Woman writing letter list

Is a list of key attributes in a partner logical - or plain unrealistic?

A friend of mine, who has quite a strong spiritual streak, told me recently about a list she’d written a while back when single and hoping to meet someone.

I groaned when she told me the two sources that had inspired her to write the list; Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 self-help book, The Secret, and an audio disc from motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

The Secret, which appeared on Oprah at the time of its release and has been equal parts gushed over and pilloried since, espouses what Byrne calls ‘the law of attraction’ or the idea that like attracts like. Basically, it’s about positive thinking – think good things and good things will happen to you.

Robbins, one of the world’s best-known motivational speakers, touches on the same sort of thing in this particular exercise that my friend Jamila recommends. “Define the Ideal Mate” is Robbins’ solution to not being able to find that perfect person – he says it’s as simple as writing a list of all the things you want in a partner. Then, poof - like a genie in the bottle, they will magically appear before your very eyes.

Jamila spared no detail in her list, which she was kind enough to share with me. Desired attributes ranged from quite generic, run-of-the-mill stuff such as “He makes me laugh; he’s intelligent; he’s honest with me” to more specific, idiosyncratic stuff like “nice kind brown eyes; he’s quite shy at times; he doesn’t have too many female friends.” After writing the list, Robbins instructs you to identify the non-negotiable items on it – in Jamila’s case, “he’s confident but not cocky; he wants to travel; he’s open with his feelings” were but a few. I had to laugh at Jamila, but she’s a firm believer – just two months after she’d written it all down, she met someone who ticked all the boxes – all of her “musts” and most of her other desired qualities too.

I’ve never been a big believer in destiny and I don’t personally think that Jamila’s meeting her mate had anything to do with the fact that she’d practised the methods outlined in The Secret, but as loathe as I am to side with Tony Robbins, there could be something in this list idea of his. Robbins himself acknowledges the ostensible simplicity of the idea, but the process of outlining exactly what it is that we want and don’t want should make us more highly attuned to the qualities that fall outside our parameters of acceptability, and therefore be able to sort the wheat from the chaff quicker in future.

So far, so good. But what if, on a list of say, seven “musts”, your potential partner falls short in just one or two areas? Is devising a list as specific as this one setting yourself up for failure, or do we simply need to become more tolerant of each other’s shortcomings?

A friend of mine has just started seeing someone. He is ticking a hell of a lot of boxes so far. He’s smart, driven, attractive, kind – they appear to share most of the same values. There’s just one thing holding her back. “He’s not very funny,” she sighed. “In fact, I don’t think he’s made me laugh once. I really want to be with someone who makes me laugh and who I can have fun with.” I get it. A sense of humour is important to me, too. But should she give up this great guy and all his other amazing qualities simply because he’s missing (just one) of the things she values most? How picky can we afford to be?