Dating checklists: practical or just nitpicky?

Posted at 10:15 AM, Aug 19, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-19 12:15:51-04

(CNN) — If you’re making a list and checking it twice, trying to find a mate who is compatible for life, according to relationship experts, you might be doing it wrong.

You know the dating checklist: Must love dogs, display wanderlust, be an introverted extrovert, exercise regularly but enjoy a lazy day, have a sense of humor but take life seriously — oh, and regularly get mistaken for Alexander Skarsgård.

Earlier this week, New York ophthalmologist (and blog darling) Emil Chynn appeared on CNN’s “New Day” after an e-mail went viral of his very particular list of requirements for his future wife. The missive, written to acquaintances one year ago, offered free medical services or a charitable donation as a finder’s fee for whoever introduced Chynn to his betrothed.

Among the requirements, the future missus needed to be: a dress size 0-2, Caucasian, college educated and willing to have kids within the next two years.

“That describes maybe about two to three women in Manhattan — are you a little restrictive, do you think?” host Kate Bolduan joked with Chynn.

After the list went viral, Chynn took to his website to clarify that many of his criteria are either outdated or not as rigid as they sound, but the question still remains: Is a checklist mentality steering single folk toward blissful companionship or giving them an one-way ticket to Lonely Town?

Experts agree that while it’s imperative for people seeking partners to know what they want, they too often use the words “want” and “need” interchangeably.

“Visualizing what that partner will look like is inevitable as one starts to prepare to go from a party of one to a bona fide couple,” Seth Meyers, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist, said.

Meyers added that even if they’re not written down, checklists happen because “we have an innate need to be able to predict our environment and ensure our own safety and survival.”

Meyers says having a checklist for personality characteristics — like honesty, integrity and intelligence — is natural and healthy, but having a checklist for physical, professional or financial characteristics is dabbling in the superficial.

“Know for sure what you’re deal breakers are,” he said. “Some people get caught up in, what I call, the ‘picky problem,’ meaning they create a checklist that is so rigid, hardly anyone makes the cut.”

Lori Gottlieb is the author of the New York Times best seller “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.” In it, Gottlieb tells women they should stop holding out for the man of their dreams because the man of their dreams is illusory. Gottlieb told CNN it’s not about lowering standards or settling, but rather prioritizing preferences from requirements.

“It’s basically if you really want to find the person that makes you happy for the rest of your life, you need to be picky about the things that are going to matter — and the rest of it, be open-minded,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb says people on the hunt for a life partner might overlook character issues just because they find a person physically attractive; but their standards should be exactly the opposite.

“We treat dating like shopping, and what happens is you forget that you aren’t exactly a perfect physical specimen yourself,” Gottlieb said. “No one is critiquing their own flaws; we’re acting like we’re all supermodels.”

Psychologist Stephen Benedict-Mason says humans are, for the most part, creatures of habit “with a deep-seated suspicion of change.” He says the traits for which people are searching may be the exact reason why they’re still searching. And, as Gottlieb suggested, if your own list was that good, you wouldn’t be seated at a table for one.

“Requirements are like ruts,” Mason said. “And as such, best to avoid.”

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