I recently pulled the plug on a budding relationship with a guy I was really flipping into. This fellow is superb. He’s great with kids and well traveled. He’s read the classics and, more importantly, every Harry Potter book. He exclusively listens to zydeco music through the crackly stereo of his busted Corvette named Juanita, plays a very (but very) mean hand of poker, and periodically sports a horrendous mustache that I in equal parts hate because it’s horrendous and kind of like because I respect a man who has the chutzpah to sport a horrendous mustache. In short — he checks off the boxes on my list. He has candor, charisma, wit, daring, offbeat humor, and a touch of irreverence.
When it comes to dating, I encourage my clients to avoid placing too much weight on a list of must-haves, to actively maintain openness to the possibility of connecting with someone who may not have been the first horse to catch their eye at the derby. I challenge them to be negotiable on what they think they want, in favor of what actually works.
And I stand by my belief in the seemingly paradoxical power of negotiability. Because when it comes to the turbulent and thrilling quagmire of love, the only other option is disappointment.
But being negotiable doesn’t mean compromising our standards or settling for less than we deserve. Negotiability calls for realism, for recognition of the significance of context, and for a shift of focus from objective value to relative value.
Positive psychology expert Tal Ben-Shahar illustrates the concept of relative value as follows:
“[Imagine] an alien from Venus walks into a shop and asks to purchase an item worth a thousand dollars. She offers the shop owner the choice between a thousand dollars or a bill that, on Venus, is equivalent to a million Earth dollars. The shop owner knows that he will never get to Venus and the Venusian money has no value on Earth… [so] the shop owner should choose the thousand Earth dollars. Venusian currency is only as valuable as the sum it can yield in the currency that is accepted on Earth.”
In this delightful alien metaphor, you are the shopkeeper — your gentleman, lady, or gender non-conforming caller is the money-slinging Venusian, and your life in the context of this moment is Earth. Unless you have extraterrestrial travel plans (stay tuned for coming editions of Olivia’s solo travel series), you need only spend time with Venusians who pay in hard Earth cash.
Matthew Hussey, dating coach and future husband of yours truly, cuts right to the chase in his bible of a book Get the Guy…
“Often when a woman comes across a seemingly successful, charming, and articulate man,” he says, “she starts ticking off the criteria she has for Mr. Right….She’s allowing herself to fall for someone who may be a wonder of the world in his own life but has done nothing special in relation to her. He might be a great human being, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a great catch. [What does] is how he relates to you…a guy must be evaluated based only on what he does for you.”
If you value respect, it doesn’t matter how much he says he loves his grandma if he can’t stop playing Candy Crush while you speak.
If you value bravery, it is not enough that he has free-soloed every rock face in Yosemite valley if he cannot muster the courage to let you belay him to the other side, and the enthusiasm to do the same for you.
Kapeesh? So next time you stumble across your princely unicorn in a dark forest and he fits the bill from his distasteful facial hair to the zydeco blasting from the boom box he’s holding over his head, consider evaluating whether he is capable of holding that boom box for you. This goes both ways (and all ways) — man to woman, woman to man, woman to woman, man to man.
Go ahead and make your list. Be negotiable but maintain standards. There is so much at play in this dating game. There’s timing and location. There’s nominal availability, and emotional availability. There’s the zoo of endangered species we bring out in each other, and a whole galaxy of others variables ebbing and flowing and zooming around in the abstract.
Authentic intimacy occurs in the realness of the ecosystem between two people now, not in the promise of a dynamic that may or may not ever come to fruition.
Be brave enough to discern the difference. Be brave enough to walk away from phat checks you cannot cash.