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Non-negotiables vs. Preferences When Dating, According to Expert Matchmaker

Ditch the "must-haves" and unlock real connection. Learn how values & self-reflection can help you find your person.

Your inquiry: seeking early-mid 30s, athletic, skier, independently wealthy, highly emotionally available and intelligent, 6ft +, never married, amenable to having children soon. Must have a terminal degree. Must speak English, French, and Mandarin. Christian, but should not be a church go-er. Apolitical, bi-racial preferred. Should have a strong relationship with family. No emotional baggage.

Our answer: We’d love to explore this with you.

Before we dig deep, though, what if I told you that the perfect partner for you is certainly out there? What if I told you that there might indeed be many perfect partners for you, and your compatibility is predicated on where you are at any given moment, both geographically, vocationally, and emotionally? What if I then told you that the detailed list of must-haves we sometimes create might actually be in our way? And finally, what if I told you that even if we could construct a unicorn partner from dream fabric, one party might not be into the other? Rather than piecing the picture of perfection together, it might serve you to concentrate more globally on relationship goals and values. This is an opportunity for a conversation with yourself (and/or your matchmaker) to explore your personal perspective on non-negotiables vs. preferences in a relationship, and to better answer the question “What are you looking for in a relationship?”.

The Must-haves: Let’s Talk Non-negotiables

It is paramount and healthy to learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and we encourage you to be thoughtful. Your values and lifestyle will determine the compatibility of you and your potential matches. You do indeed get to be a bit picky; after all, you’re laying the bedrock for a successful relationship. While it might be helpful to do your own granular inventory, we hope you’ll consider putting things into buckets when you decide on your chosen qualities of a good partner before citing the whole list to the universe. Let’s take a look at a few common non negotiable examples we’ve heard from various clients: 

common non negotiable examples

Your non-negotiables belong to you, and you’re welcome to pursue them, but try and keep it simple! Remember:  these must-haves can be intellectual, physical, or material. They can also just be values-based, i.e. I need a partner who is always kind to service industry workers, I need a partner who won’t ever let us go to sleep angry, I need a partner who keeps a very tidy home. A lot of these can also be discussed within an already blossoming relationship. Don’t flunk someone for dishes in the sink before talking about them first.

Usually these more detailed examples can be boiled down to something values-based, but you’re also allowed to want something tangible. Just know, there is a downside.

Stacking up large sums of non-negotiables will shrink your pool of eligible partners significantly, and might usher in a huge opportunity cost. Your filters might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. If you do find yourself with such a list, and everything on it feels critically important, though, read on. 

Finding Balance

A great exercise for identifying what really matters on your list is just through asking the simple question “why?”. In the inquiry example, for instance: must be a skier. Why? What if your person has a ton of interest in learning and enjoying activities with you? Perhaps they’ve never been on the slopes before, but they’re happy to learn. And, perhaps, they offer a different hobby, pastime or expertise that could also enrich your life in return? 

A staff favorite of ours is “must be 6ft+.” We get this from humans of all sizes.

A common question a matchmaker might ask is “what if the love of your life is 5ft11?” 

My favorite answer so far: “then they’re NOT the love of my life.” 

This might very well be true, but if it’s just an inflated preference, let’s use this one example and play with math. According to the most recent census, only about 3.9% of women are above 6 feet, and about 14.5% of men. Let’s assume the mark here is male, and whether out there in the Wild West on your own, or with your matchmaker, you’ve just reduced your exposure to a population inclusive of loving, interesting, funny, intelligent men by 85.5%. That’s a lot of percent! It’s worthy of note, though, that dating is subjective, there’s not a one-size-fits all approach, and that there are innumerable emotional motivations for people’s preferences. As an example, if you’re 5ft11 and you really need your person to be a bit taller for attraction’s sake (or for any other reason that’s truly important to you) of course we’re here to support that.

“But they need to ski, too.”

I wondered while reviewing the spoof inquiry at the top if taller skiers or shorter skiers had better success due to their varying centers of gravity. As it turns out, depending on the style, your height shouldn’t really matter. 

How Likely Can I Get it All in One Place?

This question did lead me to consider how often the things we want are found together, and how often some desirable attributes may have a kind of inverse relationship.

Examples: youth vs. wealth, youth vs. maturity, extreme wealth vs. relatability, beauty vs. modesty.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s not a very young, beautiful, extremely wealthy, mature and empathetic person out there waiting, but when you count up all these non-negotiables and ask yourself how many such persons you met while in undergrad, I hope your answer is more satisfying than mine. 

The takeaway: There are a number of entirely wonderful people out there who might come in a different package than what you’re ordering. While we respect that you already might have a good idea of what you need to build a successful relationship, we recommend being careful with your order.

Shared Values in Partnership

This part of the discussion with yourself should be handled delicately, but something worth asking yourself if you seek extreme accolades, whether academic, physical, or vocational, is how much similar work you’ve put into those coveted things yourself. I can’t answer this question for you, but a question I’ve asked myself is how much more can I expect of a partner than I’m willing to work for personally? And if you are indeed asking more, consider once again just identifying that “why.”

Preferences: Sighs of Relief

Preferences make for friendlier fire. We’re talking about those nice-to-haves, and we’re here for it. I suffer from insomnia, and I’d prefer a partner who doesn’t. Why? Because I want to be rooted to the temporal world by something. I prefer partners who complement my strengths and idiosyncrasies, because I believe the contrast makes for a more balanced and dynamic relationship. Two worriers might never find peace together, two stoics may have trouble communicating, etc. 

You might prefer someone very different than you. You might also prefer a partner with similar eating and drinking styles, prefer someone who doesn’t mind doing most of the driving, or prefer someone who doesn’t use texting as a primary means of communication. You might even just prefer they be a certain height or body shape. This list can be longer, because, from our perspective, it’s not shutting doors on you. The composite list you create of preferences and must-haves will determine compatibility, though, so we suggest treading very thoughtfully and keeping an open mind. 

We understand that there must be negotiables and non-negotiables in a relationship when you’re figuring out how to find love. We also know that you might be delighted by someone very unlike the ideal partner you’ve envisioned, and an open mind might just bring you past the threshold when you’re ready to find your person.

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