Kill Your Wish List: Stop Telling Online Daters Who They Should Be

How hard could this be to turn down?

An old friend of mine moved back to New York and before he found an apartment, the guy has dates out the wazoo. Here’s a man who knows how to make it happen. You know how? He asks. He asks a lot of people. He shows interest in lots of ladies online and doesn’t hang in the email limbo, but gets to it and sets up dates and goes on them.

He doesn’t limit himself to the faux rules people draw up for their dream dates (and neither should you). Which means when he came across a woman he found particularly fetching, he didn’t care that she set a lower height limit of 5’9 (my friend is 5’8). He did acknowledge it, however. “I realize you’re looking for men 5’9 and above, but I would really like to meet you.”

She responded that she was willing to bend that requirement if he was ok with the fact that she “really really hates football.”

I told him I wasn’t as concerned with her not liking football as I was about her having such strict rules to begin with. I wish I could hop onto his account and write this girl back myself and say WTF ARE YOU DOING?! Because she’s worried about matching likes/dislikes before she’s even met the dude. Who cares if he likes football? (See: Plenty of happily coupled folks who part ways during Monday night football).

This is where online dating went wrong. The ability to choose preferences has misled you into thinking you can find exactly what you plug into the machine, as if this is a remake of Weird Science and not a filter for meeting actual people. In fact, your list of preferences may very well be the thing that’s keeping you from finding anyone. Because you think you’re writing up a list of prerequisites for a job you’re filling, when really that position is created anew with everyone you meet.

The likes and dislikes are what you learn as you get to know someone, not boxes you check before you do. Because you won’t actually get to know anyone that way if you cut potential off at the knees–especially when it’s a thing that, let’s face it, lots of dudes like. If she rules out ANY guy who likes football, she may be ruling out a lot of wonderful potentials, just because she can’t sit through one sport. #fail.

Newsflash: To love and be loved someone, you don’t have to be perfectly paired on every single thing. You’re not looking for a twin; you’re looking for a partner. And while of course you’ve got to have some things in common, those don’t have to be hobbies, but values, humor, aesthetic–they all play a part. But what I wish for you more is that you find someone who does you one better than match exactly what you like–who expands your world, and your comfort zone, and gives you the courage to try new things.

The profile is not the key to real connection. You won’t ever know what you think of someone until you meet them in person, period.

Think back to the old fashioned way of meeting someone: You get introduced, or maybe you see each other at a party, make eye contact, start chatting. Maybe he gets a job in your office and you see greet each other getting coffee every day. Maybe you wouldn’t have picked this guy out of a lineup of potentials, but he makes you laugh–a lot–or becomes more interesting the more you talk.

Sometimes you’re hit over the head by someone you see and think “Him!” but there have been so many times I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how incrementally more wonderful a person became. A girlfriend of mine confided about her fiance, “He was an average-looking guy on our first date, but he just got hotter every time I saw him.”

So you see how this works, right? And how some prefix menu of attributes, likes, and physical characteristics is something you made up, and doesn’t necessarily predict the person you could really love. You go in with your heart set on finding a man 6’0 or above, who is Buddhist, gluten-free, and passionate about soccer and Siamese cats, and you miss out on the hilarious meat-eating Jew who hates soccer but is crazy good at table hockey, owns a labradoodle you fall for, and makes you feel like the sexiest woman on the planet.

Stop treating yourself as a bouncer to the door of your dating life, looking to turn away anyone who approaches in the wrong shoes. Try not to strictly limit your playing field in the name of what you think you like, and allow yourself to be surprised once in a while. I don’t know if my friend ever went out with that girl, but in my heart of hearts I hope that she does, and as she laughs hard at one of my friend’s silly jokes, says to herself, Thank God I didn’t let a sport I don’t like dictate who I meet. 

Because you shouldn’t, either.