Are You Being Too Picky When Dating? Here's How To Tell

Ah, love. What could be sweeter than that moment when you realize you've found your soulmate at last? That longing to find one's true love seems as old as time itself. Romantic love has been a fascination — and some might even say an obsession — for centuries. Consider all the great lovers in literature: Romeo and Juliet. King Arthur and Guinevere. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Cathy and Heathcliff. Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip. Bella and Edward.

But there's a flip side to all these sweeping tales of romance. It's called reality. And the simple fact is that centuries of romantic melodrama have made a pretty big head trip on those of us living in the real world. Psychologists have shown that many of us have some pretty unrealistic and excessive expectations about romantic love.

And that means that we're not only placing an unfair burden on our partners, but we're also often depriving ourselves of the chance to enjoy a truly healthy and meaningful relationship. But how do you know when your idealized image of romantic love is getting in the way of true happiness in your relationships? How can you tell when you're simply being too picky about your dating life? 

You expect the fairy tale

Fairy tales are everywhere, and they're not just for children. From "Cinderella" to "Pretty Woman," stories abound of some magical, transformative love that will rescue us from our dreary and sometimes painful lives and transport us to some enchanted realm where the bliss never ends.

This has contributed to the dangerous and damaging myth that it requires no effort, work, compromise, or grit. In the real world, you can't be some passive fairy tale princess and expect your relationship to work. Real, authentic love that endures requires commitment, resiliency, and growth. It also means learning how to cope with frustration and delayed gratification. Sometimes, you have to live without the hearts, flowers, and swelling violins and cling to your commitment to carry you through.

It asks you and your partner to have the maturity to withstand dreary and difficult days —  days when the fanfare of the first blush of romance fades, and you and your partner descend back down to earth again. Real love, in other words, is not for those who live in Camelot or Eden. It's for those who live in the ordinary world and want a partner, not a savior, for the good days, bad days, and the many workdays in between.

You compare your relationship to others

It's easy to be fooled by people's social masks — the facades that people put on, often instinctively and unconsciously, to hide their true selves, feelings, or most uncomfortable realities. Social masking isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It's often a protective measure designed to ensure that only those we trust get to see and know the most vulnerable parts of ourselves.

But it also means that social masking can lead us to develop a highly skewed sense of what other people's lives are like. We rarely get to know the real story, the behind-the-scenes truths of other people's relationships. We only get to see what others are willing to show us. And because we've all experienced the fairy tale myth in some form or other, few of us are really ready to get real with others about the relationship challenges we're facing.

Misguided or not, it can feel like a failure to admit that not everything is perfect. That means that, almost inevitably, what people show the world is a sanitized, idealized, and largely incomplete version of their lives and relationships. So when we compare our relationship reality to other couples' facades, we're bound to be unhappy. After all, we're comparing our truth with others' happy fiction.

You expect your partner to read your mind

For many of us, the concept of an "ideal" relationship is one in which words become almost redundant, so attuned to one another's thoughts and needs. But this, too, is a vestige of the fairy tale myth. It suggests that if partners are truly happy and "in sync," they'll understand one another perfectly, almost as if they can read one another's mind.

That's a problem because no human can ever achieve that level of omniscience, and it's unfair and cruel to expect it from your partner. And in the process, you're setting the stage for disappointment, resentment, and frustration in your relationship. Your partner doesn't live inside your heart or head. They might know you better than most people, perhaps even better than any other person on the planet, but they aren't you. They're still on the outside looking in. And so there's going to be a limit to what they can know, understand, or anticipate, and vice versa.

If you're expecting them to read your mind, you're going to find yourself blaming your partner for disappointments that are beyond their control. You might resent them for failing to live up to standards they had no idea they were being held to. After all, even the most sensitive of partners can't possibly be required to meet expectations they're not even aware of.

You expect your partner to complete you

"Jerry Maguire" may be a great movie, and though the reconciliation scene between Jerry and his lady love might make us swoon, it's also likely to make us very lonely if we take it to heart. In fact, that scene alone might well be the most toxic thing to happen to romance since Henry VIII.

If you pin your life's happiness on your partner, not only are you (yet again) placing an unfair burden on them, but you're also all but guaranteeing your own unhappiness. You can't expect stability and confidence, let alone peace and joy in your own life, if you depend on your partner to give it to you.

They're only human. They will falter sometimes. They will make mistakes and disappoint you. And you will make mistakes and disappoint, too. It's the price we pay for being human. But when you make someone else responsible for the condition of your heart, soul, and spirit, you make yourself incredibly vulnerable. You give away your power. In turn, you become clingy, jealous, anxious, and intolerant. You either walk away at the first sign of your partner's insufficiency to be all you need them to be, or you make the relationship so fraught with anxiety and turmoil that it collapses under the weight of your neediness.

Your checklist is a mile long

Everyone has their own image of the perfect mate. That's normal. It's even good because it helps us to identify our needs and priorities in a relationship. However, if you've got more "dealbreakers" on your list than you've got hairs on your head, you're probably being too picky. The simple reality is that if you're looking for perfection, turn on the Disney channel or take a Harlequin romance from your bookshelf.

Fantasies are fine. They're fun. They're even a necessary escape sometimes. But the fantastical checklist of dealbreakers can easily become a convenient excuse to avoid a real and lasting relationship. The truth of the matter is that dealbreakers need to be realistic before imposing them on a new partner. After all, it's hard to spot a great partner when you're too busy looking for Prince Charming or Cinderella. It's hard to see clearly when your vision is clouded by the mists of fantasy.

You don't want to put in the work

The idealized image of romantic love, not surprisingly, suggests that it's always going to be seamless and easy and that the trajectory moves predictably from one peak of bliss to another. But if you're expecting your relationship to be smooth sailing every day and in every way, you're going to have a problem. Real, lasting relationships take work, and they're not always fun. Sometimes one or both of you will find yourself making a conscious decision to stay, even when, perhaps, you don't feel like it — even when it's hard to find the person you fell in love with in the person that's in front of you.

That may be hard to accept, but it's real. People get tired. They get frustrated, and that weariness can make you feel distanced from the one you love. The difference, though, lies in having the maturity and resiliency to avoid the temptation to simply throw in the towel when times get tough.

It also lies in having the foresight to know that these valleys do not last forever and that meaningful bonds may bend and stretch, but they won't break — at least, not unless you or your partner break them by walking away. Lasting love requires patience, compassion, and determination. But if you keep going, you and your partner will almost certainly find the peaks again. The key is having the insight to know when a relationship is worth the effort.

You expect complete compliance

When you're in a relationship, it can be easy to forget that your partner is an individual first. That means they won't always agree with you, and that's okay. If you expect your partner to renounce their autonomy in order to be with you, you're being too picky. In fact, one of the greatest advantages of being in a healthy relationship is the opportunity to learn and grow together.

A strong relationship isn't one in which partners simply stagnate. Rather, a healthy relationship is one in which partners challenge one another and help each other grow into the best version of themselves. If you don't find yourself becoming a better you by learning from and, yes, by disagreeing with your partner from time to time, that's a red flag.

And if you're not returning the favor — if you're not both challenging and enhancing your partner — then you're not holding up your end of the bargain. There's even a term for healthy disagreement in relationships: It's called constructive conflict, and it can make you better not only as individuals but also as partners.

You expect to be your partner's entire world

If you think that "real" love is all-consuming and that you have to be your partner's whole world (and vice versa) in order to prove your love is true, you're likely mistaking love for codependency. This misapprehension aligns with the princess in the fairy tale myth. The implication is that if your partner really loves you, they'll build their whole world around you. Their lives will revolve around being with and taking care of you.

But that kind of relationship dynamic isn't a partnership. It's codependency, and it's profoundly unhealthy. As we've already seen, when you make someone else responsible for your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being, you burden them and make yourself incredibly vulnerable. It's the perfect recipe for a toxic, neurotic, and ultimately doomed relationship because, sooner or later, one of you will rebel. The relationship will either adapt, or it will die.

Breaking the pickiness pattern

Your pickiness pattern might have always been with you, or it might have emerged over time. Maybe you've been hurt in the past, and you're unconsciously trying to protect yourself from future pain by setting up such unrealistic expectations that you never really get emotionally invested at all.

Whatever the reason, if you truly want a healthy relationship, you have to break the pickiness pattern. The good news is that it can be done, but it won't happen overnight. Chances are, fear lies at the heart of your pickiness pattern. So if you're not in a relationship already, taking some time to do a bit of work on yourself before you get into a relationship is a good idea.

On the other hand, if you already have a partner and you're fighting the urge to nitpick them right out the door, there are still things you can do to break your unhealthy patterns before they sabotage your relationship.

Get comfortable with and in yourself

Usually, when people are too picky in their relationships, it's because they fear losing control and getting hurt. And at the heart of that is often insecurity. But once you understand who you are, letting go of those unrealistic expectations is easier. So work on self-reflection and self-awareness. Monsters are always scarier in the dark, but once you shine a light on what you're truly afraid of, it's easier to see that the boogeyman you've been fleeing isn't so tough.

You might find, for instance, that your pickiness is an unconscious attempt to sabotage your relationship before it can develop into something real out of fear of falling in love, only to end up losing that person later. You may find that you've turned the adage on its head and are living by the mantra that "it's better not to have loved at all than to have loved and lost."

Once you understand the beliefs and fears motivating your destructive patterns, you can begin to challenge and change them. If to return to the previous example, it's fear of abandonment that's driving you, then face that boogeyman. Ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is, and then make a plan. What happens if the worst occurs? If, in the unlikely event, you do find yourself "abandoned," will the world end? No. You will hurt for a time. But you will survive and heal. You will move on, even stronger and wiser than before.

Date outside the box

As you begin to get more comfortable in your own skin, you'll start to realize that you're stronger than you've been giving yourself credit for. You will have the precious moments that came before to guide you forward, combined with new life experiences that will prepare you for the next relationship — a relationship that, with work, may well be the one that lasts a lifetime.

You'll recognize that you're not going to shatter if and when someone, even some love, disappoints or hurts you. And that also means you'll find it easier to break out of your romantic comfort zone. Try dating people who don't match your checklist, trusting yourself to handle the unexpected (both the good and the bad) that comes from relinquishing control in this way.

So give the guy or gal you would never have thought of in a million years a chance. Not only can this be deliciously exciting, but you never know what might develop! And, at the very least, the odds are quite good that you're going to learn something new about the world, other people, and yourself!

Cultivate communication and collaboration

What differentiates the myth of the fairy tale romance from the reality of healthy, mature love is communication and collaboration. As we've already seen, the fairy tale romance is so ostensibly magical that it's not really human at all — It's romanticized to be a heart, soul, spirit connection. And, yes, love is about the heart, soul, and spirit. But all these transcendent parts are wrapped in flesh and blood, in the limitations of the human mind and body. It's through the mind and body, speech and action, that human beings come to know one another. That's why communication and collaboration are at the heart of every healthy relationship.

Your partner can't be expected to anticipate your every need. You have to articulate them. They can't be expected to fulfill your every hope. Ultimately, you are accountable for your own life. You bear the responsibility for your happiness — and vice versa. A relationship is about two people coming together for a shared goal, to cultivate a partnership that enhances (but does not complete) them, and to forge a union that does not consume their lives but, instead, makes both their lives better.

So, to break the pickiness pattern, focus on cultivating your communication and collaboration skills. If you are in a relationship, couples counseling can be a wonderful way to break destructive patterns. If you're single or you simply want to focus on personal growth for a while, individual counseling is always a great idea.