Rethinking The Idea Of Having "Standards"
Help Me, I'm Still Single!
This is the name of a TV show that caught my attention as I was flipping through channels a couple of weeks ago.
According to the description for the new show on FYI TV, with the help of Dr. Pepper Schwartz, two people with common dating issues are given 21 days to see if they can break their dating habits and find true love.
Part of the episode focused on Mercedez's "list."
Mercedez is a 25-year old Flight Attendant who has a list of standards for men she dates. After a long-term relationship left her brokenhearted, she says the list is about compatibility and to protect herself, but she wonders whether her standards are holding her back from finding a good man.
Dr. Schwartz assures her, yes, it is holding her back.
What the doctor says next flips on light bulbs and sets off sensors within me. She isn't opposed to standards, but she wants Mercedez to stop measuring a man against her list and start framing a conversation around her needs.
Before we get into needs, I must first acknowledge some things about standards.
I have the same relationship with standards that everyone has: love-hate.
I love having standards for myself, but sometimes cringe when others, particularly those unfamiliar to me, talk about their standards. I know. Ridiculous. But I think very few are honest about that.
To test my assertion, here's what you do.
Have a conversation with someone about the standards you've set for potential love interests. Watch how quickly they try to temper your expectations. Now, ask them if they lowered their standards prior to dating/marrying/committing to their love. In other words, can we assume that their partner is the result of lowered expectations? Enjoy the hemming and hawing!
We love standards for ourselves, but not so much for others.
I'm a huge proponent of not discussing significant things with insignificant people. You open yourself up for unfair judgement. Not to mention that a number of people will be offended by, entertained by, or inspired to critique the things you want. What you want should be held close to the heart and entrusted to only those who have earned your highest level of trust.
I deeply believe that it's ok to want what you want, but I admit, I'm not above judging.
Outside of relationships, there's something about certain high-stakes checklists that are exhausting. For example, I find myself judging people on HGTV. I think: Who cares that there's no tub in the bathroom for your precious bubblebaths. What are you, four? The house is gorgeous and you're living in Rome for goodness sake. How can this deal be any sweeter?!
But rethink this scenario. What if the conversation about the tub were re-framed from something on a checklist to something that took care of a need?
Here enters flexibility and compassion.
When I switch from standards to needs it changes the tone of the conversation.
I might want a house in Rome with a tub, but my need may really be for warmth. The need for occasional full-body submersion in liquid warmth could be resolved with a hot tub at a local fitness club (or a Roman bath, or a 5-star spa). The point is, there's more than one way to skin a cat. **Southern euphemism alert. No cats being skinned** Getting down to the "why" on every line item of your checklist might uncover a need that can be supported.
You know how you can feel a certain way, but can't verbalize how you feel? You just know you feel it? Watching this show brought me one step closer to being able to verbalize my feelings about relationship standards.
Let's be honest. Saying you have standards sounds a wee bit pretentious. Plus, everyone has them to varying degrees, so proclaiming to have standards doesn't make anyone exceptional.
When I use the term, it's used as a default word or a shorthand way of indicating to another person that I can't see myself happy with the person in question. Like: No, I don't want to date him because he worships the devil. I have standards!
Even still, there's always been something that felt wrong to me with that word. There's always been something that felt petty to me about a list. And it wasn't until the idea that we need to be looking at our needs versus how many boxes a potential partner can check off was introduced that there was a better alternative.
To be clear, I'm all for standards in relationships and in other categories of life, but our standards come from our needs. So why not go to the source?
Let's talk needs. I admit that saying that out loud--that you have emotional and physical needs--is starting to float dangerously close to TMI on a first or second date.
But let's not go down that rabbit hole of what to do and not to do on dates. Let's keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, with our thoughts fixed on what our needs are, and see that our actions align with that which we say we want.
For example, I was fortunate enough to grow up feeling secure. I always knew I'd have food to eat, clothes to wear, a place to sleep, and a parent watching over my safety. I liked that and value it still.
I have a need for security and stability.
That alone branches out into so many areas (mental, financial, social). Focusing on my need for security and stability doesn't make the conversation about anyone measuring up to my stick. It just makes it about what I need. That sets a tone between two people that doesn't arouse defenses.
I don't think we stand to lose anything by speaking in terms of needs and not standards because the desired outcome will be the same.
Sometimes we get a point better when the tables are turned.
Imagine. You just meet someone and they tell you about their standards for men/women: A man must...A woman must... Then you're given a pop-up quiz. Do you do this? Do you like that? Do you believe in this? Are you a fan of that? Oh, you are? Hmm, that might be a problem.
Am I the only one turned off?
Am I the only one happy to remove myself from the lunacy?
I am a real human being. I'm as brilliant as I am flawed and I don't like that thought of being judged or ranked for it.
On the other hand, even in all my flawed humanity, even if I could check off every box on a list (which I can't), it wouldn't capture the best, most nuanced parts of who I am. Nor can we see the best most nuanced parts of others with our heads down hovering over little square boxes.
When the discussion is about needs and why the needs exist, it's easier to have compassion than indignation for where the other person is coming from. It's also easier for me to remove myself, without feeling judged, condemned, degraded, or insulted, if I know I can't meet said needs.
Maybe it's time to shift the conversation when the question comes up: What do you look for in a man/woman?
Let's start talking needs.
Cover photo credit: Daniel Kulinski via CC Flickr
List photo credit: David Sherry via Death To Stock Photo
Leg photo credit: David Sherry ft Tiffany Ima via Death To Stock Photo