“Good Enough” vs. “Not a Good Match”: a Primer on Dating and Relationships
Posted Mar 07 2011 5:36pm
When potential clients make initial contact, either by phone or email, they often ask, “what are your areas of speciality?” I always reply with Mood and Anxiety issues. These are both pretty generic areas of practice, but it is what it is: both my main internship and post-doctoral work were intensely focused on these issues so my confidence is highest with these types of problems.
Sometimes clients will follow up with a question such as “do you have any experience with relationships?” Fortunately, this is a no-brainer. Virtually every practicing shrink spends most of his/her day talking about a client’s relationships: personal, business, romantic, platonic, familial, etc. We are social creatures and few, if any, don’t have at least some problems playing with others. My individual practice is largely populated with single clients in their 20′s, 30′s and 40′s, which sometimes means the therapeutic work is focused on finding a long-term partner (or at least someone to have regular sex with). Therefore, I consistently hear about complications with set-ups, online dating, meeting people in bars, office hook-ups and the like. And when clients are met with rejection – whether it be episodic or consistently – from potentially suitable partners, the ones who suffer the most almost invariably make the same cognitive error.
Many people erroneously believe that if they can reach certain thresholds of desirability, they will be accepted by a potential partner. Whether it’s looks, income, sense of humor, fashion sense, job description and countless other factors that tie into romantic attraction, these people view themselves (and, sometimes others) as “how do I make myself good enough for a person?” And, make no mistake, some of these people would be classified as highly desirable on many scales of attractiveness. The problem with this mindset is that when the inevitable moment of rejection comes – and, let’s face facts, everyone has been denied by at least someone – these people are left with cognitive dissonance, a mental satchel of “If I was passed up, there must be a reason. It’s because I wasn’t good enough.” Translation: I suck.
Other people in my practice take a different slant when dating. They see themselves and others as worthwhile partners, but only a good match for certain people. There’s either an unspoken or explicit mindset of “let’s see if there is a good connection between this person and me.” It’s a Goodness of Fit model, not a Can I be Good Enough one. Those who adopt this approach tend to view their dates and interactions more objectively, can critique their own dating “performance” more accurately and, as a bonus, can actually focus more on having fun on the date as opposed to mentally masturbating on the notion, “am I saying the right thing, looking the right way, behaving the way I should, etc.”
Before you give a knee jerk response to the following question, really give it some thought (and no, answering it aloud with no one in the room doesn’t mean you are psychotic, so please stop emailing me that question):
Have you ever met someone who you deemed wasn’t a good partner for you, but you could easily see being a good match for someone else?
If you answered “no,” you haven’t met very many people, only associate with the most superficial people on the planet or didn’t think long enough about the question. If you answered “yes,” you are correct. While certain people are fortunate enough to carry many desirable traits and, therefore, attract a large number of suitors, the truth is that for every perfect blonde out there, there’s a guy who’d rather take a flier on the redhead. For each awesome Bad Boy, there’s a woman who’d prefer Geek Chic. Some people are too smart, others too wealthy, others overly sophisticated (some see these people as snobbish), too ambitious, not ambitious enough, etc. The awesome reality of the whole dating scene is that for everyone you’d be interested in, there’s someone who couldn’t care less, and vice versa. There is no “good enough,” there’s only a “good enough for you,” and that is based solely on personal taste, not some objective criteria that can be measured. It’s when a person recognizes that the individual across the table from doesn’t actually decide his/her true worth that he is liberated from the pressure of needing to be something. He realizes that the other person will only decide what is a good fit for her personal needs, not what is a good match for the world as a whole.
If you can truly embrace and internalize this philosophy, rejection and failed relationships will be much more palatable. They may still sting and, quite frankly, why wouldn’t they? You aren’t getting what you’d like. But you’ll lose the self-loathing, unlovable, inferiority mind set that cripples so many people and crushes their quality of life. Instead, you’ll feel disappointment at what didn’t work out but maintain your self-worth and recognize that, for whatever reason, you haven’t come across a good fit for both you and your next partner. You don’t have to like that fact, but it won’t carry nearly as much psychological weight as the alternative. And that, in and of itself, makes people feel more confident, attractive and happier.