The following is a sneak peek from my upcoming book, Letters to the Brokenhearted, which will be released on February 15, 2013. For more information, to view the book trailer, or to download a free sample, please visit: http://PamelaAntoinette.com/letters_to_the_broken-hearted.html
LESSON #8: DEFINE YOUR STANDARDS
When you start dating again, you’ll get a lot of advice from family, friends, magazines, and TV shows. Some of that advice will be great and may resonate with you. Some will not. Here’s my advice: decide what your standards are and use them as your guide. Your standards give you direction and keep you focused. As you date people with different personalities, interests and careers, your standards should remain in tact, changing only as you learn more about yourself and your needs. Your standards are a combination of your values, expectations and desires. No one can define those for you. Everyone’s standards are different, reflecting personal experiences, personalities, past relationships, and one’s hopes and dreams for their lives. It’s difficult to flesh out what your standards are if you haven’t taken the time to think about who you are and what you’ve learned from your life experiences.
Trash the Checklist
When I was a young 20-year old in college, I thought I knew what I wanted in a man. My checklist was simple – someone who was educated, had a good job, loved his mother and went to church. When I got married, I couldn’t figure out what was missing. My ex-husband was all of those things. Life experience has since taught that human beings are multidimensional and cannot be so simply categorized. As a researcher and professor of research by profession, I have grown accustomed to asking deeper questions. What does educated mean, exactly? Educated how and to what extent? What is a good job? What makes a job good, and how will I recognize a good job when I see one? To go even deeper, how do these checklist items tell me who he is as a person? He’s educated, but is he compassionate? He has a great job, but does he hate what he does every day? He adores his mother, but what is that relationship really like under the surface? And yes, he goes to church, but what is in his heart? I have since refined those young, idealistic, incomplete, non-specific checklist items to better reflect who I am as a woman.
Before I started dating again – after 15 years of some real life experience – I sat down and thought about what my standards should be at this new phase of my life. This time, it wasn’t simply about the guy and what he would bring to the table. It was also about how compatible he was with me, how I felt in his presence, and whether or not he was receptive to what I brought to the table. My grown-up standards were a combination of the values, expectations and desires that uniquely make up who I am. Checklists are about what he has. Standards are about who he is. It’s time to throw away that checklist and go deeper by defining your values, expectations, and desires.
Your values are those core beliefs that give you conviction – the social causes you are passionate about, the spiritual beliefs you were raised with, or the personal set of morals you abide by. Your values keep you grounded. They make you care about the world around you. They are what make up your character and help shape your life purpose. When you define your standards, think about those values that you hold dear. Consider the role you want them to play in each of your relationships. Does he have to love animals? Would you prefer a man who is willing to pray with you? Must he be passionate about social justice? I personally value human dignity and social justice, so my guy must be aware of what’s going on in the world around him and have a heart to improve the lives of others when he can. In the checklist I designed in my twenties, I specified that I wanted a man with “a good job.” Understanding my values helped me to further define that to mean that I want a man who has a job that falls in line with his life purpose, because I highly value the idea of being in tune with one’s life purpose. Having a good job doesn’t tell me much, but having a job that reflects his life purpose and values tells me a lot about who he is and how well he may fit with me.
We all have very different expectations of ourselves and of the people we choose to date. Some women are so laid back, they just sort of shrug their shoulders with a “whatever happens, happens”sentiment. Others are so intense, they’re calling off the date if he fails to walk around to open the car door before she gets out. No judgment here. Your expectations are your own. I just want you to have some! Know your purpose for dating. Have an idea of how you expect to be treated. Define your limits – physically and emotionally. Decide early on what your limitations are for involving your kids in your dating life. I don’t involve my kids at all. I am hugely selective about whom I allow my kids to meet and what I tell them about my dating experiences. If it is not a leading into serious relationship that may result in marriage, they are not going to meet the guy, and they may never even hear about him.
If you just want to develop friendships and not pursue anything serious, be very clear about that to your dates and to yourself from the beginning. When you define your expectations, ask yourself what you want out of your experiences. Even if it is to simply have a good time, make sure you tell the person you’re dating and don’t compromise yourself. If you find that you’re not having a good time – well, that’s your cue to move on. Your combined expectations make a great measuring stick that can help you determine whether or not things are heading in the right direction.
Here’s the part where you decide what qualities you want in your future partner and in your relationships. When I considered what it was that I desired in a man, I first thought about what I didn’t have in my previous relationships that I longed to have. Three personality types rose to the top: a fun guy with a great sense of humor, someone who was intellectually stimulating enough to carry on a great conversation, and a guy who was highly supportive of my endeavors, rather than intimidated by them. I knew that when I stepped back into another relationship, he had to have these qualities. To not have all three would be a deal-breaker, simply because these three qualities were directly compatible with who I had become as a woman.
With such a clear picture of what I did and did not desire, it was very easy to know if someone I was dating would last very long. Above all, I desired to eventually fall in love and marry again, so I dated with this in mind. I didn’t do one-night stands or spend too much time with anyone who fell short of my standards, because to do so would have been a distraction to my ultimate desire. There was no rush. I took my time, but I knew what I was out there for, and because of that, I stuck to my standards.
Do you see how my grown-up standards differed dramatically from my original standards, which required only that he went to school, had a job, went to church and loved his mama? I laugh when I think about that now, but I was so serious about my little checklist when I was 20 years old. I thought I was doing big things! Let me make a distinction between these set of standards and a checklist. Checklists are often shallow in nature. They consist of superficial qualities that can be checked off for the purpose of keeping or eliminating a prospect. Your standards, on the other hand, are not just about what the guy does or does not have or do. It is also about you. Your standards keep you in check. They keep you aware of whether or not you’re moving in the right direction in terms of how you’ve defined your values, expectations or desires. Are you compromising your values just to keep him around? Are you simply tolerating him because you’re bored? Have you found that you are afraid to express your expectations? Have you decided that your desires don’t really matter? If so, it’s time to evaluate the situation. It may not be right for you.
Your standards are a reflection of who you are and the woman you have become as a result of experience and growth. No one can set those but you, but I’ll tell you right now, people will have their opinions and will insert their unsolicited feedback. I’ve gone out with a couple of guys I wasn’t feeling, and no one could understand why I didn’t like them. One guy, for example was just gorgeous. Tall, beautiful lips, handsome, well-dressed, and was crazy about me (he also loved his mama). He definitely would have met my checklist requirements, but he didn’t meet my standards. He was insecure and was far from intellectually stimulating. Far, far, far away from it. Yet, he was sweet and a perfect gentleman. My friends thought I had lost my mind.
“Girl, just date him and have your deep conversations with someone else!” they’d tell me.
But I just couldn’t do it. I cut that one off within a few weeks. Another guy, seemingly perfect on the outside, admitted to having trust issues. I immediately left that scene. There was simply no fun in forcing myself to spend time with a guy who couldn’t, at minimum, keep me interested on the date – or a guy who would be worried about my true whereabouts if I had to leave town to present at a conference (the thought of that alone makes me cringe).
When I first started dating again, I met some really great guys who were ready to settle down and get married, but I was far from wanting a serious relationship. I had just recovered from my last relationship, and really just wanted some air. I needed some space and time to enjoy my life as a single lady. It’s true that I ultimately desired to be married, but during that phase of my life, I was still working on healing. My expectation at that time was to simply enjoy life. Settling would have been equally unfair to these guys because we all would have driven each other crazy. I had to stay true to my standards, and that saved everyone some grief.
The time I spent dating included a great collection of learning experiences. I learned much about myself and the value of my standards. I learned how to be honest with myself and how to stick to my guns. When you step out there, go out armed with a set of standards. They keep you in check and they help you focus on those people who best complement who you are. My dating experience was one with no regrets and great times. It really is possible if you go out there with a purpose!
This Hopeful Romantic