When it comes to choosing a dating or marriage partner, everyone’s got their own list. Here are the pros and cons of “The List” approach.

My Ideal Man

Back before the internet was so mainstream, there were these things called “magazines”. Basically what a magazine was was a collection of website articles printed out on paper. Yeah ok, so magazines are still around, but unfortunately a dying industry because of the power of the interwebs.

I remember a funny time at the end of high school some of my friends and I had with a female friend’s Girlfriend magazine. We were in a shared bus on the way to a leadership training day we were running as school prefects, and we saw her magazine just sitting outside of her bag. Being the “We’ve never read Girlfriend magazine” types, we ventured in with lots of reading out lout. Boy oh boy, what an eye opener. The magazine was full of multiple articles addressing the question, “What to look for in an ideal partner”. We had a hilarious time.

It’s not just Girlfriend magazine that has tackled this question before. In fact, most people nowadays have a list of attributes and qualities they would like in the person/people they date or marry. Some have massively long and comprehensive role descriptions of what their partner would look like, others have a few basic points and a general idea.

I’ll open this by saying that this approach is a really good one to take. After all, how can you find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for? It has been proven to be invaluable for people in the search. That said, The List Approach is also a double edged approach. Where it can help the search for a partner, it can also hinder and bring its own challenges.

So here are 6 pros and cons (3 of each) taken in the Ideal Partner List approach.

First, the cons.

Con #1: When it contains surface-level items listed as a necessity

It’s really cool to have a list of qualities for what you’re looking for in a partner. Some of these can be quite worthwhile and important. However, we can also include a number of “dumb” items on our lists, and unless someone meets absolutely every one of them down to the T, then they get written off.

A lot of people include things like “kind”, “courteous”, “generous”, “loves their family”, and “committed” on their lists. Great qualities that really help build a lasting relationship. Then they add items such as “similar calling”, “common interests”, and “wants to live in a certain country”. All fair points.

But let’s be honest – in the midst of all of these there is often a lengthy list of “blonde”, “buff”, “sporty”, “hot”, “nice assets”, “Hugh Jackman but 20 years younger”, “Megan Fox face with the compassion of Mother Teresa”, and the like. Even in adult-oriented journalism it is not uncommon to find those Girlfriend-esque mashups of what the ideal partner looks like – the end result ends up looking like Frankenstein’s monster.

The reason I’ve listed this first is because I know many couples who are now dating or married only after negotiating around some of these “non-negotiables”. For example, I know a few friends who’ve held race as a huge concern, whether they wanted someone who has to be African, or who can’t be Asian, or who needs to be white. In a lot of these cases, these people were challenged by their friends with the question, “Is the only thing stopping you dating this person their race?”. Since the answer was yes and they realized it wasn’t the most important thing in the world, they’re now happily kicking it together.

You can get used to a person’s appearance, the sound of their voice, or the colour of their skin after even a few weeks of being together. Bad character is something that is much harder to get used to.

Con #2: When it neglects the life of the author

I love hearing sometimes the things that people list as what they want in their ideal partner regarding what they want to do with their life. People are looking to get with musicians, or CEOs, or people with grand visions for their life.

But how would you actually go living together with a person like the one you’re looking for?

Some people want to marry a career-driven person, but would you be able to live with one? If there is sometimes the need for overtime, someone else to look after the kids, or a nightly topic of conversation involving office complexities or the state of the economy, how would you fair?

A big one in the Christian community is “I want to marry a pastor”, and yet their lifestyle does not reflect this in anyway. To date or marry a pastor would be to live a life that puts others first, regularly involves catching up with people and meeting lots of new ones. If your life isn’t heading that way now, it would be worth revisiting it.

Or how about wanting to date someone with lots of influence and leadership? That would mean in a similar way being with someone who is highly visible and supporting them through the challenges of having the attention of various numbers of people.

Not saying that your job description or disposition needs to be exactly the same, just that it would be worth considering who you actually are and what you would like your life to actually look like before making a grand list of objectives for your ideal hubby or bubby. Chances are you may not actually enjoy the lifestyle if you haven’t considered your own.

Con #3: When it is birthed out of insecurity

It is great to want someone to join your life and to be strong for you. A lot of people say they want someone who can be strong where they are weak, who can help them when they’re feeling down, and who can support them through the tough times. Fair enough.

But there may be some needs and desires in your life that are more heavily emphasized due to personal insecurity or loss. A good example is wanting someone who can encourage you because you don’t believe in yourself. That’s cool to want an encourager, but if they’re the only person in your life who you have to encourage you, you’ll blame them to no end when they have an off-day or are unable to speak the words you need to hear. Similarly with friends – the search for love is often made all the more lonely because people have no one in their life who they talk to, no close friends, don’t talk to their family, and no one who really knows what’s going on. But somehow this one perfect person now has to carry the weight of your world because you haven’t developed some other relationships.

Okay, there are some of the cons we take in the approach. Here are some of the pros with The List approach.

Pro #1: It helps you work out what you want

Who really knows what they want? If you are asked what you want in a partner by multiple people, you may give them all different answers. Maybe you’re not even sure, you’d just like to be with someone. What’s cool about the list approach is it gets you to actually think through what it is that is most important to you.

What are the really important things in your life? For you to find a “comparable helpmeet”, an Ezer Kenegdo, what is it that they are being comparable to? I mean, we never fully work out exactly the person we end up with – just look at your parents. It always makes me laugh to hear the number of stories of people who get married to people they never thought they would. What are the qualities that this person would absolutely need for it to work?

Writing it down helps even more than just thinking about it. And finding some people you can be open and honest with about what’s on your list is even better.

Pro #2: It helps you recognize what you want

A lot of us have the view that “I’ll know it when I see it”. Will you? This approach does not always work out. Look at how many mistakes you may have made, or friends may have made, because something looked and smelled like the right thing, but turned out being nothing but regret and unhealthy compromise.

I’ve seen some friends start the pursuit that ends in marriage by honestly considering the people they’ve met against what they’re looking for. Sometimes they’ve been repulsed by the potential interest of a man or a woman in themselves, but after revisiting what they’re looking for, they saw that there was something really worthwhile in giving it a shot. The reverse is also true, where someone’s charm or beauty or friendliness was a distraction from how fundamentally different they were.

This point is counterbalanced against Con #1 where there’s quite a dance between what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable. But nonetheless, when you’re looking to find a place, you check the map. And the List can often reveal to the heart what may be hidden from the eyes. There are two ways to find a suitable person – keep waiting and meeting people, or revisit what you’re looking for. You might already know someone who fits the bill, or maybe you don’t.

Pro #3: When it is balanced with reality and grace

Obviously, there is no ideal person. Even the most loving, generous, handsome, gorgeous, perfect little bundle of luvvy-dubby is going to have a season of not being so loving or generous or perfect. They’re going to let you down. They’re going to hurt you. You will be disappointed at points. There will be days where you feel completely the opposite of what you did in the beginning.

But that’s what’s beautiful about love. Love is permission for another person to let you down.

And as the person in the driver’s seat of the life you are wishing to attach to this person you finally find, it’s going to be up to you to determine how you’re going to act in that moment. Are you going to belittle and demean and get depressed and throw the word “divorce” around like there’s no tomorrow and feel justified in cheating?

Or are you going to take the path of true love and lay down your life for your friend?

We all want others to give us room to grow, and grace to cover the days when we seem to be moving in reverse. Be the person who does exactly that for others, and remember to keep it in mind in the pursuit of marriage.


There’s lots of talk about when it comes to The List – what are some of your thoughts on the matter? Until next time, boys and girls!

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