I became friends with Rachel in 2012. We each have two young daughters who love to laugh and play together. Our husbands, Tony and Craig, are both musicians who are also highly competitive when it comes to board games. But what really drew me to friendship with Rachel was her kind and witty personality and then, of course, her passion for long-lasting love and marriage.
I promised you a post from a Love Doctor at the beginning of the week, and I wasn’t joking. Rachel is actually Dr. Rachel Terrill, having received her Ph.D. from The University of South Florida in 2012 after studying Love and Decency in the Department of Communication. She is the most qualified person I know to give real and heartfelt advice about finding and keeping love. I have learned so much from her insights, and Tony and I are thrilled for you to hear from her today…
I was so excited when Michelle and Tony unveiled their #staymarried blog. I love love and I am passionate about strong marriages. So, when I heard that they were doing a Sensible Singles week and asked me to share some advice about how to find the right person, I was thrilled!
After seven years of my own marriage and a dozen years of conversations with married couples, I am convinced that finding the right person to marry makes what comes after the wedding day a whole lot easier and a heck of a lot more fun.
When people, especially women, find out that I study love, they inevitably tell me a story about someone in their lives who is either single or in a bad relationship. They want to know what they can tell them to help them along their path to love. The truth is, love is not a science. I don’t have a special equation to give them that will guarantee that they find a true love that will last forever. I wish I did. Can you imagine all of the heartache that might be avoided if we were taught a clear and concise path to and through love?
Funny thing is, the media tells us that it’s simple. We’re taught that love can happen in a moment and that if it is really true love, then we will live happily ever after. Media has taught us that there are a few tricks to finding our true love: we can either look into the eyes of our soulmate and we will know, we can act helpless and wait to be rescued, or we can kiss enough frogs until one of them turns into a prince. That last one is particularly dangerous because when you kiss frogs, you date frogs… and when you date frogs, you ultimately marry a frog. Then you have to divorce a frog or live with his ugly warts forever, and divorces are uglier than the frog you kissed in the first place.
The truth is, the media lies. Most of us are sent out into the world with hearts full of dreams but no helpful tools to help us make those dreams of love a reality. So while I don’t have the magical equation, I definitely have some helpful tools that might help you find someone with whom you really can spend the rest of your life loving. Here it is…
STEP 1: MAKE YOUR LOVE LIST
What do you love? Before you can figure out WHO you want to love, you need to identify WHAT you love.
Make a list of every single thing that you can think of that you love. You can use the computer or just a blank piece of paper and a pen. If you’re creative, get out your colored pencils.
The beginning of my love list might include: my family, writing as a way to get out what’s inside, grape juice with crushed ice, waking up feeling rested, self-serve frozen yogurt stores, the smell of paper copy stores, crisp fall days, white sweatshirts, learning, teaching, soft blankets, playing board games, back rubs, discovering new places, inspiring conversations, spreadsheets, playing basketball, reading poetry, finishing a project, mountains, fireworks, feeling at home with friends…
Get the idea? Don’t censor yourself. I once created one of these lists that included, “strong arms that hold me” while I was dating a very skinny guy. He was upset when he read the list, realizing that he didn’t have the strong arms that I loved. It was insightful for me, both in that it was something that I loved that I didn’t have (not that this was a deal breaker for me) and that he would get so upset after reading what I wrote. I soon learned that he and I were not well matched. Although this is not the goal of the love list, it is sometimes an added benefit. The actual goal of your love list is to help to put you in a loving frame of mind.
STEP 2: CREATE YOUR “MUST HAVE” AND “CAN’T STAND” LISTS
Before you go out into the dating world, in addition to identifying what you love, it’s important to identify some deal breakers. This list will help you figure out WHO you want your future husband or wife to be… or at least what qualities you would like for him or her to have.
For this step, you should limit your must have and can’t stand lists to ten items each and you should be specific. For example, don’t just say that you would like for your partner to be athletic. It’s too broad and leaves wiggle room later on when you are trying to convince yourself that the guy you’re dating is athletic because he bowls once in a while. If you want a bowler, then say that you want a bowler. But if you’d like someone who runs marathons or someone who works out daily at the gym, say that instead.
You’re going to need a piece of blank paper. Title one side, “My Top Ten Must Haves” and number 1-10. The other side is going to be for, “My Top Ten Can’t Stands.”
Here are some ideas for you to consider:
Traits (chemistry, communicator, sense of humor, verbal intimacy, emotionally healthy, strong character, artistic, kind, educated, organized, exciting, patient, tolerant, attractive, conflict resolver, affectionate, industrious, certain energy level, emotionally generous, intellectual, self-confident, unassuming, able to accept help, curious, loyal, adaptable)
Values (family life, shared interests, style and appearance, politics, charitable)
Family (children, parenting style)
Social Habits (like to go out, stay in, many friends or a few, gives me space or wants to spend all of their time with me)
Sexuality (abstinent, sexually knowledgeable, passionate)
Spirituality (religious practice, spiritual acceptance)
Financial/Career (financially responsible, ambitious, relaxed)
These were my must-haves from before I met Craig:
He must either write poetry or sing… and be willing to share his poetry or songs with me.
He must be taller than I am.
He must be able to beat me at basketball.
He must be intelligent and able to teach me about things that I don’t know.
He must have dark hair and light eyes.
He must be faithful.
He must want children.
He must adore me and make me feel like I am the only woman in his eyes.
He must be able to provide financially for our family but also be okay with me working outside of the home.
He must be a good conversationalist and we must enjoy talking to each other.
There are a few things that I might change now that I lucked into with Craig. For example, at the time I didn’t realize how important it was for me to be with someone whose religious convictions were similar to mine. We just lucked out that we were kind of at the same place with that. I would encourage you to make that a higher priority than I did.
When you’re done with that list, it’s time to create your “Can’t Stand” List. Here’s your opportunity to add a few more things to your list that you couldn’t fit on your must-haves. Again, you are limited to just 10 items. You can do this one on the same page as your must-haves if you’d like. I find it easier to have these two together because when you’re evaluating a future date, you’ll want to have both lists easy to find.
After creating these lists, it should be a bit easier for you to picture what your ideal spouse may be like. They also make dating easier, because when you meet or start dating someone who has something that is on your can’t stand list or who is missing something on your must have list, you can walk away immediately. You shouldn’t keep dating them in hopes that it will change. That is a recipe for many years of unhappiness. Just walk away. Do not stay out of the fear of being alone. It may not seem like it at first, but alone is a much happier place to be than stuck in a relationship with someone who has one of your fundamental red flags.
Also, a word of caution: If you are currently in a relationship, but not married, please pretend like you are not in that relationship when you are creating these. Sometimes people have a tendency to fib a bit or omit certain characteristics because that may eliminate the person who they are currently dating. Please take note of that as you do this exercise.
STEP 3: SELF IMPROVEMENT
Now that you have a clearer vision of who you are looking for, take a moment to think about what type of person they might be looking for. What do you think they might find attractive? For example, if you are looking for someone who is athletic and loves to work out at the gym, then might that person be attracted to someone who also enjoys going to the gym? Or if you are looking for someone who is honest, might they like someone who is honest too? Who do you see when you look in the mirror? Who do you want them to see when they look at you?
On a new piece of paper, make a list of the top three qualities that you think that your dream spouse might look for in their spouse.
Now, go over that list and compare the list to who you are and how you are currently living your life. What do you need to do to become that person? Pick at least one of the areas to work on so that you can become the person who you want them to want.
STEP 4: ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER
Everything is easier if we have someone in our lives to help hold us accountable. After you’ve created these four lists, please share a copy of them with a trusted friend. Ideally, this will be someone of the same sex or someone who you know will always be just a friend. Explain your lists to them and ask them to hold you accountable in sticking to the lists when you find someone new.
STEP 5: BE THERE
The final step is simple. Put yourself in the types of places that your ideal person would be. For example, if you don’t want a future husband or wife who enjoys hanging out in bars or clubs, then bars and clubs are not where you should spend your time. If you want someone who loves watching live sports, go to live sports games. If you want someone who loves to ski, hang out on the mountain. You get the idea.
So, there it is — five steps to finding the love of your life. Living happily ever after isn’t simple even with the most compatible partner, but it sure is a lot easier than trying to make it happen when you’re spending your time with someone who isn’t right for you.
Let us know as you go… what’s on your love list? What are you looking for in your mate? We’d love to hear your success stories too!