By Julia Ford-Carther
The dating advice circling out there these days involves some varied combination of: Love yourself (lots of trial and error there), forgive your past (but, wow, was that a steep learning curve), know what you want (I think?). But what if what you think you want isn’t getting you what you actually want, much less what you need? In fact, I’m 99% sure it’s not. I’m willing to bet that your list of what you want in a relationship—you know, that 154-line spreadsheet of partner must-haves—is full of criteria that are leading you down the wrong partnership paths. What if, instead of focusing on the surface-level traits that can creep into that list (must speak five languages, must drive a sports car, must be 6’5…), we looked at how a partner is going to satisfy you emotionally in a relationship? One of the strongest indicators of a good match is that a person fulfills your top relationship needs.
How would your dream partner make you FEEL? Not what would he look like, not what would he do, not how would you meet him, but what’s the ideal way you want to feel, at all times, in this warm, loving, supportive, fun relationship the two of you would share? The perspective starts to shift a bit, doesn’t it? What if you could replace your entire 154-point list with five items and start finding partners with real potential immediately? Yep, five. It’s very simple: If your needs aren’t met, you won’t feel satisfied in your relationship (even if all 154 items on your list are checked off).
A relationship need is an emotional state. It’s a feeling that is absolutely non-negotiable, one you are not willing to compromise in a relationship, because it is reflective of who you are at the core. Part of the “loving yourself” and “forgiving your past” portion of the finding-love process is determining how you want to feel in this life, who you truly are, and how you can express and celebrate your authentic self. Your partner should be your plus-1 to that celebration. So, the most important question you should be asking yourself is not “Do I know what I want?” but, “Do I know how I want to feel?” This is where your 154-point checklist can actually be of use. There are reasons why you chose the criteria you chose, and those reasons are more important than the actual criteria. So go through your list and with each line item ask yourself, “If my partner possessed this quality, how would that make me feel?”
The goal is to boil down each quality into a feeling. For example, “Good in social settings” could actually mean you want to be with someone who is lively, friendly, and charismatic, which could make you feel excited, like the center of attention, and adored by your friends. This indicates that “excited,” “center of attention” and “adored” are potential relationship needs to be included on your short list. Or, alternatively, this quality could mean that he could make you look good at work events, which would make you feel supported by him because he’s willing to attend and respected by colleagues. This indicates that “supported” and “respected” are potential relationship needs to be included on your short list. Now, what I’m about to say next is VERY important: The only way this exercise works is if you do it with honesty and without judging yourself. If you identify a feeling that some could consider as a negative, WHO CARES? This is your list, not theirs. And it is a judgment-free zone. Remember that. After doing this, your short list of relationship needs could very well be a long list. But in reality, your partner only needs to satisfy your top five relationship needs. That’s right, you only need five.
So once you’ve established a list of feelings, go through that list and start to whittle your list down to the most important. You’ll notice that some are similar enough to others and can be eliminated. For example, ‘listened to’ and ‘heard’ may imply the same behavior, but one might carry more significance for you. Keep the one that does. At the end, you’ll have the five feelings that resonate the most. These are your top five relationship needs. Keep this list close by at all times. Cherish it. Take a photo of it and put it on your phone’s screen saver. And if at any point in the dating process it becomes abundantly clear that a suitor will not satisfy one of your needs (or downright doesn’t value it), cut him loose. The goal is to find someone who satisfies 4 out of 5 of your needs 100% of the time, bumping up to 5 out of 5 at least 80% of the time. Anything less than that is a no-go. Because who wants to be happy less than 80% of the time?
The takeaway here is that your imperfectly perfect partner most likely isn’t going to arrive in the package you thought he would. And that’s ok—better, even. Because it means this person shows up with a few fun surprises PLUS the ability to satisfy your deepest emotional needs in ways even you might not know you needed. And that’s better than driving a sports car any day.