Figuring out what you want in a partner can be trickier than you think. Sure, we all may have some broad ideas of what we like — someone attractive, funny, and kind — but people are a lot more complex than that. And getting to grips with our more detailed wants and needs isn't easy — in part because women who know what they want are often written off as difficult or demanding.
“Our society does not do us any favors when it comes to dating, relationships, and communication,” family and marriage therapist Rachel Wright tells Bustle. “There isn’t a class in school on how to express our needs, and there’s also a huge cultural shame around women asking for what they need — we’re afraid to come off 'selfish,' 'needy,' 'bitchy,' or 'aggressive.' The reality is that if we don’t ask for what we need from our partners, they are never going to know, and not going to be able to give it to you."
What you look for in a long-term partner — and who you eventually choose to be with — has such a huge impact on your life. So, you shouldn't feel any shame about being specific in your wants and needs. With something this big, settling really just isn't an option. If you're not sure about what to look for — or even where to start — here's how you can begin to get a sense of what you should be looking for.
Decide What You Want From A Relationship
Every relationship is different. Some people rely on their relationship for a partner in crime, some people want all of their emotional support from a relationship, and some people are incredibly independent. It's important to figure out what your expectations and needs actually are, before you get involved with someone. "The start of a new relationship is an exciting period, and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about your goals for yourself and your relationship," says mental health counselor Alice Roberts, CSW, of Wasatch Family Therapy. "Having clear goals can help keep you focused on finding a partner who can truly share in them with you." Determining them beforehand can really help.
Think About Your Worst Dates
Sometimes what doesn't work can tell us as much as what does. "If you want to find out what you want, start with what you don't want,” Amica Graber, founder of dating blog TruthFinder, tells Bustle. “Sure, bad dates are a drag. But after experiencing a few of them, you'll learn to recognize traits and behaviors that you're not interested in — making them a lot easier to spot (and avoid) in the future.” Think about what really turned you off and why that might be, it can teach you a lot about yourself.
Know How You Want To Feel
You often hear that your partner should make you a better version of yourself — but how? As relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle, "How do I want to feel with this person?" is a key question when you think about a partner. Do you want to feel safe? Emboldened? Reassured? Partners can have many different effects, so it's good to think about what you'd really like your partner to do for you.
Be Honest About Your Own Weaknesses
Nobody's perfect — and in a good relationship you acknowledge that you each have flaws. But that means being willing to own your flaws, too. "Be willing to self-evaluate your areas of weakness and put a plan together to become more well-rounded," certified coach Anza Goodbar tells Bustle. This can involve a little self-improvement, but also thinking about what partner you'll work best with.
Think About Your Values
What matters most to you in a person? "Knowing your core values and 'living' them are essential for your happiness and well-being," spiritual life coach Angela Lenhardt tells Bustle. And you'll want to find a partner who shares them. They may include honesty, accountability, responsibly, kindness — or something completely different. But when you figure out your core values, you'll have a better sense of what to look for.
Don't Ignore First Impressions
Finally, no matter how much thinking you do about what you want, it helps to pay attention to your impression of someone IRL — rather than on a checklist. "I can't tell you how many times people have told me when they look back to that first meeting, they realized they had a knot in their stomach or just an overall uncomfortable feeling from the other person that they immediately shook off," astrologer and psychic medium, Suzie Kerr Wright, tells Bustle.
Knowing what you want in a partner and being willing to go for it isn't always easy. But who you choose to be with is such a huge decision. Do some thinking and a lot of self-exploration and figure out what really matters to you.