list for girlfriend curvemagAs a habitual list maker, I forgo making yet another list of what I want in my next girlfriend.

Athletic. Intelligent. Emotionally available. You could track my dating life by the lists I’ve made in notebooks, journals, and on my iPad of all the characteristics I wanted in my next girlfriend. Looking back on my relationships, in almost every case, I found those very traits in the women who would later become my girlfriends. Of course, I didn’t think to add things like, “Isn’t still in love with her ex,” “lives less than 300 miles away,” or “solves conflict sans aggression.” After 20 years of making lists, it finally hit me – the problem wasn’t that I couldn’t get my list right. The problem was that I kept looking outside of myself for some kind of happiness and stability that no one can fulfill but me. As a perpetually organisation-focused person, I accept that I’ll never give up my habit of making lists. These days, though, I keep them more focused on me than on some ideal version of my next girlfriend. Here are three helpful changes I made in my thoughts around dating, post-listmaking:

1. I paid attention to why I wanted to go out with her in the first place

Looking back on past relationships, I realised that some of them began for the wrong reasons. I went out with her because I was lonely. Or because I was anxious and wanting to avoid dealing with it. Now, before going out on a date, I ask myself why I am going out with her. If I can answer yes to these questions, I go. Otherwise, I don’t go.

– Do I feel solid in who I am?

– Do I want to get to know her better?

– Am I over my ex?

– Are emotions like loneliness and anxiety in check?

2. I paid attention to how I felt about me when we were together

In my most unhealthy relationships, I felt a constant undercurrent of insecurity, worry, and overall unease. Sometimes, I felt like I lost myself or that I was invisible. What I learned was that while issues come up no matter who you date, love generally shouldn’t be that hard. Love doesn’t make you lose things: your sense of self, friends, sleep, or focus on your health or goals. Love doesn’t make you worry, wait, or wonder. Love isn’t passive aggressive. These days, I tune in, from date one, to how I feel when I’m with her.

3. I paid attention to compatibility rather than appearance and shared interests

One of the habits I had over and over in dating was seeing the woman as who I wanted her to be rather than who she really was, even in the face of evidence. Attraction and chemistry are important, but true compatibility goes beyond surface level commonalities. Character compatibility is about who she is, how well that fits with who I am, and how her character holds up over time. By focusing on our compatibility rather than on her looks or hobbies, I was better able to make healthy decisions and keep the rose-coloured glasses off.

I’m not knocking lists – particularly when they help clarify what we do want in terms of setting our intentions. These days, I just try to reframe my lists towards the only thing I really can control in dating and in life – myself.