Thanks for reading Can We Talk?, a sex and relationships column that aims to tackle the burning questions about sex, dating, relationships, and breakups that you’re too afraid to ask your partner — or maybe even your besties. Last time, relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, helped someone whose friends told her to "lower her standards" when dating. Today, we hear from three Refinery29 readers about how being selective when dating has helped or hurt them.
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Chloë Grande, 29, Toronto, CA
Chloë Grande has never been a fan of the word "picky," whether the adjective was describing an eater or a dater. "It has such a negative connotation to it," she says. "I was always a selective eater and people said that was inconvenient. When I first hear the word "picky," I think, 'Oh, I'm making things difficult for other people.' But I think there should be a good side to it, because, really, it means you know what you like."
There's some overlap for Grande when it comes to her feelings about the word "pickiness" being used to describe both eating and dating. "I struggled with disordered eating on and off for most of my teens into my 20s," she says. "For this reason, I was very picky about my partners and it was really important for me to be with someone who had a strong understanding of mental health. I really wanted someone who'd understand my eating disorder… Who essentially would be an expert. I thought they should know my triggers, know how to respond when I have bad body image days, and be mindful of my eating disorder history 24/7."
Sometimes, this choice served Grande. She brought up her mental health journey to one partner she'd been seeing for a while, and he completely changed the subject — a red flag for her. Another person continuously made comments that made her feel self-conscious about her body, something she's glad she didn't put up with.
However, through therapy, trial, and error, Grande says she's discovered that — while it's good to weed out people who make you feel rotten about yourself — there are also times she's written off people who could have been great partners.
For example, at one point in her recovery, she says: "if someone would give me a compliment, I would get angry, and think, 'Why are they making any comment on my body? They’ll never understand me!' Now I’m recognizing that as long as there’s an openness and willingness to learn about someone else’s past and what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable, that's someone worth getting to know."
"I also realized that sometimes I was going on first dates, and I'd try too early on to gauge their knowledge on mental health," she says. "I would write people off if they weren’t comfortable talking about that sort of thing on the first date. But, I'm realizing now that it takes time to get to that point of openness and you have to build trust. You don't want it to just be trauma bonding."
Now single, Grande's looking for partners who seem open to listening to and learning from her when she eventually chooses to share more details about her eating disorder.
"I recognize that expecting your partner to be a part-time therapist can be hurtful to both of us," she reflects. "I’m reflecting on my unrealistic expectations for my future partner to be a mental health expert. I don’t think it’s fair for me to place that burden on them. Instead, I’m re-evaluating my pickiness and am now more open to someone who has genuine curiosity and compassion about mental health."
"Therapy has helped me realize that my partner can’t be everything," Grande adds. "And I’d rather have a trained mental health professional be there to support the ups and downs of eating disorder recovery, so I can enjoy the other traits and values my partner brings to a relationship."
But, of course, Grande says, "if they’re making my mental health worse? that’s a no-go for me."
Danielle Jones, 38, Tampa, FL
Danielle Jones believes she manifested her current partner. On August 8 of last year, she wrote down everything she wanted in her next partner, and, if it didn’t work out, she told herself she was okay with staying single. The summer date had significance. It's known as the Lion’s Gate portal. "It marks the time that the star Sirius — the brightest blue star in the sky, which is known as the 'Spiritual Sun' and has a long history of astronomical significance among groups including ancient Egyptians and the Dogon tribe of Africa — rises and becomes visible in the sky," Lisa Stardust, astrologer for Refinery29. "And the date — 8/8 — is a transformative and powerful number in numerology, one that brings change."
"I’m kinda woo woo," Jones says. "I believe Lion’s Gate portal is a great time to manifest the things in life you want." So, on that day, she took to the beach, set up her red umbrella, and began to write in one of her leather journals. She scribbled down traits her idealized partner would have — they'd be spiritual, open-minded, communicative, eat plant-based foods, and be down to travel and immerse themselves in new cultures.
Five days later, she met someone who seemed to be perfect for her. "He reads the same genre of books I’m into, we both like the outdoors and the beach and travel," she gushes. "We like to bike, walk trails, and visit state parks. We’re on the same spiritual wavelength, and we’re both plant-based." They've been together for eight months now, and she's glad she didn't settle for less.
Even before making her Lion's Gate list, there were times her friends told her she was being "too picky." For example, she'd really write off anyone who wasn't at least pescatarian (though plant-based was always the goal).
But beyond such particularities, Jones says that being scrupulous in picking a partner meant finding someone supportive and kind who made life feel happy — something she was determined to find this time around, especially having been married and divorced once already.
Sometimes, of course, Jones has "be careful what you wish for" moments. Her partner is so communicative about essentially everything, from plans to fights to emotions and more. "You want someone who communicates but you don’t think of the person who wants to communicate about literally everything," she says. "But then I remind myself: 'I did ask for this.' He's a very deep person, and, while it was a hard adjustment to talk that much at first, it really makes us stronger."
"Because we also have the same core values, it makes it easier when conflict arises," she adds. "We’ve learned how to communicate just based off both of us being open to better conflict resolution. We’ve learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we tackle problems head-on rather than avoiding them. That takes a special someone."
In the end, she's glad she made the list and found someone who really did check so many boxes. "So being picky helped me meet someone who appreciates all my quirkiness," she adds. "I haven’t gotten bored, and we’ve had so much fun in the kitchen cooking together and learning new dishes."
Chantal*, 46, Toronto, CA
Chantal has always been choosy when it comes to picking partners. "I do have quite a lot of things I feel are non-negotiable," she says. "I wish I was more open-minded and attracted to a wider range of people… But I also have some days where I think: 'Yeah! People need to measure up and you deserve to be picky. You're an intelligent, attractive, cool person.'"
Chantal says one reason she's been so judicious in choosing her dates is that her parents have a really strong, loving marriage, and she wants a romance that's similarly passionate and nurturing. She also doesn't want kids, which is a factor, she says. "I know people who’ve maybe chosen a partner because they really wanted to settle down," Chantal notes. "That's not a motivating factor for me, so there’s no reason to settle until I find a truly great partner."
"I need more than just a nice guy," Chantal adds. "I need attraction, mental stimulation, and a shared sense of humor… I don't want someone who's a bad kisser, and, of course, I won't tolerate any racism, violence, sexism, or homophobia." Those are her non-negotiables, but she also has a mental list of qualities that would be nice to have. For example, someone who lives nearby, is into health and wellness practices, and likes cultural events. One thing has been a non-negotiable in the past: finding a partner who doesn't have or want kids. Although she's considering opening her pool to folks who have children in an effort to be more open-minded. "I could maybe re-think that," she says.
"My therapist and I, we talk about this a lot, and she sees that most people I meet, I'm not interested in," she says. "However, we’ve identified that it’s very hard to change how I feel."
Chantal describes herself as someone who has pretty high standards in all aspects of her life — she doesn't suffer fools. She also believes it's important to stay true to your instincts. She's ended things with people who've later reacted cruelly to the rejection — clearly, bullets dodged. However, there have been times she's wondered if she was too quick to end things. “When I was in my 20s, I broke up with two partners because they just didn’t seem like 'The One' for me," she notes. "I thought, 'Surely there is a better match out there.' In retrospect, they were both great guys and either might have made a good life partner. I think was just too young to understand that there is no perfect match.”
More recently, she's met folks who seemed ideal on paper, but with whom there just wasn't a spark. "One guy was nice, he had no kids, a cute dog, a great career, and was stylish," she says. "But I didn't like his smell or the way he kissed." It's hard to change who you're attracted to, and attraction is a pretty imperative component of finding a match, she says.
"You can't just put things on a list and say, if he checks these exact boxes, he's the one," she says. "You have to try to listen to your heart. I do try to do that. I tell myself: 'Whether you’re picky or not picky, as long as you’re true to yourself and what you feel inside, that’s all you can really do.' There have been times I've given people chances or the benefit of the doubt, but you don't want to overlook important things either. I’m trying to be both kind and open-minded but also stay true to my core feelings."
It's all a tricky balance, one she's working on navigating. Recently, Chantal — who usually is the one to reject potential partners — confessed feelings for a friend of hers who did not check all her boxes. They'd been pals for a long time, and had hooked up before. She felt something for him, even though he lived far away. He ended up flipping her usual script and telling he didn't see anything long-term. This stung. It also reminded her of the other complicated aspect of finding love — even if you do find a potential match, it has to align for them too. Chantal's processing this. She's also continually considering her negotiables and non-negotiables, while keeping in mind that she's comfortable being single — and that's okay.
With that said, she hopes to someday feel contented in a partnership as happy as her parents'. In the meantime, she's looking on the bright side of having high standards and a discerning eye.
"I don’t feel stuck in something that is not serving me and that's probably saved me a bit of time," she says. "I don't want to be in a deeply unsatisfying relationship. I want to be in something that’s enriching my life, not dragging it down."
Name has been changed to protect identity.