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“I think this time it’s your fault.”

The words fell out of my friend’s mouth with a kind of apathy I had grown used to. I could see the look of contempt tossed at me from across the room as I rehashed my latest dating conundrum. I had met a guy, we had gone out for dinner; in theory he was perfect, but in reality I had found he lacked tangible life goals and direction. Even though he had a lot going for him in terms of personality—he was humble, kind, and honest—much was still left to be desired.

“I know what the real problem is,” my friend said. “You’re too picky.”

I swallowed these words with the abashed discomfort of someone who had heard them one too many times before. This time, however, with the echo of “Give him a chance!” still resonating in the back of my head, I actually considered the notion: Was I too picky? Furthermore, was there something wrong with that?

In my small group of friends, I’m always coined as the hopeless romantic—handwritten letters never fail to make me swoon, I love meeting in coffee shops and talking about books, and I object to anything less than a real date (obviating any kind bar scene) with a proper follow-up. Even if it doesn’t work out, I’m already narrowing my options by adhering to the kind of environment I feel most comfortable in, and to the prototypical man who also enjoys these places.

While my friends sometimes see these prerequisites as self-inflicted limitations, I beam from the fact that I get to cater to what I want most in a partner. I know I look for someone whose deeper qualities outweigh his superficial ones—someone with morals, values, and goals that match my own. And so I surround myself with people who share these same ideals.

But dating standards get confusing in a society that frowns upon settling for less with the same vigor it smiles upon casual dating and hooking up. It seems to me these perspectives contradict one another. And it surprises me how many of us are OK with accepting whichever relationship comes our way as if it's alright to settle with the most meaningful aspect of our life: our heart.

There are certainly times when one’s assessment of a potential partner can get bogged down in the unimportant details of how much money he makes, whether he can dance or has two left feet, or what college degree he has—or doesn't have. In these cases, sure, we need to watch out for unrealistic expectations that will always lead to disappointment. But in most cases, being “too picky” when deciding whom to date does not have to mean you’re a princess with her nose in the air waiting for her Prince Charming. On the contrary, I think being "picky" means respecting yourself and your values to the extent that you don't want to waste anyone's time on something that isn't right for you.

This is why when my friend picky-shamed me, I’d vacillated, but ultimately concluded that I was right to follow my gut. And to my friend I said: “Sure, he’s cute, but what good is cute if he lacks initiative? What you need to understand is that being picky is more about seeking quality over quantity.”

Just because you can date doesn’t mean you need to accept every offer you get. A friend of mine once said, "Dating makes you feel better about yourself. You feel more interesting, more confident, and more valuable. It forces you to see yourself under new light and, in turn, helps you realize how awesome you truly are." At the time this sentiment resonated with me. But after a myriad of false starts, break-ups, and confusing relationships, I realized how much unnecessary stock people put into dating for the sake of seeking that elusive external validation and how little they put into finding it within themselves.

This quantity over quality mentality causes us to aim low, seeking opportunity rather than true compatibility. When we are less choosy we learn to expect little from each other, instead of promoting a search for higher standards.

Like Kira Asatryan, relationships coach, says: “When you’re not beholden to other people, it’s easier to stop living by other people’s expectations of what you should be doing. This creates an opportunity to get clear on what you really—in your heart—expect from yourself.”

It seems to me like when you learn to expect better from yourself, you also learn to expect better from each other.

I’ve made peace with the fact that those friends who care about me will almost always have something to say about my dating life, and as long as those comments aren’t rooted in negativity, they will always be welcomed. At the same time, while it’s good to challenge a friend who seems to be hung up on superficial things, it doesn’t help anyone when you make your friends feels like they’re aiming too high. When my friends tell me “you're too picky,” I can’t help but feel like they are telling me I’m “not in the position” to be so choosy. This unspoken implication breeds negativity and desperation, which is toxic. And low self-esteem never attracted good into anyone’s life.

If my friends feel skeptical of my decision to not pursue a relationship with a man, I would prefer them to make more of an effort to understand my rationale before writing me off as petty. Just like I do for them if I feel they aren't giving themselves enough credit by maybe aiming too low. Any time we disagree with friends about relationships, the go-to response shouldn't be judgement but rather conversation about standards in dating and red flags. Rather than shaming a friend, this is a chance for you both to discuss the qualities you are looking for in a man and why.

The last thing I told my friend was this: All in all, I never want my search for a suitable man to mean that I stop looking for qualities that really matter. Quality over quantity, always. I am a woman who knows what she wants, and I think that's a good thing.

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