For much of their life LDS singles have heard, “Be the best person you can be.” They have also seen the consequences of poor choices around them and fear suffering the same unhappiness or divorce. Not surprisingly, singles strive to do and be the best, as well as date the best. Unfortunately, the pursuit of being and dating the best can cause several problems that can directly interfere in singles progressing toward marriage.*
It is natural for singles to want to date someone who is attractive, successful, and socially skilled. Their ability to date such desirable individuals seems to say that they are just as accomplished. However, as a dating coach, who has spent 17 years as a marriage counselor, I can’t help but see the danger that surrounds this desire to date the best. Singles usually don’t realize the common thinking errors in this mentality, and if these are not confronted they will ruin relationships.
These are the three errors in thinking singles encounter:
Many LDS singles feel a tremendous self-imposed pressure to be perfect (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, morally, financially, etc.), which is impossible to achieve. When faced with real life challenges and weaknesses, they often do not meet their own expectations and are, therefore, hard on themselves for it. This can cause them to feel unworthy to date, continue relationships, or make the next level of commitment until they have achieved the perfection they feel is necessary. It isn’t that they are so flawed that their issues really would be detrimental to the relationship, but their anxiety and perfectionism cause them to doubt themselves and their ability to succeed. Thus, they suffer under a tendency to over-think their dating and relationship experiences instead of relaxing and enjoying these experiences and trusting that they as a couple will work things out together.
2. “My partner is a reflection on me.”
This perfectionism can also make it hard for singles to accept less than perfection in their dating partners. To accept their partner’s flaws (weight issues, social awkwardness, financial mediocrity, or plain physical features) would require them to accept their flaws too—which feels unacceptable. They want to marry up, not settle, just as they want to be more, not what they are. They may even feel entitled and deserving of only the best since they work so hard to be the best. Additionally, their partner’s issues—such as depression, anxiety, or personal weaknesses—can feel like a reflection on them, making them worry what others might think of them if they marry such a person. They don’t want to wonder if they could do better or have regrets later. And so it can be easy to believe that it would be best to work on themselves (i.e. perfect themselves) while they wait for the person who is free of such issues.
However, because they’re always aware of their flaws, they rarely feel prepared to date the best, and because even the best have flaws they often don’t seem like the best for long. Thus, dating the best is NOT the solution to the doubts and fears that plague singles, and it is also not the best way to ensure a happy marriage, a secure future, or lasting peace of mind.
Instead of seeking perfection, singles would do better to focus on loving and accepting themselves and their partners, including all that is good and less than perfect in them both. In this way they can be each other’s best friend, confidant, and companion as they learn to master their individual trials and issues together and within the relationship. Instead of worrying that their partner’s plain features, social awkwardness, pornography struggles, weight gain, or employment issues is a reflection on them, they can learn to separate themselves from the problem and help their partner do the same. In this way they both feel that they’re worth more than their worldly—and temporary—challenges.
3. The Comparison Trap
Loving someone for who they are—separate from their problems or from one’s own needs—can feel like the right thing to do, and many singles reading this article may want to apply themselves to this goal; however, this desire can quickly fade when singles are around other singles.
The tendency to look to the most beautiful, socially skilled, and successful within singles groups can be powerful and natural. Our world promotes beauty and success as the only path to happiness—be thinner, be stronger, be wealthier, and you’ll fit in and be happy. This toxic message is difficult to ignore, especially when singles struggle to be at peace with themselves and those they date.
What singles can do instead
Singles can manage these three thinking errors and progress in their relationships if they will focus on:
- Finding a good match, i.e., someone who fits compatibly with their most important values and needs, who accepts them, just as they accept their partner.
- Investing with more faith and confidence in that relationship and in the goodness of marriage.
- Trusting in their ability to make a good decision (rather than focusing on making a perfect decision, which doesn’t exist).
- Showing faith in the promise of this scripture: 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” and asking God what they need to do in their relationships to experience this promise and blessing.
- Giving their complete attention to their partner by minimizing their time at singles activities and events, dwelling on the past, daydreaming about other singles, or worrying about what others think.
- Having faith that the emotional connection they are experiencing is enough, rather than worrying about what they think they should be experiencing or what they think others are experiencing.
Some singles reading this article may feel that such advice seems too simple. They may also fear that applying such advice might make it easy for them to progress in a relationship that may not be the ideal or best fit for them—that it will lead them to “settle.” Such thinking only illustrates my point. It’s not the other person that is the problem. It’s the poor mindset of perfectionism, “my partner is a reflection on me”, and comparison that is robbing them of confidence, stealing their courage, and destroying their peace. Until they apply this advice they cannot discover how much easier it really can be to progress in relationships and feel confident in the wisdom of their decision to be with their partner.
*This article first appeared in LDS Living in December of 2012.
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Alisa Goodwin Snell is a dating and relationship coach who spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist. She’s written 7 books for singles, created numerous audios, videos, and articles, is a popular public speaker, and has been on over 100 TV and radio programs nationwide. Learn more.
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