Dear Dr. Warren,
I have begun using an online dating service. I started communicating with a match and one of the things that bothered me was that he said nothing about his spirituality even as we went through the communication process. The most important thing to me is to be with someone who I can share my faith in Jesus with. After a lot of thought and prayer I closed the match out because I was not willing to compromise on that issue. I want someone whose spirituality matches my own.
I was sharing this with a friend of mine and was told that I may have thrown away a perfect opportunity. I was being too picky. But I just couldn't compromise on this issue.
My question is, in your studies of marriages, if a person "settles" for someone without that person meeting all their "must haves", does the marriage suffer? Or do people experience dissatisfaction with the relationship?
I have based much of my relationship philosophy on a relatively simple concept: Successful marriages are more likely when a couple shares a great many important similarities. This concept has been a recurring theme in the thousands of "divorce autopsies" I performed as a practicing psychologist. The great majority of those relationships should never have gotten past the second date!
The two people based their decision to marry on three or four obvious traits, only to learn in later years that they were incompatible in the other 25 or so that are needed to enjoy a brilliant marriage.
This question of "settling" is a persistent source of anxiety for many people. To help singles determine what is truly important to them in a relationship partner I created the Must Haves & Can't Stands concept. In a nutshell, this exercise requires you to choose 10 Must Haves and 10 Can't Stands for your future mate. Only 10. In my seminars we do this as a group and inevitably someone shouts out, "I can't narrow it down to just 10!" It is hard, but the difficulty proves the importance of the task. Once you have a solid list of the 20 items you MUST have in a partner and CAN'T stand in partner, you're ready to tackle your concerns about settling.
From that day forward, every potential partner you meet must fit into the requirements of this list. Every man you meet and seriously consider dating must mirror your 10 Must Haves. No compromise. No second-guessing. Any relationship with a man who has a Can't Stand trait should be quickly and compassionately ended. With such an important decision on the line, you cannot afford to vary from this list even to a small degree.
In your specific example, there are reasons to carefully consider any match before you jump to a conclusion. If you are matched with a gentleman and in the first several e-mail communications he doesn't mention his faith or write about it in the manner that you do, it doesn't necessarily mean much. He may be shy. He may have a deep and committed faith that he will be willing to talk about when he knows you a bit better. He may not have well-developed writing skills.
I think you owe it to yourself to pursue the "diamond in the rough." I believe it is vital that every match you receive be considered fairly and given an opportunity to share himself on the issues that are important to you. One of my books is entitled, "How to Know if Someone is Worth Dating in Two Dates or Less." If you listen attentively I believe people will reveal themselves quickly, and then you will be able to decide if they fall within the boundaries of your Must Have and Can't Stand list.
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