At twenty-two, you have your whole life ahead of you. You have all the time in the world to explore your interests and figure out what it is that you want to do with your life. At twenty-three, you’re still so young. There is still so much time to do all the soul searching and career-path-expirmenting and finding yourself-ing that you need to do. And at twenty-four, people still allow you to stay in this category. You’re still young enough to do all the exploring you want to do without anyone asking questions.
And then you hit twenty-five and everyone is suddenly extremely concerned with whether or not you’ve paired off yet and when you’re going to get married. It’s as swift as a light switch. And trying to keep the same dating standards you’ve always had suddenly becomes a hell of a lot more difficult.
Because at twenty-two, and even twenty-three and twenty-four, it’s easy to imagine all the qualities you want in another person, and to believe you will find them, because settling down with someone for life is something that seems so far away. In your early twenties, you and your friends are washing away each work week with tequila shots, and planning trips at a moment’s notice, and living in a world where your only deadlines are work-related. Emotional-related pressures have not yet seeped into your everyday thinking.
But slowly, and then all of the sudden, you are in your mid-twenties and people are getting married left and right. A Sunday scroll through your Facebook newsfeed is more like a “let’s get caught up on who got engaged over the weekend” ordeal. You keep watching other people find each other, and eventually your dream partner starts to feel like a mythical creature. The line between holding your love life to a certain standard, and being picky to the point of foolishness, becomes blurred. It is hard to understand when you’re settling out of fear, and when you’re holding out to the point of being shallow and illogical about what your life partner should be like.
When should you be willing to budge on something? What qualities in your significant other should you hold out for, and which ones should you let go of? What is the difference between being flexible versus losing sight of your once rock-solid values? All questions that you weren’t asking yourself at twenty-two. Because dating at twenty-two was so much simpler than it is now. Dating at twenty-two was about exploring, about figuring out what you like and what you don’t like in others, about how you wanted to feel as an individual compared to how you wanted to feel as part of a couple.
But now, dating feels more like a race against the clock. It’s like a board game where you feverishly keep rolling the dice so you can (hopefully) move ahead three spaces closer to the finish line. Where you are torn between wanting to stay true to yourself and what you are looking for in another person, but also wanting to avoid the dreaded possibility of moving back a couple spaces and falling behind everyone else.
So now you start wondering – am I being too cavalier about my love life? Am I holding out for someone that does not exist? And if I am, and if I need to rethink my standards, how far back the other way am I supposed to go? Where is the balance between being practical while also not settling for the next schmuck I meet on the street?
But having standards does not mean you are automatically shallow, foolish, and a hopeless dreamer. Having standards will actually save you more time in the long run, as long as you are being realistic about which standards you expect your potential significant other to uphold. Waiting for someone with brown hair and tan skin and a fantastic sense of humor and a job in a creative field and a huge family and a love for travel is being picky. That’s you trying to control every single aspect of your love life – that is shallow, foolish, and hopeless.
But holding out for someone that makes you smile, someone you trust, someone who supports you, someone who (while they don’t necessarily have the same passions as you) is at least interested in your passions because they care about what you care about – that is having standards. There is nothing wrong with that.
Maybe your significant other won’t be the funniest person you’ve ever met – but the right person can still have a sense of humor and make you smile. Maybe they won’t be as passionate about cooking as you are – but the right person will still care about it because they know it brings you joy. Maybe they won’t come from a big family like you hoped they would – but the right person for you will still share the same values you do about loved ones. It’s not about pinpointing exact qualities you are looking for in another person; it’s about knowing what you need to get out of a relationship in order to be happy.
So when you think about it, the line between having standards and being picky is not as blurred as you think it is. As long as you’re looking for a partner, not a checklist.