How Picky Should You Be About a Romantic Partner?
The difference between extreme and healthy pickiness in dating.
Posted Apr 06, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams
- Pickiness is necessary in romantic relationships to some extent.
- Extreme pickiness can be harmful to relationships, but moderate pickiness is healthy and can help people find a suitable partner.
- Healthy pickiness involves looking for the suitable (rather than perfect) partner and focusing on deal-maker and deal-breaker traits rather than a superficial checklist.
- Healthy pickiness also involves integrating emotional intuition with rational considerations and focusing on bringing out the best in each other.
"I’m not picky, I just know what I deserve.” —Angelo Caerlang
Pickiness is a major reason for late bachelorhood among women. Many consider a "gut feeling" as a reason for rejecting a potential partner, though extreme pickiness focuses only on negative traits and is consequently damaging. Here, I will suggest four ways of developing a healthy pickiness, which increases chances of finding a suitable partner.
Romantic love is discriminatory: Time is short and supply is in abundance. You cannot love everyone — creating an enduring romantic love requires a focused search. Nevertheless, many singles are criticized for being too picky, the implication being that if they were to behave otherwise, they would meet a suitable partner. But pickiness cannot be dismissed as negative — on the contrary, it shows a wish for high standards. Which traits, then, are romantic red lines and which are we more likely to compromise on?
The Nature of Romantic Pickiness
“You see how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet.” —Alicia Silverstone
Pickiness is a necessary strategy in romantic love (less so in sexual encounters), but due to the complexity of choosing a partner, its nature is similarly complicated. If you are extremely picky, you may find yourself alone; however, if you are not picky at all, you may get divorced, or even worse, be miserable within marriage. We are picky about our car, clothes and food. Why should we not be picky about our romantic partner?
Extremely picky people favor many specific qualities and are not satisfied unless someone fulfills (almost) all of the long list of their desired traits. Their rigid attitude, that of “all or nothing,” lacks a priority order and is damaging because it does not distinguish between superficial and profound traits. Someone extremely picky may disqualify a potential partner because of hair color, height or where they live, even though it is clear that these traits are less important than kindness.
We should distinguish between extreme, harmful pickiness and a balanced, healthy one. An extremely picky person has a rigid, egoistic attitude – they focus on identifying negative traits and feel fear if they fail to do so. They tend to quickly disqualify people and are likely to miss out on suitable candidates because of superficial shortcomings.
In contrast, more flexible people are healthily picky, meaning that their pickiness is based on an accurate picture of reality. It is important to be discerning in the current dating climate, when much information is available. Although pickiness depends on romantic demand and supply, some measure of pickiness exists in everyone.
What Does Healthy Pickiness Look Like?
“Most people can't find love because they're picky, they overanalyze and they find things wrong in people. We call them ‘flaw finders’.” —Patti Stanger
Healthy pickiness is manifested in four important ways. These are looking for the suitable, rather than the perfect, partner; focusing on deal-maker and deal-breaker traits rather than a superficial checklist; integrating emotional intuition with rational considerations; and bringing out the best in each other.
1. Looking for the suitable rather than the perfect partner
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” —Leo Tolstoy
Extreme pickiness involves a search for a flawless person, focusing on comparison and negative traits, and is devastating for enduring loving relationships. It is far better to search for an imperfect person (like all of us) who is the most suitable for you. Constant comparison is lethal to establishing profound love. Lovers are not accountants — they should focus on nurturing their unique relationship. Harmful pickiness seeks perfection whereas healthy pickiness focuses on the partner most suitable for you (Ben-Ze’ev, 2019).
2. Focusing on deal-maker and deal-breaker traits
Creating a checklist of all desired traits in a partner is common. But extremely picky behavior treats this checklist as paramount, focusing on negative (and mostly superficial) points, to quickly filter out unsuitable candidates. In doing so, profound qualities are neglected. It would be better to choose a few essential traits, significant for enduring thriving love, and about five deal-breaker traits, which express profound unsuitability.
When choosing a romantic partner, we should give greater weight to kindness, generosity, respect, wisdom, attraction and a sense of humor than to superficial traits such as black hair, blue eyes, or being a certain size or weight. Similarly, choosing one who is ambitious with a capacity to succeed is preferable to choosing someone with a fat bank account who drives luxurious cars. Harmful pickiness lacks a meaningful order of priority, while a healthy pickiness follows one, when focusing on essential traits.
3. Intuition combined with rational considerations
“A rational person would know that, under certain conditions, it is better to follow her emotional intuition than to engage in elaborate intellectual gymnastics.” —Jon Elster
Romantic intuition, or a positive gut feeling, is somewhat similar to love at first sight — in both cases, there is an immediate positive perception of the other. Romantic intuition is not mysterious; it is based on evaluative patterns created during evolution and personal development. Such intuition does not necessarily guarantee a genuine enduring love, but it is a valuable starting point. As Steve Jobs said, “As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” We should combine intuition with rational considerations in order to improve our decision-making process, in which long-term factors are considered.
Harmful pickiness gives absolute priority to the heart (e.g., in sexual attraction) or to the intellect (e.g., with a very rich person). Healthy pickiness considers both the heart and intellect while giving the heart priority in choosing which romantic direction to go in.
4. Bringing out the best in each other
“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.” —Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Profound love brings out the best in each partner and makes them feel good about themselves. Loving couples frequently proclaim that they are a better person since having met the other. Conversely, harmful pickiness focuses on isolated traits that have nothing to do with bringing out the best in each other. Healthy pickiness focuses on the relationship, and in particular, on the potential partner’s ability to improve it while bringing out the best in us.
Does Romance Require Pickiness?
“My mother was very picky in recommending my ideal wife. She wanted me to marry a physician, but as she got older and needed constant help, she recommended a nurse.” —Aaron
“Pickiness shouldn’t focus on isolated traits but on an emotional bond. It is a pity that I wasn’t pickier before my marriage.” —Audrey
Picky people based their uncompromising attitude upon their wish to only have the love they see in the movies. Does romance necessarily need such extreme pickiness?
Romantic love is dynamic and develops over time. The extent of our love is not determined by our search for ideal love, but by nurturing our unique love. Extreme pickiness aims at finding the perfect lover, but in doing so it compromises our ability to find a suitable partner. There is no correlation between romance and pickiness: Sometimes, the opposite is true—pickiness involves fear of committed, enduring romantic relationships. The essence of love resides not in the isolated traits of a person, but the person as a whole.
Even if someone is wise, beautiful and rich, we still may not be attracted to them. In matters of the heart, gut feeling is a better guide. We can, to a certain extent, nurture our heart in order to fulfill what we want.
Though being healthily picky does not allow us to find the perfect person, it is compatible with our wish to create enduring profound love, and it is more valuable than an uncompromising pickiness. Healthy pickiness should focus on future positive development that deepens a connection. You do not need to compromise on what you are feeling, but rather to reconsider what is important for you and act accordingly.
Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2019). Is love best when it is fresh? The impact of time on love. University of Chicago Press.