If you were anything like me when you were younger, you probably imagined your future: the view from the corner office at the job where you’d kick ass every day, the home you’d decorate with fresh roses, and the lover whose arms you’d wake up in every morning. Maybe you’re still imagining and aiming for that future: power to you! But while it’s cool to design the home of your dreams because you can literally build it into reality, the same is not true for lovers.
Having an idea of the type of person you want to date is great and we all have preferences, but committing too deeply to those preferences can create “Fantasy Lovers”. A Fantasy Lover is the person you’ve created in your head who probably doesn’t exist outside of it. In the age of online dating, it can be hard not to create a Fantasy Lover: most online dating platforms will let you filter out potential partners based on a slew of preferences, including location, age, gender, height, astrological sign, even pets and body type. When meeting someone new while out and about, it’s easier to look past deviations from these preferences as you get to know someone, but overusing these filters online might be holding you back.
Take my friend for instance: she refused to date anyone one inch taller or shorter than 5’6 for years. Then she hopped on Tinder and swiped right on a girl who didn’t list her height on her profile. My friend arrived at the first date to find the woman she’d been talking to was 5’10 and gorgeous. That was three years ago and they’re engaged to be married next fall. My friend found the love of her life once her filters were thrown out the window. If you’re dating and not finding Mrs. Right, opening yourself up to people you hadn’t considered previously gives you a chance to shake things up.
Here are some things to keep in mind to help you dump your Fantasy Lover and focus on finding the person who’s right for you.
If your Fantasy Lover is based on physical attributes, change course and start visualizing a vibe. How do you want to feel around your partner? Is it important that your interests and values line up? Maybe you visualize a lover who respects and supports your goals and dreams but also gives you the sense of reality you need sometimes. If you’re too busy focusing on finding a dark haired blue eyed lover, you might miss the redhead who loves murder mystery dinner parties and volunteering at animal shelters as much as you do.
Are you’re filtering out everyone who doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree? Why? The degree is a piece of paper. You’re not looking for the paper: you’re looking for what it represents. Sit down and figure out what that piece of paper symbolizes for you. A steady career? Analytical thinking skills? Experience living away from home? There are a million other life experiences that result in the same attributes, so expand your search so you aren’t excluding people who might be perfect for you.
Look for other things that indicate these skills. the girl on your softball league who joined in hopes of making friends in a new city knows how to be independent of her family, the woman whose profile mentions her love for chess knows how to analyze whatever move her competition might make, and that cute chef at brunch didn’t attain her title without focus and drive. When I asked the friend I mentioned above why she wasn’t dating taller women, she said she didn’t want to feel like she had to fill a gender role of being tall and domineering or short and submissive. Luckily, she and her fiance keep their relationship on an equal footing, so the height difference isn’t a deal breaker.
I’ve been in a relationship where someone confused me with her Fantasy Lover and it was pretty horrible. One evening my girlfriend caught me cursing out a table I’d stubbed a toe on. “You don’t say things like that,” she corrected me angrily. “Except I just did,” I pointed out, confused. “No,” she continued, “You’re sweet. You’re pure. You’re a lady. You don’t talk like that.” After another similar incident, it dawned on me that my girlfriend wasn’t dating me: she was dating an idea of me she’d concocted in her head before we were together. I’d spent months falling in love with someone and she’d never taken the time to get to know who I was outside of her fantasy. It was a brutal moment but a realization I needed to get out and move on.
You don’t know everything. If you did, you would already know who you’ll end up with and you would just find her on Instagram and slide into her DMs. But since that’s not the way things work, consider that there might be potential lovers outside of the preferences you’ve set for dating and you may not have the foresight to see how awesome a relationship with those people could be. Maybe you’re an EDM-loving party girl and you know you need to find someone who loves dancing at concerts as much as you do. But what if your dream girl actually hates concerts and loves writers retreats? You compromise and go to shows with your friends while your dream girl meets with her writing group and then you two come together after to trade stories of your experiences. You never know!
Of course, some dating preferences are for self-care. If you are sober and know that dating someone who drinks or does drugs isn’t healthy for you, don’t go there. Strict rules on who you date designed around real concerns and issues are part of being aware of your needs and health and should absolutely be honored. You know what’s important enough to be non-negotiable.
Above all, keep in mind that every profile you view and momentary interaction in the club gives you only a glimpse of the person you’re interacting with. People are complex and layered; you can’t know everything about them instantly. Taking the time to dig in and know someone on a deeper level just might result in finding a partner more amazing than any Fantasy Lover you could have dreamed up!