus are like their most extreme examples. Hell, even within groups that do theoretically have firm beliefs and restrictions, that doesn’t mean that people obey them. Catholicism specifically forbids any form of contraception that isn’t “natural family planning” (aka the rhythm method). Despite this, 99% of Catholics report using non-permitted forms of contraception including IUDs, condoms, hormonal birth control or sterilization.

Then there’s the question of whether you’re rejecting people for the same things you would hope that they would show you grace on. You say you’re autistic and yet you wouldn’t want to date another autistic person. But why would the reasons you list for not wanting to date someone who’s autistic not also apply to you? Would other people be right to exclude you from their dating pool because you’re autistic and would you cheer their right to do so? Or would you be hurt that they couldn’t see you as a person, rather than a label or a stereotype – especially stereotypes that are frequently inaccurate or outright malicious?

Are you treating potential partners as therapists or punching bags? Are you capable of not making someone you date responsible for your mental health or “dumping your problems” on them? If you’re fully capable of handling your own issues or managing them in ways that are appropriate, why wouldn’t other people in circumstances similar to yours be just as capable?

Now to be sure: none of this means that you are wrong for having standards or that your standards are bad and you should feel bad. Nor does it mean that the point of examining your standards or deal breakers is to come around to being open to all and sundry. It’s simply to be more mindful and self-aware of what you’re doing and why. It could well be that yes, you’re just attracted to a particular body type or have a preference to some and not others. You could come to recognize that you’ve had enough negative experiences with people with strong religious beliefs that you can’t fully relax or open up in ways that you would need to in order to make a relationship work.

But you could also come to realize that some of what you see as a dealbreaker is born out of ignorance or prejudice. You might recognize that things you find unattractive or undesirable in others are a reflection of how you feel about yourself. Or you might realize that some of what you think you want is more about what other people think or would judge you for, rather than something than being a true desire or true dealbreaker.

You might even realize that things that were important to you at one stage of your life aren’t as important to you now. You may find that your tastes have changed or that experience has taught you differently and what you think is important is actually far less of a priority than it was before.

Or maybe you’ll come to the conclusion that nope, this is how it is, this is how your heart and your junk work and you’re still comfortable with keeping your standards where they are.

The only person who can decide any of this is you. Which means that the consequences of those decisions – both positive and negative – are solely up to you as well. The more you understand yourself and your choices, the better and more informed decision you can make.

Good luck.

Dear Dr. NerdLove: My boyfriend & I have been partners for 3 years. We spend every weekend together.

He does not want to get married. I really want to marry him. We are both divorced.

We have had really beautiful discussions & agree to be faithful partners.

I still wish to be married & be his wife.

I’m hesitant to bring it up, again he was very thoughtful & kind when we discussed it a year ago.

Perhaps I’m eager to manage my feelings about this. I am thankful that we are committed partners. I did NOT discuss this previously as a “deal breaker.”

It is NOT!

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Say Yes Or Is It A Mess?

I have a couple thoughts, SYIIAM, but I really wish you said more about the discussion you had the last time you talked things through. It’s great that he was kind and thoughtful when you two discussed it, but that doesn’t give me a lot to work with in terms of what’s going on. And honestly, the answer to your dilemma is ultimately going to come down to just how important being married is to you, how important not marrying is to your boyfriend, and why both of you feel this way.

On your side of things: what about being married would be different than what you have right now? Is it what the label of “wife” would mean rather than “partner” or “girlfriend”? Would having an official imprimatur on the relationship make such a difference to you and your connection with your partner? Would it be about the legal rights and privileges that marriage gives?

Or perhaps it’s what being “married” might mean, practically – living together rather than living separately and spending the weekends together? The possibility of having children and more intwined lives? A greater feeling of permanence or intentionality to the relationship?

On your boyfriend’s side of things: what are his reasons for not wanting to get married again? Was his divorce particularly acrimonious or dramatic? Did his ex-wife break his heart to pieces and he doesn’t feel like he could go through that again? Is he worried that wrapping himself into another person – legally, financially, spiritually – would create complications and pain if the relationship came to an end?

Or is it that maybe being married taught him that a “traditional” relationship path wasn’t for him? Is it possible or likely that he likes having a greater degree of independence and autonomy than he might expect if you two were married? Maybe he prefers feeling like he has his life during the week and seeing you on weekends and thus getting the best of both independence and cohabitation at the same time?

It’s also worth asking whether this is a permanent state of affairs or if there’s the possibility of one or either of you changing your mind over time. Is it possible, for example, that while he didn’t want to get married when you talked about it a year ago, but his views have changed in the interim?

Alternately, would there be compromises that you could be happy with that weren’t marriage, per se? Would a commitment ceremony of some sort – not a legal binding but one that signified your commitment and fidelity to one another – work? Or perhaps, if not moving in together, living arrangements that didn’t feel so separated? Would you and he be cool with having side-by-side apartments or living in both halves of a duplex, so you could have your own separate lives but also be together more often?   

One thing that might be helpful – for all couples really, not just you and your beau –  would be to have a periodic check-ins with one another. I understand being worried about bringing it up again after the last time you talked marriage – nobody likes feeling like a nag or like they’re trying to pressure someone into something they don’t want. But a year can be a long time and a lot can happen in that time. A check-in wouldn’t need to be anything dramatic, just taking time out to sit down and make sure that you’re both on the same page, that you both feel like your relationship is meeting your needs and what could be done if it isn’t.

Part of it would be to make sure that you know how he’s currently feeling about marriage (in general and to you), and that he knows how you feel (you want to be married to him but it’s not something you’re willing to make a hard line in the relationship over). Part of it might be to discuss what things you both could do that might satisfy the both of you. It might even help to have a relationship counselor who could facilitate the discussion. The point wouldn’t be to persuade one of you to the other’s way of thinking, but to have a third party who could help give you both the tools to build the sort of relationship that could make you both happy. After all, it could well be that the underlying issue isn’t marriage but societal expectations of what a “serious” relationship is or looks like.

And speaking of counselors: you mention that part of your writing in might be because you want help managing your feelings about this. That, I think, is a sign that you might want to talk to a counselor or therapist on your own. I don’t think you need to stop feeling the way you feel, but talking it through with a trained and uninvolved third party might help you understand those feelings a bit better. Working with a counselor might help you decide if marriage is going to be a deal breaker eventually, if they’re a sign of an unmet need or if there’s something else going on under the hood. It may even be reassuring to have someone tell you that yeah, it’s totally fine to have those feelings.

But at the end of the day, it all ultimately comes down to you and your boyfriend. Talking things through and making sure you understand each other’s positions is a good thing. So is making sure you’re both happy and appreciate what you have and one another.

Good luck.