Dating Advice: What to Ask Yourself Before Beginning Any Relationship

This time of year, everywhere we look, we're encouraged to make a list, check it twice. Whether it's for things we want or to tally the things about ourselves we resolve to change, The List is an end-of-year staple.

But when it comes to our love lives, the idea of The List is full of negative connotations. We're told love is blind, seduced by "Our eyes met, and we just knew" tales and enchanted by the idea that looking for Mr. Right is like unearthing a treasure fit for a princess. The idea of itemizing qualities in a person we find attractive gives off the impression that dating is somehow mechanical, women are too picky, or that we've lost our faith in romance. Well, I'm here to bring back The List, sing its praises, share mine, and The Lists of my closest male friends (wouldn't you like to see what men are looking for in women?).

In most areas of my life, I've played by the rules. But when it comes to dating, I find myself time and time again taking risks with reckless men. More often than not, they are what my friends call "Off the grid guys" -- good-looking, edgy men who never work a 9 to 5, live off charm and swagger, tend to be nomadic, are wildly unpredictable, and fixtures of the local nightlife scene.

In an attempt to break the cycle, one of my single friends -- who's beautiful, smart, hilarious, and an extremely savvy and successful businesswoman -- decided that it was time I make a list. Her rules: if a potential significant other has more than two red flags (doesn't meet two of The List's criteria), then I move on right away, wasting no more of my time.

The beauty of the list is that even though some of the criteria might seem obvious, it's there in black and white, with no potential shades of grey. How many times do you find yourself idealizing a guy without truly seeing him for who he is, but rather as a projection of your own fantasies? I know this is a bad habit of mine, and one The List has helped me to break. Usually, by the time you realize who he really is, it's because the guy has hurt or offended you in some way, and in a way that, had you been more discerning at first, you might have been able to predict.

So without further delay, My List (in no particular order):

  1. Is he age appropriate?
  2. Is he smart?
  3. Is he sensitive towards my feelings?
  4. Is he trustworthy?
  5. Does he have a stable job/career that offers steady, income?
  6. Have we been intoxicated every time we've hung out?
  7. Have I caught him in a lie?
  8. Has he shown signs of meanness?
  9. Does he have a good relationship with his family?
  10. Does he make an effort to contact me, or is he literally unavailable?

What surprised me this whole list-making idea -- and probably shouldn't have -- is that men make these lists, too. I know because I conducted a not-so-scientific poll of my close male friends. Here are the questions that made Their List:

  1. Is she promiscuous?
  2. Does she give another guy more attention than she gives me?
  3. Does she have a good relationship with her family?
  4. Does she have her own sense of happiness?
  5. Is she intelligent?
  6. Is she overly jealous for no reason?
  7. Does she display good manners?
  8. Does she not answer my calls, especially at night?
  9. Does she put effort into taking care of herself?
  10. Is she an ethical person?

Both the male and female lists seem to revolve around trust, loyalty, and family, which points out to me that The List is not a superficial way of categorizing people, but a practical way of making sure our potential partners are as down for love as we are.

It's definitely not the be-all end-all to finding a mate, nor is it a surefire way to find a secure relationship. But knowing what you want and being able to see those qualities in others is a pretty good first step.