I’ve always been cautious and careful by nature, rule-following and by-the-book. That was how I dated, too. I had a certain way I would and wouldn’t do things, a list of qualifications I was looking for (and thought I wanted). People told me I had too many rules and not quite enough risks, but I was usually too stubborn and methodical to look past my limitations or change my ways.
So about a year ago, when someone told me I should ask out a certain mutual friend who thought I was nice, my initial response was skepticism: But this wasn’t my idea, and it doesn’t fit into my carefully constructed plans.
A healthy dose of caution and principle is good for dating, but too much can limit you and cause you to miss out on great opportunities. Gradually, I realized that and began learning to look past my own limitations in dating.
Rachel was a friend I had met while in school a few years earlier, but I hadn’t really considered her in a romantic context. I knew she was nice and that we had a lot of interests in common. But I had certain rules or arbitrary preferences that made me only seriously consider certain people. She’s a bit older than me, which I didn’t want, because I thought we were too far apart and not at the same place in life. Furthermore, after college I had moved away to take a job in southern Maryland, while Rachel still lived in my central Virginia hometown. I didn’t want to do long-distance either, thinking it would be complicated and too much of a hassle.
It’s hard to say exactly where these personal rules came from. Some of them were things that hadn’t gone well in past relationships, so I was reluctant to try them again. Maybe my overly logical mind made it hard for me to look beyond what I thought was “my type.” Or maybe it was just another excuse not to date at all, because that could mean getting close to someone and the very scary risk of commitment.
But somehow, these self-imposed limitations were there, and they caused me to overlook potential dating partners whom I could have otherwise considered. Truth be told, the thought of dating Rachel had crossed my mind at least briefly, even before. But I had dismissed it pretty quickly because she didn’t fit into my preconceived notion of what I thought I wanted my life to look like.
So when my friend suggested I date her, I said, “Well, probably not. We’re in two different places and I don’t really think it would work. But … I’ll consider it.”
It took some time to realize that my self-imposed rules were doing me more harm than good. I would talk to friends and family about my various romantic possibilities, saying things like, “Well, here’s the situation, and here’s why it wouldn’t work.” I had already decided that before even trying. But one by one, I had several people tell me basically the same thing: “You should just try it out. Stop limiting yourself and broaden your horizons. Take a chance and just see where it goes.”
Even when I’m too blind to see things, I value taking counsel from friends. So a few months later when I was home for the summer, I asked Rachel out. And eventually, it led to much greater things than my overly rational mind could have ever predicted.
What I Learned
Even after the first date or two, I was still hesitant. It took me some time, some thought and a lot of soul-searching about what really was and wasn’t important in life and relationships. But I can gladly say that, eventually, Rachel and I began a relationship that we’ve enjoyed for nearly six months. I’m happily involved with someone whom I’m quite compatible with, and who is well worth all the waiting I did. And I would have completely missed out if I had confined myself to my narrow preconceptions — if I hadn’t been willing to take a chance.
Maybe you’re where I was. Maybe you’ve boxed yourself in too much, or passed someone up without a chance because they don’t fit your ideas and standards. Yes, you should have standards and know what you want, but only up to a point.
Don’t let those standards blind you to what could be a wonderful opportunity.
Don’t write someone off simply because they don’t meet your criteria.
Don’t put your own arbitrary rules above the more important things, like character, companionship and compatibility.
Do take a chance … try things out … be willing to see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.