Why it pays to be picky
Published in CLEO, April 2010. Copyright Rachel Hills 2010.
When it comes to relationships, being selective has benefits.
If you’ve ever been single for longer than a few months, chances are someone, at some point, has told you that you were “too picky”.
Sometimes the admonishment is delivered directly through the mouths of well-meaning friends or family. Other times, it’s indirect – bubbling beneath the surface of stories about the difficulties successful, independent women have finding a partner, or in movies where the beautiful-but-misguided heroine settles for the nice-but-boring guy from school.
If, like me, you don’t respond well to such smack-downs, consider this your rebuttal guide the next time someone utters the “P” word. Being choosy about who you share your heart with isn’t a crime. In fact, it’s good for your love life – and for your existence more generally.
The “p” word
Chantelle, 28, spent most of her mid-twenties single before shacking up with her now long-term boyfriend. She remembers well her annoyance when friends would tell her she was “too picky”. “I didn’t like being told that my relationship status was my fault,” she says. “There was a gut feeling – ‘What you’re saying is I’m not worth it?’.”
“Deriding women for being choosy is merely a nicer way of telling them that they have no right to reject men who are nice enough to like them,” says Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth (Avalon, $28.86).
“I think it’s related to a larger culture of sexism. Women having standards and specific desires for what they’d like in a partner flies in the face of the stereotype of the desperate single woman who’ll do anything to get a man.”
“Picky” also positions cautious singles and coupled chicks as polar opposites, forgetting that most of us will be both at different times of our lives, regardless of our approach to relationships.
A right choice
So what does being picky mean for your relationships? It might result in you not dating as many people as your less-selective sisters, but it doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love at all. Nor does it say you can’t be perfectly fulfilled when you’re not in a relationship.
Dale, 33, is extremely happy with her single life in the city. “I’m very focused on the projects I’m doing, and I have a good circle of friends who add so much to my life,” she says. “I feel like, if I’m going to be in a relationship, it has to contribute to my life in a really positive way.”
If Dale had chosen a different path, she “could’ve been married by now”, she says. “But I don’t consider that a hindrance. I don’t want to move out to the suburbs and spend every Sunday at a family barbecue and nothing else.”
For others, it’s simply that big love doesn’t come along every day – or even every year. “It’s not like I had a shopping list, but it was important for me to know what kind of person I could see myself with,” Chantelle explains.
“And because some of those things were quite particular – such as character, intelligence and attraction – [relationships] just didn’t happen that often.” Or as I used to say when friends would fling the “P” word at me: “I’m just deeply committed to not being with the wrong person.”
Good picky vs bad picky
But at what point does “knowing what you want” translate into being a Girlfriend-zilla? The good news is that the line between the two is thicker than is often portrayed.
Basically, if it’s about things that make it better to be with someone – integrity, values, common goals – it’s all good.
It’s when it gets down to a checklist of specific qualities (185cm tall, dark hair, shares your love of Mumford & Sons … ) that things start to get messy.
As blogger and columnist Clementine Ford (audreyapple.blogspot.com) puts it, “If it’s about stuff like how much money he earns, what his job is, or if he owns his own house, that’s not just being too picky, I think it’s being rather shallow.”
But how many of us think like that, anyway? Valenti says she doesn’t see it. “Do I think women – like men – are complex people who have nuanced desires from what they want in a partner? Sure. But I’m yet to meet a woman who says, ‘Wow, remember that guy I never liked? I sure am sorry I let him go!’.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit of being selective is that it keeps your focus on the person you’re having a relationship with, rather than on the idea of the relationship itself.
Concludes Chantelle, “If your goal is to get coupled for the sake of it, then you might be tempted to lower your standards – or maybe you’ll be frustrated. I think that’s the real problem. I don’t think the issue is people knowing too much what they want.”