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The ‘Picky Problem’ in Dating: How to Stop Sabotaging Your Love Life

by Dr. Seth Meyers - April 8, 2013

I’ve heard it said a million times before: “I’m really picky.” The subject, of course, is pickiness in dating, and countless men and women tell themselves they can’t find a mate because they’re just too picky. But before we go further, we need to pump the breaks: There is healthy picky and unhealthy picky. Briefly, I’ll define both so there’s no confusion, and you can use the information to make sure you’re on the right romantic path.

Healthy Picky

You’re careful about who you get involved with, taking things slowly in the beginning, not moving into the bedroom too quickly, and remaining on guard for a couple months or so until you have a sense of who this new person really is. In between relationships, you take some time off and reflect on why the last relationship didn’t work, and after a while you resolve those issues and begin a fresh relationship with someone new.

Extremely Picky

Deep down, you want to be with someone but can’t seem to find the right fit. You spend more time being single than in relationships, and you have a habit of finding a range of faults in prospective dates. You sometimes focus on little things which end up causing the demise of the relationship, and you tell yourself you have a hard time meeting the right one for you because you’re just so…picky.

The Fear Factor

It goes without saying that it’s not so great if you fall into the extremely picky camp. What’s underneath unhealthy pickiness? What causes someone to be so picky and overly discerning? In one word: Fear. Extreme pickiness is a giant blob of defense mechanisms with an underlying fear of a real long-term romantic relationship. Underneath it all, people who are extremely picky are afraid to depend on someone for fear of getting hurt. They’re often afraid of being seen for who they really are or having someone they date see flaws or weaknesses in them.

For most people, they wade into relationships with the usual caution, knowing they might get hurt and that they will be seen in all their glory — flaws and all. Nevertheless, the possibility that the relationship could be a good and comforting one makes it worth the risk. For people who are unhealthily picky, on the other hand, the possibility of a long-term relationship does the opposite of soothing them: It actually stresses them out! A lot!

If you are someone who is extremely picky, it means that you (unconsciously) work hard to find faults with prospective partners as a means of self-protection. It makes sense, too, in a twisted kind of way: If you find enough faults to decide so-and-so is not the right match for you, eventually you can put off everyone and will never have to actually face the stress of a long-term relationship. Why? Because you’ll always manage to push all the prospective partners away!

The Good News: I’m happy to reassure you that extremely picky daters can change if they want to do so. The first step is to admit the problem, and it’s not that you’re “picky.” The real problem is that you’re afraid.

Man and woman lie in each other's arms and laugh as example of dating mindset

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How to Solve the Picky Problem

  • Once you can be honest with yourself about your fear of what a long-term relationship could bring, write down the reasons why you might be more afraid of relationships than the average person. Is your extreme pickiness related to the family you grew up in where there was a lot of fighting or where a parent left? Is it because you were made fun of in school, and have always carried a little insecurity with you as a result? Is it because a previous boyfriend or girlfriend really hurt you in the past? Figure out what your reasons are and write them down.
  • Next, tell a couple of your closest friends about your epiphany, and tell them to point it out to you whenever you start getting negative or finding fault with a prospective date. Your friends are there to help support you, and it’s important to practice being vulnerable with people you trust. If the relationship is a good one — whether it’s friendship, romance, whatever — you can be vulnerable with the other person and won’t face any negative consequences for letting your guards down.
  • Finally, make a rule for yourself where you won’t decide if you really like someone until you’ve had at least three or four dates with a person. By giving your dates more of a chance, you will also find that you start judging others less and actually like the process of dating more!

No one believes in the power to change to more than a psychotherapist, and I watch people change every day in my office. My heart goes out to those men and women who have spent years being extremely picky — aka too afraid — because I believe they have missed out on a lot of the comfort that can come with a long-term relationship. Once you find someone you’re compatible with, you actually create a new family. Ultimately, there is nothing more beautiful than having the power to create a new family from scratch.

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