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We have all heard the romantic fantasy of the woman holding out for a hero, someone who will sweep her off her feet and ride into the sunset. Well, men have a similar fantasy—except that we are the hero.  

Black mask, silver bullets, and white horse. In my fantasy I always had a plan and always came out on the winning side. Alone, against all odds, I would turn the situation around with the help of my trusty sidekick, Tonto. Trouble is, despite years of hunting (a.k.a. dating), my sidekick was nowhere to be found.

I had the checklist of skills I was looking for in a spouse: funny, ninja skills, could dish up a killer rattlesnake stew, and someone who would have my back through thick and thin. Every potential candidate I met was subject to my list of supposed "must-haves." And none of them measured up. The cycle of meeting someone, looking for compatibility and chemistry, not finding it for one reason or another, and starting all over again became depressing. 

As many others before me have done, I decided I needed to take a break from dating and focus on a goal other than love. Back at the beginning of my college career, I had attended a seminar and one of the speakers recommendations stayed with me. When you get burned out pursuing certain dreams—and perhaps especially in the area of relationships—the speaker recommended focusing on your other goals and passions. After a time, when one is well on the way toward those passions, then it's a good time to look around and see who you are toiling alongside. People you meet while doing what you enjoy are often great candidates for future sidekick positions. 

Thomas Bateman and Bruce Barry, in their study “Masters of the Long Haul," found that those who successfully pursued goals, especially long term, had strong self-regulation skills through the strengthening of self-discipline and self-confidence. Besides developing great skills for life in general, there is a high probability that this pursuit will put you into contact with folks who share your passions.  

One of my friends, Emily, met her husband at an event where she was performing. He was assigned to show her around the area when she first arrived. Another friend, Nick, bumped into the girl he is now dating while putting away weights at his gym while he was pursuing his fitness goals.

I met my now-fiancée, Kate, while pursuing electrical engineering. I put dating on the back burner (but not an extinguished burner!) for a couple months and dedicated most of my focus to my degree. Then, unexpectedly, a friend suggested I ask out our mutual friend, Kate. She had known other engineers through work and had a bad taste in her mouth about the whole lot of us as a result. Still, our mutual friend insisted we would hit it off romantically.

It turns out, Kate had a similar journey as me. She had made her checklist for the perfect sidekick. But each time a new relationship ended, she would go back to her list and make changes. A few of the important skills and qualifications remained, but many once upon a time non-negotiables were altered or removed entirely. Over time, those changes, she says, were the best thing that could have happened to her because they led her to me, a guy who would have never fit her original bill. 

Turns out the analytical and detail oriented sides of my character complement her systematic and scheduled nature. Where I will focus in on the specifics, she helps to keep the whole picture in view. And where she had once written off all engineers, she now derives much entertainment from what she calls my “engineer’s quirks,” such as my love of multiples of five or when I get excited about a well-designed household item. 

Likewise, had I still been on my dogged search for a partner, writing off imperfect candidates left and right, I probably would have found a reason not to consider Kate. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a list of desirable traits in a partner; it's actually recommended. The problem lay in my pursuit of the idea. It turned out, the fulfillment I was getting from leading a purposeful life made me much more optimistic and open to dating than my diligent hunt for love ever did. 

Most men love a challenge. The dreams we pursue often reflect this reality. Becoming an engineer was no easy feat. But I wanted it so bad I was willing to put in the work. When Kate came my way, I felt the same about her. 

So if you find yourself spinning your wheels with no seeming progress, you might try pursing a neglected passion. Not all heroes wear capes, and not every trusty sidekick fits the ideal mold you have in your head. So go after what matters to you. Who knows, you might just find the Tonto of your dreams right there with you.

Photo Credit: Erynn Christine Photography