“Good Enough” vs. “Not a Good Match”: a Primer on Dating and Relationships

When potential clients make initial contact, either by phone or email, they often ask, “what are your areas of speciality?” I always reply with Mood and Anxiety issues. These are both pretty generic areas of practice, but it is what it is: both my main internship and post-doctoral work were intensely focused on these issues so my confidence is highest with these types of problems.

Sometimes clients will follow up with a question such as “do you have any experience with relationships?” Fortunately, this is a no-brainer. Virtually every practicing shrink spends most of his/her day talking about a client’s relationships: personal, business, romantic, platonic, familial, etc. We are social creatures and few, if any, don’t have at least some problems playing with others. My individual practice is largely populated with single clients in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, which sometimes means the therapeutic work is focused on finding a long-term partner (or at least someone to have regular sex with). Therefore, I consistently hear about complications with set-ups, online dating, meeting people in bars, office hook-ups and the like. And when clients are met with rejection – whether it be episodic or consistently – from potentially suitable partners, the ones who suffer the most almost invariably make the same cognitive error.

Many people erroneously believe that if they can reach certain thresholds of desirability, they will be accepted by a potential partner. Whether it’s looks, income, sense of humor, fashion sense, job description and countless other factors that tie into romantic attraction, these people view themselves (and, sometimes others) as “how do I make myself good enough for a person?” And, make no mistake, some of these people would be classified as highly desirable on many scales of attractiveness. The problem with this mindset is that when the inevitable moment of rejection comes – and, let’s face facts, everyone has been denied by at least someone – these people are left with cognitive dissonance, a mental satchel of “If I was passed up, there must be a reason. It’s because I wasn’t good enough.” Translation: I suck.

Other people in my practice take a different slant when dating. They see themselves and others as worthwhile partners, but only a good match for certain people. There’s either an unspoken or explicit mindset of “let’s see if there is a good connection between this person and me.” It’s a Goodness of Fit model, not a Can I be Good Enough one. Those who adopt this approach tend to view their dates and interactions more objectively, can critique their own dating “performance” more accurately and, as a bonus, can actually focus more on having fun on the date as opposed to mentally masturbating on the notion, “am I saying the right thing, looking the right way, behaving the way I should, etc.?”

Before you give a knee jerk response to the following question, really give it some thought (and no, answering it aloud with no one in the room doesn’t mean you are psychotic, so please stop emailing me that question):

Have you ever met someone who you deemed wasn’t a good partner for you, but you could easily see being a good match for someone else?

If you answered “no,” you haven’t met very many people, only associate with the most superficial people on the planet or didn’t think long enough about the question. If you answered “yes,” you are correct. While certain people are fortunate enough to carry many desirable traits and, therefore, attract a large number of suitors, the truth is that for every perfect blonde out there, there’s a guy who’d rather take a flier on the redhead. For each awesome Bad Boy, there’s a woman who’d prefer Geek Chic. Some people are too smart, others too wealthy, others overly sophisticated (some see these people as snobbish), too ambitious, not ambitious enough, etc. The awesome reality of the whole dating scene is that for everyone you’d be interested in, there’s someone who couldn’t care less, and vice versa. There is no “good enough,” there’s only a “good enough for you,” and that is based solely on personal taste, not some objective criteria that can be measured. It’s when a person recognizes that the individual across the table from doesn’t actually decide his/her true worth that he is liberated from the pressure of needing to be something. He realizes that the other person will only decide what is a good fit for her personal needs, not what is a good match for the world as a whole.

If you can truly embrace and internalize this philosophy, rejection and failed relationships will be much more palatable. They may still sting and, quite frankly, why wouldn’t they? You aren’t getting what you’d like. But you’ll lose the self-loathing, unlovable, inferiority mind set that cripples so many people and crushes their quality of life. Instead, you’ll feel disappointment at what didn’t work out but maintain your self-worth and recognize that, for whatever reason, you haven’t come across a good fit for both you and your next partner. You don’t have to like that fact, but it won’t carry nearly as much psychological weight as the alternative. And that, in and of itself, makes people feel more confident, attractive and happier.

Related Post: Can Dr. Pete Find True Love on Match.Com?

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16 Responses to ““Good Enough” vs. “Not a Good Match”: a Primer on Dating and Relationships”

  1. BL1Y says:

    Rob, your writing is good enough for me. But, in the future, maybe less sap, more stab?

  2. Celestine says:

    So what you’re saying is it’s not me, it’s you? Typical.

  3. JP says:

    Rob says:

    “Have you ever met someone who you deemed wasn’t a good partner for you, but you could easily see being a good match for someone else?”

    I was on the receiving end of this once in college. Basically, a rather attractive girl told me I was told that I was too cute to not be in a relationship. She then proceeded to attempt to set me up with her friend, a person in whom I had absolutely no interest. I was non-plussed by that experience. It was also the only time that ever happened to me in my entire life, so it was just plain odd to me.

    Thanks for reminding me of memories I would rather have never thought about again, Rob.

  4. Annie says:

    Great post. I’ll take it into consideration next time I attempt to meet someone and be rejected.

  5. Rosie says:

    Very thoughtful and provocative post, as always. I’m afraid this question is going to make me seem naive, but… What does it meant to “take a flier” as in:

    “for every perfect blonde out there, there’s a guy who’d rather take a flier on the redhead.”

  6. Greg says:

    See, here’s the thing though. I’m lucky enough to be in a long term relationship with a girl who is oblivious to the fact she is way too good for me. But I wasn’t always, and many of my friends aren’t.

    The problem there doesn’t seem to be the single rejection, but the multiple rejections/lack of interest/etc.

    So, someone may be able to go “this person isn’t judging me”, but when it’s five people rejecting you? ten people? Eventually the scientifically trained mind starts trying to draw correlation where they see trends.

    Often times this is also a response to the fact that we feel if we can fix something we’ll be in control, whereas not being able to control our lack of love life is eternally frustrating – so we try and find something about ourselves to fix, so we feel like we’re doing something.

    In the long run, it’s easy to *know* that you’re not being rejected for who you are, but it’s much tougher to actually internalize this fact after you’ve been single for months or years.

    And at what point *do* you have to go, “It might be me?”. A year? Two years? More? Eventually it might actually be you. How do you know when to call the difference?

  7. Rob Dobrenski says:

    @Greg: Could it be that maybe the person is selecting the wrong people while thinking these are good matches? That’s the thrust of the piece: people reject you when you’re not a good fit, not because you aren’t good enough.

  8. JP says:

    @Rosie: Fortunately, BL1Y has a blog set up where he and his crackerjack team of hangers-on can answer questions like yours.

    It’s a little known and thoroughly unmoderated blog. It may seem to be somewhat formal and uninviting, given it’s lack of visuals, but you can rest assured that the people there can help.

    Just remember, you can always find the answers you need at BL1Y.com

  9. JP says:

    Rob says:

    “Many people erroneously believe that if they can reach certain thresholds of desirability, they will be accepted by a potential partner. Whether it’s looks, income, sense of humor, fashion sense, job description and countless other factors that tie into romantic attraction, these people view themselves (and, sometimes others) as “how do I make myself good enough for a person?””

    You know, thinking back on this, if I had actually been attracted to my college girlfriend, I would probably have continued dating her during law school. So, if she HAD been more attractive there might have been actual chemistry.

    That’s when I learned my lesson that it is a bad idea to date someone to whom you are not physically attracted.

    You would think that this would have been obvious to me. However, I figured, “I haven’t really dated anyone for years and I’m good friends with this person, so why not?” Then inertia kicked in.

    I still feel guilty about this entire episode. Mostly because she fell in love with me.

  10. BL1Y says:

    Rob, would you say Little Fockers was a bad movie, or just a bad movie for you?

    To echo Greg a bit, individual rejection stings, but mass rejection is pretty crushing.

    One approach is to look at your 9% score on Rotten Tomatoes and say “I’m not trying to be in a relationship with everyone, I want a relationship with 1 person, so 9% is way more than I need.”

    But then reality kicks in. While 9% liked Little Fockers, if given a choice, most of them would prefer Rango. And, the few people who prefer Little Fockers to Rango, probably aren’t that desirable.

    I think the general feeling of being “not good enough,” is just how we interpret the intersection of people we’d prefer and people who’d prefer us as being too damn small.

    Does anyone really care if they were rejected over an objective or subjective evaluation?

  11. Annie says:

    JP,
    I think it´s worst when someone is physically attracted to you, and then when the person actually get to know you figures out you are not that worthy.

  12. Chater says:

    Solid article. Articulates the problem clearly. I didn’t realize how much of the therapy is for relationship-type stress.

  13. kate says:

    “It’s when a person recognizes that the individual across the table from doesn’t actually decide his/her true worth that he is liberated from the pressure of needing to be something.”

    This is very Hegelian. I like it!

  14. JP says:

    @Annie:

    “I think it´s worst when someone is physically attracted to you, and then when the person actually get to know you figures out you are not that worthy.”

    That sounds like a personality mismatch more than anything else.

  15. AK says:

    Slam dunk. Thank you for saying this. I hope more people come across this advice.

  16. Seviah says:

    omg 1. I’m ancient. 2. I don’t think I think like that. I’m not hot, more awkwardly cute, and I’ve made mistakes but I haven’t ever settled.

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