To list or not to list

by: Toni Coleman LCSW, CMC

Dear Toni:

I am a divorced mom who has started to dip her toes into the dating pool, again. I want to do it right this time around and have been reading the great advice on the divorce support center website and talking to other divorced women.

One woman told me that she made a list of what she is looking for in a partner. She said that she doesn’t want to waste her time or make the same mistakes as she has in the past when choosing men.

I gave this some thought and then sat down and wrote out a list of ten things I am looking for. However, when I read it back to myself it sounded silly and my kids laughed at me.

What I noticed is that most of them had to do with the outer man- but it’s the inner person that counts, right? So my question is — Is there a need to make a list of what I want in a partner or should I just work on being that special person that the right guy would want to be with? I value honesty, a sense of humor, a strong spiritual side, someone who is hard working, who loves his family, is loyal to friends, and has a great smile.

I do, of course, have the outer qualities in mind, as well. I just want to know what you honestly think about the usefulness of such a list.

Signed, List Challenged


Dear: List Challenged

What struck me immediately when I read your letter is that you said the list you wrote was all about the outer man, yet you went on to easily list six inner man qualities that you know you want. So I had to wonder why your list didn’t include any of those.

Perhaps it’s because you didn’t give it much thought and just quickly jotted down physical characteristics and other external traits and qualities. Maybe it’s because you really do know what you want but haven’t been able to meet men who have those inner qualities in a package you are attracted to.

I am aware that I am not immediately answering your question with this observation, but I see it as a possible clue to your dating challenges and wanted to flag it and recommend that you spend some time reflecting on it – which can lead to some new insights and a possible better direction for you as you go in search of  potential partners.

Now to your specific question. Yes, I do think that making a list is useful. I believe this because doing so requires some real thinking about the qualities you are looking for along with helping you to identify any traits you consider undesirable and potential deal breakers. This exercise is core to determining your relationship readiness, which has nothing to do with your age and specific life stage.

It is more about your overall emotional, financial and physical well-being which all play a key role in helping you make healthy and conscious decisions that will lead to better dating and relationship outcomes. To put it succinctly, your head is as important as your heart when making such a major life decision. Give yourself lots of time to make this list. You could write one or two things a day then go back and edit or change it the next day.

Doing it over a week or 10 days will allow you time for reflection and sleeping on anything is always useful. Be creative, think outside the box and don’t set any rules for yourself about what is or is not allowed to be on it. It’s also important to give some thought to your past significant relationships, especially to your ex-husband. What qualities did he have that drew you to him? Did these turn out to be positives or negatives in your relationship? What needs in you attracted you to those particular traits? Was it perhaps something you felt was missing or would be a good complement to your personality and/or strengths?

Most importantly, do you see a pattern of problem qualities in the men of your past? If so, why do you think you repeated those mistakes? Answering these questions will help you to know yourself better; your values, desired life goals, any weaknesses you are looking for someone else to compensate for, or any emptiness that you have sought to fill through a relationship.

Healthy relationships start with two people who have their lives reasonably together, who know what they are looking for, who can openly articulate this, and who can make conscious and well thought out decisions that come from both the heart and the head. It may not sound very romantic but it’s the stuff great love stories are born from.

Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC is an internationally known psychotherapist, relationship coach, and founder of http://consum-mate.com. As a recognized expert, Ms. Coleman is the featured relationship coach in The Business and Practice of Coaching,” (Norton, September 2005). In addition she authored the forward for,"Winning Points with the Woman in your Life, One Touchdown at a Time,”(Simon and Schuster, November 2005). She has been quoted in numerous publications, including but not limited to Star, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Redbook, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and Men’s Health magazines, and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Miami Herald, and Indianapolis Star newspapers. Her expertise is featured online on over thirty top ranked informational, celebrity, self help, and dating and relationship sites including People.com, Match.com, CNN.com, Discovery Channel, ABC News, and AOL.com. She has been a featured body language expert on TooFab.com, TMZ.com, starmagazine.com, and People.com. Examples of her quotes can be found on her media page at http://www.consum-mate.com/newsroom.htm.

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