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Shopping for Love? You Should Make a List!

Itemizing the qualities you seek in a mate can streamline your dating search online

Why you need a dating checklist

Before you start online dating, make a list of the personal qualities you're hoping to find in a new partner. — Mike Clark/istockphoto

It's a mistake to go food shopping when you're hungry, right? You wind up buying whatever looks appetizing at the moment, overlooking the more nutritious items that would truly sustain you. You do better when you have a list.

The same thing happens when you try to date online without a list of the personal qualities you're hoping to find in a new partner. Smitten by an appealing photo in someone's profile, you can easily fail to notice whether he or she possesses the traits and values you consider most important.

If I sound ruefully familiar with this dynamic, it's because I went on 47 unproductive coffee dates in the course of a year before meeting someone with whom I clicked. To avoid a similar fate, try following the simple road map I've designed for dating with a list.

Step 1: List three to six qualities you're looking for in a partner.

These were my top four:

  1. emotional warmth
  2. a passion for healthy living
  3. a circle of loving friends
  4. a cerebral sense of humor

Actually there was a fifth, though it's a bit embarrassing to mention: Must love dogs! I got my first inkling that one woman might be The One the day she and I went hiking and she couldn't stop laughing at the squirrel-chasing mania of my golden retriever, Duke.

Step 2: Use your list to narrow your search online. Prospective partners tend to state the qualities they possess, rather than the ones they're pursuing, in the profiles they post online. Give a profile a close read and you may find indications that the person has that sense of humor and lots of friends.

Step 3: Compare lists in person. The first time you meet an online contact in the flesh, try to draw out his or her feelings about his/her own priority list. You can even ask point-blank, "What top three qualities would you expect your perfect partner to have?"

Just be aware this discussion can take unexpected turns. Attracted by the smiling online photos of a woman I'll call Marie, I scanned her profile and noticed we shared a passion for daily news. If only I'd checked which sources she got hers from! We exchanged a few emails and agreed to meet for dinner at a restaurant. Hardly had we sat down, however, than we became embroiled in a heated political debate: Her views were oil, mine were water. By the time dinner arrived, we were both so disenchanted we got up at the same time, tossed some money on the table, and left the restaurant with smoke pouring from our ears.

Step 4: Suss out values. Now that you're aware of which qualities you're both after, try to assess the other person's core beliefs. These reveal the manner in which a person lives daily life and relates to the world — two behavioral traits too critical to ignore. They may include community volunteering, religious beliefs, family connections, political leanings and attitudes about social justice.

Ideally, the other person's values will align closely with your own. If charitable giving is a mainstay of your life, for example, how happy are you likely to be with someone who believes that donations breed dependence? If you are deeply devout, are you apt to share much common ground with a virulent atheist?

This may be one of those inconvenient truths: We all recognize the need for compromise in a relationship, but disagreeing on every facet of human existence gets old fast.

Your best match, then, will be someone who shares not just your qualities but also your values. Because neither of those is visible to the naked eye, you're going to need some other mechanism to ferret them out. So whether you're shopping in a supermarket or on the information superhighway, do the smart thing: Make a list, and stick to it.

Ken Solin writes about dating for AARP.

How About We ... Make a Dating List

Ken Solin asked patrons of AARP's dating site to list the reasons they use a list to find dates online. Here are their reports from the field:

  • "It's the essence of things I'm interested in. It's a synopsis of what's important to me." —Ariella S.

  • "I dated every woman who said yes until an ex-girlfriend suggested I write down the qualities I had to have. I made my list and thanked her, because it made me see right away why our relationship hadn't worked." —Tony R.

  • "I'm in my 50s and have been dating for five years. It has helped me avoid reenacting that famous Saturday Night Live skit where you see a 'not-perfect' couple holding hands and walking over a bridge, while on the screen below them appears this simple phrase: 'Lowered Expectations.'" —Cyberquill

  • "Having certain criteria has really helped me define what's most important to me in a partner. But even before that, deciding on the criteria was a process that clarified where I was in my life." —Nancy S.

  • "Struggling through a bad relationship, I scribbled down a heartfelt list of 12 items I wanted in a husband. I then broke up with my boyfriend. Years later, after marrying my husband, I stumbled across that list in a box of old letters and was relieved to see my husband still meets every item. My advice: Make your list — and don't settle for less!" — Bipitybopityboop

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