I'm normally a very laid-back person. Where do you want to go to eat? Somewhere good. What movie do you want to see? Almost anything, though subtitles are a bonus. What music do you want to hear? Anything but thrash.
But when it comes to dating, I sometimes fear that I have Seinfeld-like tendencies. Taste in movies and music, hairstyle and clothes, tone and inflection all have been reasons for me to stop seeing someone. In my defense, they're not The Reason for ditching my date, but they definitely have been part of the "Do I Stay or Do I Go?" list.
And perhaps that's why I'm (often) single. Chau Vuong, whom I talked to previously about his Soul Mate Calculator, says that most people are single because they have unrealistic expectations of potential mates.
But what's the difference between having standards and just being plain picky?
Liz Kelly, a Los Angeles-based dating coach and author of Smart Man Hunting, says that people aren't expecting unrealistic characteristics from potential dates; it's just unreasonable to expect to find someone who has all the characteristics you want.
"What I find is people have a checklist in their mind, and they want everything on the checklist," she says. "And you can't get everything."
Michaelle Weaver, 24, has a list of must-haves for her mate: "College degree, of course, a good job -- benefits, that kind of thing -- independent."
But, for her, it's not just about bringing home the bacon. It's also about bringing something to the table. "I want someone who can hold a conversation," says Weaver, who lives in Baltimore's Gay Street neighborhood.
It seems she has lucked out already. She says her fiance meets all of her criteria. "I would say I've found my ideal," she says.
But what about the rest of us?
Harold Dorsey, 35, of West Baltimore says conversation is a big thing for him, too. His best relationships have been when "you're having fun just having a conversation," he says.
He likes women who know how to have fun. And he loves "athletic" women.
What if he meets a woman who has a little pudge but makes him smile?
"It would be better for her to be athletic, but it's not necessary," he says.
Compromise is key, says Kelly. (Do I hear an echo? That sneaky C-word seems to come up nearly every week.) It's not a matter of knowing what you want, but knowing what's important.
"A lot of people, they place importance on the wrong things," Kelly says. "It becomes a case of 'I have to have somebody who's 6 feet 2 versus somebody who tells me I'm beautiful.' "
Monisha Cherayil of Washington says it's a little hard to put an ideal into words. "It's always a little hard to describe in the abstract," says the 24-year-old.
But it's easy for her to stumble onto the abstract; she has the reality. She and her boyfriend have been together for more than five years.
Nonetheless, she says it's unrealistic to go out into the dating world with a list of wants.
"I don't really believe you can have a set of characteristics and find that," she says.
Instead, it all comes down to keeping an open mind.
"I think you only really find if someone is right for you if you spend time with them," she says.
Getting a sense of what's important can come with time. Weaver said her ideal mate has changed a lot as she has gotten older.
"When I was in high school," she says, "it was more what he could do for you."
What kind of car someone drives. What kind of clothes he or she wears.
Weaver says too many people have that mind-set and end up overlooking the gems who are already there.
"You can miss out on the greatest person in the world just because he doesn't drive an S Class," she says.
Now she values stability and education.
Still, Kelly warns that all the goodness in the world can't stand in for basic chemistry.
"You don't want to compromise so much so that there's no physical attraction," she says.
That's my story, too, and I'm sticking to it. It wasn't just because of the other person's weird voice or odd taste in music. The oomph just wasn't there.
But if you keep an open mind and are flexible -- that doesn't mean throw out all your standards -- you eventually will come upon a good one.
"The most important thing in the relationship is shared experience," says Cherayil. "Not a list of adjectives."