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Ever since I was young, I’d been told to make a list of my ideal guy so I could search for someone with certain qualities in mind. The idea seemed good enough so I jotted down a list of what I thought was admirable in a person and kept it for when I thought I might have met ‘the one.’ I love romance novels with a passion, but I also assumed that the descriptions of a fluttering heart and yearning to be near someone were fabricated to entertain readers. In the end, even those people like their partner for talents and qualities, right? 

I was in my Junior year of college, learning to adjust to the on-campus life I’d switched to after moving away from home and my former community college. Everything was new from the people I hung out with, to the food I ate, and the classes I took. A lot of it was challenging but I was excited about a lot of it. It felt like I was carving out a new life and exploring what I could do when I was on my own.

 Needless to say, I was ecstatic when a cute guy from one of my classes (let’s call him Kyle) ended up asking me out to dinner. In all respects, the dinner turned casual date went well with a nice meal and conversation before taking a look at the night scenery and returning for the evening. It was my first date and I was pretty proud of it, my friends’ cheering and the guy’s older and mature feel boosting my confidence. 

Around a month later, a close mutual friend informed me that Kyle was going to be asking me out to dinner on Tuesday and asking me to be his girlfriend. True to word, the evening came around and when he stood in front of me with a bouquet of flowers and beaming smile in hand, I had no reason not to say yes. Kyle was clearly happy and I was satisfied having checked off every quality I’d set out looking for. And either way, how could I say no to a guy who had been so patient and filled all the qualities I’d set out in my head for a future husband?

 A couple weeks in, I had a confused friend ask me, “Are you guys really dating?” 

The question surprised me a little. Sure, we weren’t the most physical couple, we’d held hands and hugged a few times but, there was nothing wrong with taking it slow right? 

From there onwards, I was overly conscious of when Kyle would move in for a casual arm around the shoulder or want to hang out alone. While he was comfortable with these small actions, I felt myself stiffening up a little, a woodenness as I leaned into a side hug. I kept assuring myself that it would just take me time to get used to being cuddly but there was still a nagging discomfort. 

Close to a month of dating later, we ended up separate for a bit as both of us were going different places for break. The whole time he sent me sweet texts about how much he missed me and about things we could do in the future together and I tried to respond in kind, but they felt half-hearted. It was late to be sure, but I really didn’t think anything was wrong until I had a short panic attack. I’d had panic attacks before from school-related stress, so I brushed it off until I had an eerily realistic dream later that night. The two of us were standing at the altar, Kyle already having said his vows and me just standing there while the congregation waited. Unsure of what to do, I finished my part and everyone began celebrating while I sat there numbly wondering, “Is this it?” 

The next day I pulled aside my sister and told her about the dream and panic attack, blubbering along the way about why they were so weird. “I don’t understand. He’s nice, we were good friends, he’s a gentleman, he listens to me, he has a career ahead of him, we would probably be able to make a good family in the future—” 

“But do you like him?” 

Her words stunned me. I immediately tried to explain how he fulfilled everything I’d been looking for when I was cut off again. “It’s good to have a checklist, but that’s not love.” That conversation cycled through my head for the remainder of my break, holding consistently in place even as I came to a resolution. A few days later, when I saw Kyle again, we broke up. It was a messy breakup by all means with a lot of questions on his end that I tried my best to answer. I wish it could have gone better but, even still, I don’t regret my conclusion. If I’d continued down that road with my half-hearted feelings, I might have been able to make things work, but both he and I would never accomplish that all-encompassing love that we’d both been searching for, and that wasn’t fair to either of us. 

I still hold up a bit of a checklist when I meet prospective partners but I learned the hard way that I need to use more than just logic to pick who I want to spend the rest of my life with. There’s a balance to these things and just like I can’t search for someone with only passion in mind, I can’t rely on the direct opposite either. Though there are still clear qualities I look for in a person, there is so much more to a person than a checklist that defines them or my relationship with them. Nowadays, I search with both head and heart in mind, and with that, I feel you just can’t go wrong.

Editor’s Note: Dating Unscripted is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.