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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Dating Cultures | Trusting Judgement | Dating Criteria

Quick Access:
Going Outside of Social Group
Dating Someone I Wouldn't Normally Date?
Setting Criteria and Screening Out Potential Partners

The Internet offers you a chance to go outside your social group, perhaps dating people with more (or less) money, education, social experience. People from other cultures, neighborhoods, etc. Is dating outside our usual field good for us?


People are slaves to habit. Our habits are so comfortable, because they’re so familiar and predictable to us. Humans love and crave control over their environments, so naturally we’re attracted to attitudes and behaviors that structure our worlds and make us feel like we’re in the driver’s seat.

Yet, that sense of security and control is often illusory. And sometimes, habits are downright bad for or hazardous to our mental and physical health. Likewise, habits, however comfortable, can even interfere with our love lives. How many times have you found yourself dating someone exactly like your ex – that ex who wasn’t compatible with you? Rather than follow a path that never really worked before, I hope you take healthy and calculated risks this month and well into the summer and let go of habits in order to find and embrace what truly makes you happy. And not just any sort of risks; it is often good to take ones that push you out of your compatibility comfort zone. Compatibility Comfort Zone is my term for the mental picture we have of our ideal partner. Typically we look for someone that closely matches that ideal image, but, of course, that person doesn’t really exist outside of our fantasies. The truth is that often we’re compatible with many different types of people – we need only take a step outside of our compatibility comfort zone to find out.

Of course, taking that step is more like a leap for most of us. The thought of losing in love or making a mistake can be terrifying. For others, it’s paralyzing. But, I want you to think of risks this way: we don’t make mistakes, we make discoveries. And to make discoveries, we must venture into unfamiliar territory. You might not find “the one,” but chances are you’ll learn a great deal about yourself and your relationship wants and needs by taking a risk and getting to know people who don’t seem to be your type. Then again, you might well find that special someone. Go talk to happy couples you know, and ask them if their partner is the type of person they thought they’d end up with. Many times you’ll be surprised to hear, “no.”

Taking a risk and setting a course for discovery also means accepting personal responsibility for success. Traditionally, people meet their mates in three ways – at work, through introductions by friends or family, and by accidental meetings.

How do we cope with the fact that the person we meet on a date might be totally different from the sort of person we’d normally go for (‘wrong’ neighborhood, ‘wrong’ accent, ‘wrong’ clothes/hairstyle, ‘wrong’ choice of venue etc)? Does this mean they ARE actually wrong, or is it a sure sign that we are being too narrow-minded? Crucially, how do we know when to trust our own judgments, and when to admit that we are being narrow-minded and need to open up a little? How do you know when you're being too accepting?

Having basic standards for a partner is not wrong, but having unrealistic standards actually sabotages our quest for love and a healthy relationship. “Different” is often uncomfortable at first for people, but we should be careful not to equate “different” with “bad.” Often times, “different” can be exciting and fun if we have the proper attitude. Therefore, people that do not strictly satisfy our Deal Makers should not be so easily dismissed. Getting to know these people costs us nothing but our time, and in exchange, the return on that investment can be huge if we come to learn that we actually like qualities that we did not think we would have liked before. Investment in learning about yourself and others is almost always a smart investment.

People need to come to dating and online dating in particular with a sense of adventure! A consistent pattern of rushing to judgment should be a wake up call that a person is being too picky, not open to learning or having new experiences, and generally being narrow-minded. Now ask yourself, “Would I tolerate those negative traits in a partner?” If the answer is “no,” then you should strive to be more accepting.

You can tell when you are being overly picky when make quick judgments based on how a person looks or dresses – superficial characteristics. If you find you are having second thoughts about a person because of superficialities rather than getting to know a person on a deeper level, then that is a good sign you are not giving that person a fair chance. However, having said that, it is also true that we all have gut feelings that alert us to danger and to a sense of incompatibility. If the internal alarms in your head and heart are telling you that a person is not right as you observe them and listen to them closely, then generally speaking those alarms are doing you a favor. Some Deal Breakers are just good guidelines – for example people are generally not good relationship material if they:

» tend to resent authority
» are easily irritated or annoyed
» distrust the motives of others
» are self-reproaching
» stuff their feelings
» have difficulty connecting or attaching with others
» challenge the ideas of others routinely
» consider their own wants more than considering the input of others
» have anger issues q are unable to assert him/herself
» feel that the rules don’t apply to him/her.

Taking responsibility for our own choice of partner is hard - how do we deal with this responsibility in our own minds? We’re all brought up on the cute meet myth - it’s ingrained in fairytales, films, songs etc. Does this mean that ‘picking’ is somehow wrong? Is limiting our criteria--the list of "must-haves" and "can't haves"-- the right approach? For example, if we want someone who will have kids with us, should we be ruthless and focus only on partners that fulfill this criteria? Do we risk screening out the ‘right’ person? After all, many of us are with partners now that we might not have bothered seeing if we’d been internet dating and seen their profile online first. Is this a good or bad thing?

It’s easy to take responsibility in our own minds when we:

1) Understand that a choice of partner is the most important decision we will make in our lives and

2) That the responsibility for getting to know others, dating and choosing a mate is easy to bear if we keep a positive attitude that regards the process as a fun adventure rather than a burden.

Relationship success – however you define it – is also a personal choice to a great degree. You see, stepping out of your compatibility comfort zone is not really relinquishing control. To my way of thinking, stepping outside your comfort zone is one way to gain more control. How? – because in doing so you’re taking the initiative in creating more and varied opportunities to meet and learn about new romantic prospects. Online dating adds a powerful to dimension to this, since you can broaden your horizons and experiment with your compatibility comfort zone in the safety of your own home and at your own pace. So, instead of taking a leap without any precautions, this approach is akin to bungee jumping!

Again, taking a risk and setting a course for discovery also means accepting personal responsibility for success. Traditionally, people meet their mates in three ways – at work, through introductions by friends or family and by accidental meetings. Online dating allows individuals to get to know themselves better and in a way never before really possible by providing the opportunities to interact with and get to know large numbers highly diverse people, challenge our own assumptions and compatibility comfort zones and encouraging a healthy sense of adventure with a healthy level of critical thinking.

> - The best approach to find the one. <

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