Here we go again. Just out!  Another "Perfect Man" survey.  This one reports the "must have" fantasies of 2000 women. For example, the perfect man earns 77K per year, eats meat, and calls his mother. Oh, spare me! Spare us all!  Men and women alike.

And what's so wrong with aiming high? Nothing. The problem is this: Aiming high is not what a "must have" list means.

What a "must have" list means

1. You may be dangerously close to thinking like an adolescent.

Nothing wrong with thinking like a beginner. That is, if you are a beginner. If you've passed chronological adolescence, revising and refining your "must have" list is a naive exercise in futility. The secret to relationship success has nothing to do with your partner fulfilling idiosyncratic criteria.  Success depends on both partners practicing mature love - taking responsibility for their own happiness and unhappiness.

2. You may be under the influence of conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom supports having ridiculously high expectations for a romantic partner.    

  • You make me want to be a better man.  
  • You are my true north.
  • You complete me.

A lot of pressure, if you ask me.  

"Must have" lists - no matter what the particulars - are your personal spin on conventional wisdom's poisonous pit of unrealistic expectations.  

3. You may be focusing on fantasy rather than reality. 

Nothing wrong with having dreams. Sometimes, dreams come true. Usually, after a lot of hard work. "Must have" lists, on the other hand, are about the unattainable dream that love and life can be easy. You know, like the Minnie Ripperton song, "Loving you is easy 'cause you're beautiful. La la la la la la la la la la."

4. You may be assuming that a not-quite-perfect mate can be renovated.

Letting your "must have" list be your guide poisons your romantic reality. You find yourself thinking things like:

  • "Well, she's not making a lot of money, now, but she knows how important living well is to me.  I'm sure I can talk her into going to law school."
  • "He's not really athletic but since he knows he needs to lose a few pounds, I'll get him to run with me."  

Emotionally mature individuals know that romantic interests are not renovation projects. 

5. You may be neglecting essential self-correction.

This is where taking responsibility for your own happiness, being self-responsible, comes in. It's all up to you. For example, if you have a history of being taken advantage of by manipulative love interests, putting "not a manipulator" on your "must have" list means you are neglecting essential self-correction. It is up to you to increase your limit-setting behavior. Manipulative love interests rarely stick around good limit-setters and vice versa. 

Having Standards

Letting go of  your "must have" list is not the same as having no standards. The key is to focus on standards for your own behavior. If you view yourself as someone who seeks potential love interests in your town's entertainment district, this reflects your standards. If you view yourself as someone who seeks potential love interests while volunteering in a disaster area, this reflects your standards. If it hasn't been working for you, don't revise your "must have" list. Examine your standards!  For more on essential standards, see previous posts: Great Mistakes - The Six Big Red Flags (Part 1); Great Mistakes - The Six Big Red Flags (Part 2); Great Mistakes: Q&A with a Reader in Trouble. 


"Must have" lists are, in part, an attempt to eliminate bad surprises. They also imply that characteristics not listed are, well, not quite good enough. Let the one that you love surprise you. So, he refuses to dance but his massages are world-class. She rarely cooks but her sense of humor makes your day. When you take the self-responsible approach, you practice gratitude. 

For more about the book, visit

Everybody Marries the Wrong Person

Turning Flawed into Fulfilling Relationships
Christine Meinecke, Ph.D.

Christine Meinecke, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of Everybody Marries the Wrong Person.

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