“Please, please, please, I’ve been really, really good — I promise,” you plead to Santa for the first time in over two decades.
This time, you would actually be telling the truth. The pandemic has eliminated the dating scene and you’ve been doing nothing but hanging out with your new best friend — loneliness. With the holidays coming and family gatherings canceled, loneliness has threatened not just to hang out with you all the time but to move in with you permanently.
Santa takes pity on your increasingly desperate pleas and decides to grant you your wish, “Alright, tell me what you want and I’ll make it happen.”
“OMG! Thank you! I want someone gorgeous, intelligent, and friendly!” you blurt out excitedly.
“Alright! One gorgeous, intelligent, and friendly person coming right up!”
Your phone pings instantly. You have a match! And lo and behold, she’s a beauty queen, a doctor, and is smiling in each picture. She also happens to be in your neighborhood.
You thank Santa profusely and organize to meet her for a coffee right away.
“Well, I did good, right?” Santa beams smugly after you get back from your date.
“Well . . . she is gorgeous but she had so much make-up on it’s a huge turn-off. She’s also really condescending. I mean, I know she’s smart but she doesn’t have to be so mean about it,” you complain.
“Is she friendly at least?” Santa asks hopefully.
“Oh super friendly, more to other men than me, unfortunately,” you respond forlornly.
“But she’s exactly what you asked for,” Santa says.
“Well, yes, but I guess what I really wanted was someone I was attracted to, someone who communicates well, and someone who is kind to me.”
Santa throws up his hands in exasperation. “Why didn’t you just ask for that!?”
“I guess I always assumed that I would be attracted to someone if she was beautiful, that someone who was intelligent would also communicate well, and someone who was friendly would naturally be kind,” you explained.
“Ahh, rookie mistake. Great individuals don’t automatically make great partners. Don’t worry, most people make the same mistake. Let’s try this one more time. One attractive (to you), communicative, and kind partner coming right up,” Santa responds kindly.
Lesson #1 — Be clear on the traits you want in a partner, not an individual
Your phone pings again. A new match just sent you a message.
“This one is exactly your type —beautiful, sweet as pie, and a great communicator. I’ve known her since she was five,” Santa says.
You thank Santa again and race out the door to meet her.
After a few dates, you’re on cloud nine. You’re incredibly attracted to her, the conversations are amazing, and she’s sweet as pie. Just as Santa promised. You’re mentally planning matching ugly sweaters for Christmas when she drops the bombshell.
“I can’t wait to have a big family. So, how many kids do you want?” she asks excitedly.
“Errmm . . .” you squirm excessively in your seat. “None?”
The silence was palpable.
“I, uh, forgot I have this . . . thing I have to go to. Catch you later,” she mumbles before practically running out the door.
Poof. Just like that. She was gone.
A week goes by with no word and you finally summon up the courage to call out to Santa again.
“What did I say, isn’t she great?” he beams as he arrives.
“Well yeah . . . but she wants like a million kids and she hates being outdoors! I really don’t want kids and I spend all my free time hiking! I can’t be with someone who thinks walking to Starbucks is a hike!” you protest.
“Well, you didn’t tell me that, you said . . .” Santa says defensively.
“I know, I know! I know what I said. Can we try again? I want someone who is attractive to me, communicates well, is kind, definitely does not want kids, and must love the outdoors,” you say thoughtfully.
Santa rolls his eyes, “Geez kid, you better be sure this time. Here we go again!”
Lesson #2 — Be clear on your deal-breakers and must-haves
Your phone pings again. A new match just messaged you. Her profile photo shows her sitting around a campfire with a van and the mountains in the background.
You get on your knees and bow to Santa, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are the absolute best!”
Santa seems to have kept his end of the bargain — she’s everything you asked for and more. You are madly attracted to her, you have great conversations, and she is incredibly kind. She made it clear that she didn’t want kids and she adores hiking as much as you. The weeks roll by and soon you’re out camping every weekend and spending every waking moment together. Life was just perfect.
Just thinking about her made you so happy that you decided to skip on your way to work one day. You quickly realize what a bad idea this was as your foot catches the uneven pavement and you fall flat on your face. As you dust yourself off and try to stand up, you realize that there was no way that was going to happen. The excruciating pain radiating from your ankle confirmed that it was definitely broken.
You call her to tell her no camping would be happening this weekend. “It won’t be so bad,” you think to yourself as you start looking forward to lots of snuggle time and catching up on Netflix. She consoles you and tells you not to worry, she’ll make sure to have enough fun for both of you. It hits you then that she is still planning to go camping — without you.
Five weekends later, you realize that Netflix and chill were definitely not happening. She was not giving up her weekends outdoors to keep you company. It was clear exactly where you stood on the totem pole. So, you reach out to Santa again.
“What’s the problem now!?” Santa asks with exasperation. “Did she not like the outdoors?”
“Well, she does. It’s just that — while we both love the outdoors, my priority in life is connection and hers is independence. Things were great when we could both go camping but as soon as we no longer had that activity to hold us together, I guess we were no longer aligned.”
“So, what are you asking me for, exactly?” Santa asks with a raised eyebrow.
“I guess I just realized how important it is to have a partner with the same core values — so that we care about the same things, and not just enjoy the same activities. Because if something changes in life, we’d still be moving together in the same direction. So, I want everything I asked for before but also someone who shares the same core values in life as me.”
Santa sighs, “OK, this better be the last time!”
Lesson #3 — Be clear on shared core values, not shared interests
Your phone pings instantly. You scan her profile and right there in black and white, she writes, “My highest value is connection.”
You exhale. Wow! How does he do this? You grab Santa and give him a giant bear hug.
“Thank you! You have no idea what this means to me!” you squeal excitedly.
“Yeah! Yeah! You better be good for like a decade!” Santa teases with a little twinkle in his eye.
The instant you met her, you just knew. She is the one. The more time you spent with her, the more sure you were. As an individual — she is beautiful, intelligent, and warm. As a partner — she is communicative, kind, and you are wildly attracted to her. She shared the same passion for the outdoors that you did and definitely did not want kids. She had willingly given up her weekends to nurse you back to health and her commitment to connection and the relationships in her life were clear. She just made you feel complete.
One night, you stare up at the sky when you were snuggling up next to her, and you feel as though the stars had finally aligned — which is why what she said next felt like a punch to the gut.
“I’m not sure I see a future with us. I think I need to be with someone who is more emotionally expressive and maybe understands his feelings and himself better. I’m struggling to feel connected to you in the way that I need. You’re a great person but I think maybe you need to work on being a partner,” she says.
You feel your heart splinter into a million pieces. As soon as you got home, you bawled your eyes out. You needed Santa back here. STAT. Santa arrives promptly and finds you puffy-eyed and curled up in the fetal position.
“What happened? I thought she was perfect?” he asks gently.
“She IS perfect! But it turns out, I’m not perfect for her! She told me that I wasn’t meeting her needs as a partner!” you sob.
Santa looks at you incredulously, “Let me get this straight, you ask me for the person of your dreams, and once I delivered her to you — you had no plan on how to keep her?”
You stammered, “Well, you asked me what I wanted. You didn’t ask me what I could offer in return.”
“Listen, that’s not how life works. You must be willing to give as much as you want to receive,” Santa admonishes.
“So, can you help me?” you implore tearfully.
Santa looks at you kindly, “Sorry kiddo. My job is to deliver the toys not to teach you how to play with them. You’re going to have to figure this one out on your own.”
You realized then that you had spent so much of your time and energy searching for someone, you had not put any energy into becoming a partner that they would want to find. The perfect person had shown up but you had nothing to offer them to stay.
Lesson #4 Be clear on what you offer as a partner
Now, we all know that Santa isn’t real. No one is going to deliver a tailor-made person according to your specifications. So, what is the point of knowing how to ask for the perfect person?
The point is that knowing what you want saves you from going on a million bad dates. It saves the time and emotional energy you would invest in the wrong person — sometimes for years — only to have it not work out.
The other point of the story is to illustrate two brutal truths that your friends may not be willing to tell you:
- Brutal truth #1 — Sometimes, the reason you don’t get what you want is because you don’t know what you want. The universe, your friends, and online apps cannot work in your favor if you don’t know what you want. If you say, “I just want a warm body with the right parts,” — the universe is going to throw a bunch of warm bodies with the right parts at you and you will have no right to complain.
- Brutal truth #2 — It’s possible that the reason you can’t sustain a relationship is because you don’t have the skills to be a good partner. You might be focusing on finding the perfect partner when your energy may be better spent on learning how to be the perfect partner. People who are emotionally stable, self-aware, and good communicators will attract the same.
So, if you are struggling to describe to yourself what it is you actually want in a partner and from a relationship — here is a summary of steps to help you out:
- Be clear on the traits that you want in a partner, not in an individual — We often think of finding a perfect person, when what we want is a perfect partner. Instead of describing what you want with traits like successful, athletic, or driven — it may be better to ask for traits like patience, generosity, and thoughtfulness. A handy way to help you identify traits of a partner that you might want is to think about how you want to feel in the relationship.
- Be clear on your deal-breakers and must-haves — Two friends of mine recently got divorced after a 10-year relationship. She was interested in non-monogamy and he was not. They had both thought they would be okay with each other’s preferences but it turns out, they were not. Monogamy was her dealbreaker and his must-have. Understanding this about themselves or working through it earlier on would have saved them a lot of heartbreak.
- Be clear on core values and not interests — Interests are things like skiing, live music, and dancing while core values are things like freedom, adventure, and connection. You can have the same interests while having completely different core values. For example, one person might hike for the love of adventure, while the other might prefer hiking as a form of connection with someone else. The problem with building a relationship based on interests is that interests can change over time while core values are far more stable. If you rely on shared interests to bind your relationship, you may lose the bond one day when life inevitably changes.
- Be clear on what you can offer as a partner — Take the time to work on yourself and learn to be a better partner so that when you finally meet that special someone, you can make it work in the long term. Learn to be a better listener, improve your ability to express yourself, and create emotional stability for yourself so that you’ll be a worthy partner.
“You will find what you seek.”― Lailah Gifty Akita