Changing Your Dating Ideal

couple smiling smallRachel had a problem. A serial dater of musicians, she’d finally had enough of their broke-ass, wannabe rock star ways.

Substance abuse issues, financial woes, and ceaseless yammering about plans for their bands had given her a bad case of the “what-am-I-doing-with-my-life?” panic.

At 35, the fashion-and-lifestyles writer for a big-city daily newspaper realized that, if she was ever going to have a family, the way to go about it wasn’t risking her hearing and sanity at noisy dives ’til 2 in the morning.

The object of desire that had seemed so exciting in her 20s and early-30s — the non-committal man who was always the center of attention and could hold his own in a conversation about Exile on Main Street — suddenly seemed like a dead-end. It was time for a change.

But deciding to make such an alteration is one thing. Actually following up is quite another. After all, Rachel was a rock ‘n’ roller at heart who had worshipped at the altar of Mick Jagger for most of her life. What was she going to do with a stable and financially secure 9-to-5er who golfs on weekends?

But then she met Ben — a secure, older guy whose idea of a wild time was speaking Klingon at a Star Trek convention. More on him later.

Most of us have an ideal in mind, a list of desirable qualities we carry around with us. These may be traceable to all manner of formative experiences — childhood attachments, pop culture milestones, sub-conscious archetypes.

What They Look Like vs. Who They Are

On the surface, this could mean a preference for hair colour, body type and/or foreign accents. For instance, Madeline, like Rachel, has had a predilection for the bad boy/rock star type.

She says, “I’m not sure it’s so much what they do as how they look.”

The 34-year-old philosophy professor traces her preferred physical type back to reruns of the old Little Rascals TV show. “My first crush was on Alfalfa,” she says. “I still like that type, I guess — dark hair, pale skin, kind of gaunt-looking.” Which, it just so happens, matches the look of a couple of musicians she’s dated.

On another level, one might demand someone with similar interests, whether it be kayaking, off-track betting, or sharing ideas. Jeremy, a 37-year-old software developer with a fine arts background, always had the intellectual type in mind — someone with whom he could discuss the novels of Vladimir Nabakov.

And if she looked like Kate Winslet, so much the better. “I let a lot of great women go, just because they didn’t conform to this idea I had in my mind,” he says.

As we live and learn, however, our criteria changes, whether consciously or unconsciously. “I don’t have an ideal, but I have some guidelines,” says Jennifer, a 27-year-old yoga instructor and dancer. For instance, she doesn’t want to date someone with a kid again or who’s been married before.

And she’d prefer someone older, “but not too much. And I used to not like blondes, but I’ve opened up on that idea.” Loosening up on that strict list of criteria can open a whole world of dating possibilities you might never even have considered.

Jeremy’s ideal also changed over time. “I hate to sound all New Age-y and crap, but it suddenly hit me that I was chasing something I’d never find,” he says. “Or that I might find it but that it wasn’t what I necessarily wanted. Or needed.” Now, he says, he’s keeping an open mind. “As long as she doesn’t smoke. Well, a couple of cigarettes at a party are okay. And it would be cool if she could hold her own at Grand Theft Auto.”

How to Remain Optimistic

In Rachel’s case, she decided she had to alter her priorities if she was ever going to get the life she wanted. Unfortunately, the experiment with Ben didn’t lead to a baby shower. “We were just too different,” she says. “I still like him, and he’s a super-nice guy, but it just didn’t work.” Still, she feels she’s learned something.

“That I can’t make such a radical shift — it’s a bad idea. I went from rock ‘n’ roller to what I thought was geek chic. It was too different.” Her next date turned out to be no more suitable. “He was so effeminate and nerdy and totally opposite of what I like. And he turned out to be gay,” which is very difficult for a woman to work with.

She’s optimistic, though. “I’m online now, and I saw a guy in a Motorhead T-shirt with the opening line: ‘Can cook, need critic.’ That’s my dream guy — someone who cooks and knows a little about music. Someone who doesn’t ask me, ‘Whose version of “Crazy” is this?’ when it’s by Willie Nelson, who only has one of the most distinctive voices ever!”

Madeline’s predilection for the rock star type has led her through a short relationship with a now popular indie rocker and a more recent long-term association with a producer/musician. But now she’s skewing older, wealthier, and preferably with a summer place in Cape Cod.

“I want someone who’s going to look at me and say, ‘Wow, what a hottie,’” she says. “And who’s not going to be out chasing strippers.”

That said, Madeline had a date all lined up after our interview. She was excited, because he has an accent. Not that that’s part of her ideal. But he does sound “like a cross between Robyn Hitchcock and Syd Barrett,” she says, naming two rock stars. But at least this guy owns his own place.

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By Shawn Conner

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