As far back as I can remember, lists have been a surprisingly integral part of my life. In my boisterous childhood home, my family would have descended into chaos in no time if certain elements of our lives were not regularly listed out for all to see. While it definitely wasn’t a perfect system, cataloging the never-ending stream of commitments that filled our waking hours provided us with at least a semblance of control as we navigated the ups and downs of our daily lives. As I grew, so too did my responsibilities and to this day I still keep a notepad handy for list-making to help mitigate whatever may be contributing to heightened levels of stress in my life. While this practice has been a great professional tool for staying organized and proactive, there is one area of my personal life in which lists have been anything but helpful: dating.
Whether you prefer to date online, in person, or embrace a mix of the two, you undoubtedly encounter some iteration of the phrase, “So, what are you looking for?” on a regular basis. It’s a question that, until recently, I accepted as a normal part of the dating experience which for many inevitably leads to list-making. On most apps today, you’re even prompted to proactively list out a wide variety of must-haves and deal-breakers to help weed out the non-compatibles. In addition to developing this list of requirements for potential paramours, you must also create one to use for your own self-promotion, crafting the perfect list of enchanting characteristics to ensnare an ideal mate.
While there are of course some practical reasons for making a small list — say for example a lack of interest in long-distance relationships — overall, I don’t feel the long-form approach has enhanced my dating experience. In fact, I’d say this personal and societal obsession with checking boxes on a list as a measure of success has hindered it.
Through the clarity of hindsight, it is obvious to me why I committed to a list-centric method for so long in regard to my dating life. It helped me feel like I had some control over what is an invariably uncontrollable situation. You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with, and growing up as a closeted bi man, that scared me to my core. What if I fell in love with the wrong person, someone who I wasn’t brave enough to be with or would pressure me to come out before I was ready? It was much easier to have a ready-made list to turn to for comfort, security and, in some cases, an easy out. These lists became a crutch for me in more ways than one, while simultaneously limiting my amorous prospects to a ridiculously small group. I restricted my own opportunities for companionship by being fixated on random and subjective characteristics, while also hindering my own growth by believing I was nothing more than my own static, self-curated list.
The reality is who I am and what I am looking for is constantly in flux. I cannot predict the future, and it’s impossible to know with absolute certainty who I will be and want in the years to come. In the dating world, I was afraid to share that thought; I worried that if I found someone who loved my “list” they would expect me to be that and nothing more, or that if I didn’t have a list at all I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a potential partner. It shifted the focus of my dating life from finding a genuine, lasting connection to what can only be called a word search as I continuously swiped through profiles searching for dating buzzwords.
However, I’ve come to realize it’s the moments where I trust my gut and look past this list obsession when I can finally start to uncover more meaningful connections; it removes a level of pressure on both me and potential matches that I was previously unaware of. Though lists might provide us with some level of comfort as we put ourselves in vulnerable situations, I’ve come to understand that it is nothing if not misleading; we are all dynamic, evolving and imperfect humans, and who we are cannot be contained to an unchanging list.
While I still find ending my workday with a complete and well-thought-out list to be incredibly satisfying, I plan to keep them far away from my dating life moving forward, an idea that now fills me with excitement instead of fear. Though I may not be certain of exactly what I am looking for or where I will wind up in the years ahead, I genuinely cannot wait to explore the exciting possibilities I have finally opened myself up to by kicking my lists to the curb.