Let's Talk About The List


Emily McGaughy

“She needs to make six figures in order to keep up with how I live; I can’t envision a future with someone who isn’t my equal.”

“He must be at least 6 feet; don’t want no short, short man.'”

“If they don’t go to the same church as me, it’ll never work.”

Sound familiar? 

Most of us have, at some point, made a list of qualities and characteristics we expect from a future partner.  Some lists are succinct and straight to the point.  And, for some of y’all, the list goes on…and on…and on.  You have the Energizer Bunny of lists – it keeps going and going.


As a general rule, I’m not a fan of “the list.”  Due to my lack of fondness for this particular practice, I’ve been accused of expecting people to settle for less than what they want and perceive themselves to deserve.  I assure you that’s far from the truth and I’m hoping you’ll stick with me.

One of my primary issues with the list is that, in my experience, some items tend to be superficial.  What exactly does a 25 inch waist have to do with love and commitment?  Is a master’s degree truly a determining factor in one’s ability to raise a child with you or to support and comfort you through the loss of a loved one?  While I’m not suggesting that we all rid ourselves of standards, thoughtful consideration of your prerequisites for a potential partner may be in order. 

When we tell ourselves that such, dare I say, frivolous characteristics are mandatory, are we doing so because we truly believe this or because we’re attempting to satisfy some unrealistic ideal of how our future relationship should look?  Maybe we’ve felt pressure from friends and/or family to follow a prescribed set of expectations in our search for love.  Speaking from personal experience, I can assure you that abiding societal expectations will not ensure long-term success in love.  In fact, I’d argue the opposite to be true.  Choosing a partner based on what you believe you should want or should have will likely, in the long run, lead to disappointment and discontentment.  8, 15, 20 years down the road when you’re struggling with infertility or the loss of a job, or adjusting to a new city, the color of your significant other’s eyes or their level of education will not be what carries you through. 

Aside from the very human tendency to get in one’s own way and to hinder one’s own happiness, I’ve found that most of us know shockingly little about what we actually want and need.  As I shared in my initial piece for “Let’s Talk About Love”, during the first few months of dating Char, I was convinced she was all wrong for me.  She can attest to the fact that there were several occasions in which I actually said this…out loud…to her face. 


I’d never dated a butch woman before and, to be honest, I had a bit of a prejudice toward masc women.  I perceived masculine presenting women to be seeking relationships that mirrored the inequality of an old-fashioned straight relationship – a husband/wife arrangement.  I believed the stereotype.  For whatever reason, however, I continued to see her.  I was young and dating around and enjoying the attention.  

In allowing myself to be distracted by the superficial – Char’s appearance, her job working as a door person at a nightclub, etc. – I overlooked so many of her exceptional qualities.  Char is honest – she tells the truth even when it’s inconvenient.  Char is loyal – she will go to great lengths to support those she loves.  Char is thoughtful – she pays close attention to those she cares about and seeks out opportunities to make them feel loved.  Looking back, I realize I almost missed out on an amazing woman.  I almost missed falling in love and eventually building the life I’d always wanted alongside the girl of my dreams.

And those qualities that initially turned me off – her masculine appearance, her job – turned out to be representative of some of her most redeeming characteristics. 

Char doesn’t lean masc because she thinks it grants her some sort of power or status in the lesbian world; she doesn’t use her masculinity to condescend to those of us who are femme.  She’s butch because she’s butch.  It doesn’t occur to her to dress or present any other way; it’s really that simple.  And her courage to unapologetically present herself to the world in such an unconventional way is one of the things I admire most in her.  She is, in the truest sense of the word, authentic.


When we met, Char was working as a door person at a gay club as she was transitioning out of a financially lucrative, yet unsatisfying career.  She was strong enough to start over and lose some of her financial security in order to follow her dreams.  This is the sort of strength to which I aspire.  I like safety and predictability; I'll talk myself out of fantastic opportunities due to fear.  Seeing her chase after what she wants free of trepidation inspires me to do the same.

Though I encourage you to carefully examine the qualities on your list, there are red flags and dealbreakers.  Be open-minded, but be cautious.  Exercise discretion.  Be smart. 

Before you dispose of the list altogether, thoughtfully consider each trait.  Which characteristics will contribute to the health and success of a love relationship?  Hold on to those. 

Look for an emotionally healthy person who challenges you to grow and be better and desires to grow and be better themselves.  Look for a partner who treats you with love and respect.


And most importantly, hold your list up to a mirror.  Take a long, hard look at the traits on your list and then take a long, hard look at yourself.  Do you possess these qualities?  If not, why do you consider them non-negotiables in a significant other?  Think of ways in which you can grow into a better version of yourself, thereby becoming a stronger partner for your future love.  I think you’ll find that, in turning the focus onto yourself, you’ll become the partner you want and will likely attract that in another person. 

Although I’m encouraging you to carefully re-examine your list, I’d also like to include qualities I'd encourage you to both possess in yourself and to seek in a partner: honesty, emotional maturity, resilience, attentiveness, openness to change, a good listener, a hard worker, intelligence (not purely or necessarily academic).  You get the idea.  These are the qualities that matter. These are the characteristics that will aid in your ability to create and maintain a love with staying power.  These should be the contents of your list.

Here's what y'all had to say:

"Everyone has dealbreakers whether they admit it or not.  It should be like trying on jeans.  I don't like a fitted jean, but if I try it on and it looks good, then I surprised myself.  Dealbreakers can sometimes be overlooked when it feels right."

"I made a list of what I absolutely didn't want.  Then I just kept an open mind about everything else.  That seemed to work well.  It kept me from settling for less than I deserve."

"Creating a list of required attributes for a partner limits the potential of meeting more people and being open minded to some qualities you have yet to explore in a partner.  Most of these lists are based on past experiences in what we've perceived to be good or and in our love lives.  We all know what we don't want, but limiting what we do want could potentially shut you off to meeting some amazing people."

"I don't have a list necessarily but rather a solid idea of morals and qualities I personally value and would like to find another.  I like being open minded and I feel like it takes the stress and anxiety out of finding 'the one.'"

"I think it's important to know what you want out of a potential partner.  However, as shortsighted and flawed as we humans are, it's probably best to write in a flexibility clause or disclaimer for when you realize you were either over or under-shooting."

'It's an exercise in self awareness - a reminder of not only what I'm looking for in a partner, but also of the qualities I need to have myself so I can be a good partner."

"I think it's important to have a mental list of what you will accept, not accept, or compromise."

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Emily McGaughyComment