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Dear Quirkyalone: Am I Too Picky? August 31, 2009

Posted by Onely in quirkyalone.
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“Dear Quirkyalone: Advice for QuirkyLiving” is a weekly guest column by Lisa and Christina (crossposted at Quirkyalone). It appears every Monday. When you’re making up your own road map for (quirky)living, you need thoughtful advice. We’re here for you. Quirkyalone and Onely welcome your questions; send them on to onely AT onely.org.

Dear Quirkyalone: Are single people over a certain age too picky? Is that so wrong? — Special K
Dear Special K,

Here’s my short answer: No, and No.

But to be more specific:

First, I’d like to consider the phrase “too picky.” The way I see it, being “picky” is not in and of itself a “bad” thing, though our culture often seems to say so. Let’s say we’re talking about food: If you order the specialty burger at your favorite restaurant that comes loaded with toppings – in this case bacon, blue cheese, arugula, avocado, and mushrooms – but the taste and texture of mushrooms make you want to puke, it’s pretty reasonable to ask for the burger without the mushrooms. If you are too shy, uncertain, or simply unaware to articulate this taste, you’ll likely leave the restaurant dissatisfied and/or hungry. In that sense, then, I would call awareness of your distaste a positive “pickiness.” In the same way, if you know that you don’t ever want to have kids, but you meet someone who is attractive in many senses but wants to have eight children with his future partner, then it makes sense to steer clear before the meal comes – that is, before you learn the hard way that no matter how much you love him, you just can’t eat those mushrooms.

If, however, your imagined (as opposed to proven) sense of (dis)taste keeps you from being open to new or different culinary experiences – let’s say that you’ve never had sushi before and refuse to try it, or let’s say that you had tofu once at a hospital cafeteria and you didn’t like it then but now have the chance to try it again in a five-star restaurant and you refuse, even though your dining companions say it’s the best dish they’ve ever had – I would say that you may be “too picky.” In much the same way, I suppose that, yes, it is possible to be “too picky” when it comes to potential mates. If you meet a plumber but refuse to date her simply on the basis that you’ve never dated a plumber before (or because you assume every plumber is blithely unaware of his or her buttcrack showing), then you might be missing out on a world of new experiences and perspectives to which you would otherwise not have exposure (not to mention never learning the answer to the question: where do all those pipes lead?). Or, let’s say that, several years ago, you had an office romance that turned terribly sour – an experience that prompted you to write off all future office romances. Since then, however, you find that you have formed a deep connection with another office mate who is clearly a better match, and you find you have strong romantic feelings for him. In cases like these, it doesn’t always make sense to dogmatically stick to those hard-and-fast rules that we make to protect ourselves. In certain circumstances – especially if we proceed with a cautious optimism and honesty about the past – the tofu may, in fact, be worth trying again.

No matter how picky you are, as a Quirkyalone, the most important thing is that you’re comfortable with, and honest about, your likes and dislikes. If you truly hate dogs, it’s not fair to yourself or your potential partner to date a dog-owner. If you need someone to call you every night before you go to bed, then it makes no sense to date a bartender who works the night shift. Sometimes our friends and family may make us feel bad for those things we consider to be “dealbreakers,” but ultimately, this is your life, and you really shouldn’t settle. Do what makes you happy, but be honest about it.

You mention something about age above, but I’m really not sure what age has to do with it. If anything, people “over a certain age” (whatever that means) have more life experience and, thus, more awareness of what they can and can’t live with, as well as what does or doesn’t make them happy. To me, that doesn’t seem “wrong” at all.

— Lisa


1. Lauri - August 31, 2009

I don’t understand the point of dating/coupling if you’re not “picky” about it. This is where singlists contradict themselves- on the one hand they claim romantic relationships are these magical things where people are partnered with Mr. & Mrs. Right, The One, etc, and on the other hand, they expect singles to settle.

Lisa, good analogy to food. I’ve read a lot about intuitive eating, and how many overweight people actually don’t like food very much, but they’ve been raised not to be “picky”- as a result, they don’t even know what foods they like and what foods they don’t. Many nutritionists now tell people to only eat after considering whether or they really like the food. If you eat food you don’t really care for just for the sake of eating, you may end up fat and/or unhealthy. Imagine the consequences of ending up in a relationship because you don’t know what you like and don’t like anymore!

I’ve become much more “picky” with time, and I’m proud of it dammit!

Onely - August 31, 2009

I posted before about the similar dynamics between weightism and singlism, so I was excited to read your comment. I had no idea!

2. autonomous - August 31, 2009

Oh my gosh I hate mushrooms. And chicken. I am willing to compromise though and raise chickens for eggs so I think there’s hope for me…..

I was accused by a close friend several times over the years of being “too picky”. Finally, I confronted her and said that she couldn’t have it both ways, calling me spineless when I returned to a bad relationship, and then criticizing me for wanting to maintain a higher standard. Since then, I haven’t heard it from anyone. High standards are not a negative. I’ve got job security from others’ lower standards in relationships….It’s simply amazing how many people come in with no accountability for making poor choices in the first place- it’s always the other party’s fault.

I am much more selective now because I know myself, and like myself more. And as I grow wiser, I simply have a lower threshold for bullshit. Life is short. Why be miserable with someone with whom I don’t harmonize, who doesn’t bring out the best in me? The last one brought out the worst in a way that was actually disturbing. I tried to let things slide but details piled up and so ya, I’m picky. Haven’t met anyone I want to go out with since.

Why is it so difficult for some people to understand that contentment is preferable to unhappiness? Seems a no-brainer.

Onely - August 31, 2009

Lauri and Autonomous–excellent point about the irony of being “too picky” to find someone you’re “supposed” to be very very picky about. This lose-lose rhetoric reminds me of the “you don’t get any and also you’re a ho” stereotype (for women at least).

3. Alan - August 31, 2009

I suspect the “too picky” argument isn’t really about one’s standards in finding a mate.

Like many other related arguments, it’s really a way to explain singles in a negative way. And since it usually comes from married folks it helps to promote their status and the expense of yours.

Onely - August 31, 2009

I would actually say that the “too picky” argument comes from single folks a surprising amount of the time–maybe some brainwashing is in effect.

Lauri - September 1, 2009

“Like many other related arguments, it’s really a way to explain singles in a negative way. And since it usually comes from married folks it helps to promote their status and the expense of yours.”

I don’t know why it would help promote their status- it would imply that they weren’t picky in choosing their mate. That’s the contradiction that doesn’t make any sense to me.

4. sw - September 5, 2009

what’s the point in being with someone if you’re not happy, anyhow? why waste your life that way? so many people do it, but to what end? i’d say the problem state is not being ‘too picky’ but being ‘not picky enough’.

and anyway, people who marry/coupled young and stay married/coupled were probably just as picky as anyone else, they just learnt to be picky sooner and were lucky enough to find someone who met their needs.

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