#288: Guest Post: Advice from Sea Captain Awkward

Robert Shaw as Quint in the movie Jaws 1976
“The thing about scars is, when you look at ’em, you remember what bit you.”

Two fans of the blog asked themselves “How would Bartholomew M. Quint answer that question?

Here is the result.

Ahoy Captain!

Over the past few weeks, I had more than one conversation steered towards having a list of dating criteria. I was surprised to discover that most of the people around me have a list of dating criteria. When they asked me what mine were, I came up with values, rather than a list of things I like and dislike. According to them this is vague and describes anyone… and to be honest in the past I have made absolutely horrendous dating decisions and ended up in an abusive relationship, another one that ended with my partner leaving me for my best friend, and one resulting in a long legal battle so I can see my son that is not yet over. I find having a list sounds petty, but is it really something people should have? If so, more importantly, what should be in this list? How do you make such a list?

Thank you,
Looking for Love

[Slowly draws nails down a chalkboard]

You-all don’t know me. Name’s Sea Captain Awkward, here t’give advice. Matters of the heart ain’t easy, but Cap’n Awkward saw fit to let me try.

Scars. Scars are rough. We all have ’em, but lawyers, abuse, bein’ left for a best friend, not bein’ able to see your son, those scars are worse’n most. Those’ll do a number on you. Those’ll get you to where you don’t even want to get back on the water again. Takes a brave soul to go back out after bein’ hurt like that.

Sounds to me like you’re pretty brave yourself, and you’re interested in not gettin’ hurt again. Sounds like your friends are interested in not lettin’ you get hurt too– a lot more interested than the water is. The sea’ll throw you around all damn day and night without your say-so. But friends who stick by you when you’re turnin’ green and bein’ sick over the railing, those are friends worth listenin’ to. Could be they’re seein’ somethin’ you don’t notice when you’re pukin’ up a week’s worth of whiskey and rations.

The thing about scars is, when you look at ’em, you remember what bit you. But after they stop hurting, they remind you how not to get bit again. When it’s a lot to remember, what you do is make lists.

So, lists. You’ve seen your friends’ lists. Maybe their lists are shallow; doesn’t matter. They can be shallow as a tide pool if that’s what makes ‘em happy. The list that matters to you is the one you make yourself. It’s as shallow or as deep as you make it. If you want your list deep, you make it deep, and you make it yours.

What goes on a list? It’s easy havin’ things in common. Politics. Music. Movies. Whether sushi should be dinner or bait. But a list of their values … that’s not your list. That’s theirs. That’s a list of what’s important to them, not you. Your list, it should be about you.

Could be your list looks th’way it does because you think if someone has the right things in common with ya, they won’t hurt you. It’s hard t’think someone who likes what you like could see you hurt. But I tell you, they can. Used to be there was this girl I’d see pretty regular. Of a Friday we’d get drunk an’ cue up Netflix. I thought anybody who’d yell as loud as me at the sharks on “Blue Planet” couldn’t help but do right by me. Boy, was I wrong.

People who’ll hurt you, that’s somethin’ too big to see all at once. Dangerous people are like bad storms:  little things tip you off. You see the little things a long time before you see anything big on the horizon. Clouds. Birds flyin’ low. The smell on the air. Twinge in the leg where the thresher got ya. See a whole lotta them, you know something’s comin’ won’t do anybody good.

People do little things. Make you feel guilty over things that aren’t important. Lie about things they don’t have to. Move too fast, try to dazzle you, set the hook quick so you don’t have time to think things over before they’re already reelin’ you in. Get mad when they’re scared, try to hurt you first before you hurt them. Try to cut you off and make you doubt yourself. Don’t listen when you’re mad or scared.

Every ship gets caught in a storm now and again. There’s no blame in that. Abuse. Betrayal. You can control a bad relationship about as well as you can control the weather. All you can do is get in out of it. Now that you’ve been at sea a bit you can start to see a sea change for what it is, and you’ll know what to do.

Abalone, they live twenty, thirty feet deep. It’s dark down there. Murky. No scuba tanks, you have to free dive. Down there it’s just you and a knife and your own breath. The water distorts your vision and your sense of scale, can’t tell how big or how far away things are. The divers, they each have an abalone gauge. Looks like a ruler with a point on each end, measures seven inches between the points, tells you what abalone are big enough to take. You get caught with one too small, that’s a thousand bucks right there. You find an abalone, you check it with the caliper. It’s big enough, you take it. It’s not, you leave it alone.

That list you’re making, that’s your caliper.

When you’re all caught up in the romancin’ someone new, it’s hard to get their measure. So, you whip out your list. Does this sailor meet your minimum standards? Does he treat you the way you want to be treated? If not, leave the puny bastard where he is. You know what they say: There are plenty of fish in the sea. We’ve just got to learn which ones are sharks.


If you have a question for Sea Captain Awkward, please place “Sea Captain Awkward” somewhere prominently in the subject line of your email and I’ll get it into the right hands.

59 thoughts on “#288: Guest Post: Advice from Sea Captain Awkward

  1. Excellent advice, Sea Captain!

    As the Cap’n says, lists are just a convenient way to have a quick check on basic first-pass compatibility. As long as they are not adhered to too rigidly (“He is perfect in every way! Unfortunately he is only 6.0ft tall. My minimum required height is 6.2ft therefore I can’t possibly pursue a relationship with him. NEXT”) I don’t see any harm in having a handy mental list of things know you find attractive (or repellant) about people.

    Much like the Pirate’s Code – they’re more like guidelines.

    1. Ah, awaiting moderation! That makes sense, cause you probably don’t know what I mean. Reasonable!

      I was being kind of vague intentionally because it seems like other people totally had fun with and enjoyed it, but I thought maybe I should mention that I struggled with it in terms of accessibility. I’m a longtime reader of this blog, but generally read through Google Reader and don’t often show up over here in comments. I love what you write and enjoy it, as well as all your guest writers. I’m neurotypical, generally speaking, and have reasonable reading comprehension skills. …except when it comes to this. I am completely unable to process the information in this post.

      I’m not trying to tell you to change your methods or anything, but I just wanted you to know, because I may not be the only one? Don’t know!

      (Also maybe I should have just emailed you? I don’t mind if these comments never come out of moderation, but I did want to let you know about that.)

      1. It’s cool. I’m going to leave it up and risk that other people can’t read it – it’s ONE POST out of 400+ meant to be an entertainment rather than a big serious answer, though there is wisdom in it, and I promise you the blog isn’t switching completely over to talking like a pirate.

        1. I also had a hard time making my brain process what was being said. I got the gist I think though. I think maybe pirate talk works a big better aloud than as the written word. All Pirate Talk Advice Podcast? AHOY!

          1. Imagining all of the Iron Islanders as Pirates has definitely helped me get through those chapters in the Game of Thrones books. But it’s not for everyone.

          2. I got through Game of Thrones by re reading all my Neal Stephenson books again instead. It worked out. Though now I am kind of hoping they will do this in the show. That show needs pirates. (Also Peter Dinklage as a pirate? Yes please.)

      2. My native dialect is from New England, like Quint’s, so what the authors tried to convey made perfect sense to me – but I find it difficult to read pieces in other “accents” than my own. I usually get around this by reading it out loud.

          1. It is deliberately rambly and full of weirdness for comedy’s sake. There’s no objective reason you’re not getting it. It’s just not for you. Sorry. I can live with some people not getting or not liking this (or any) other post. Please move on to stuff you do enjoy.

            Other commenters, quit halping MCT.

          2. Ah, I didn’t mean that it’s a problem! You’re right, it’s not a big deal to me. I was just trying to say that in my experience it’s not an accent issue.

    2. Me too. Could you just stick to giving advice and skip the attempts at being cute? Thanks.

      1. Hey, I’m sorry you didn’t like a fun experiment written by fans of the blog to try to entertain people. Perhaps one of the many other blogs on the internet would be more of interest to you today, or maybe a movie, or a novel or a show on the TV?

  2. I think it makes sense to look for things like self-awareness and shared values, rather than a particular height or identical interests. But the thing about values is, it’s not what they say about their values, it’s what their actions tell you about their values.

    1. Yup! I’m married, but I always tells friends and family (if they are asking) to look at what people DO, not what they SAY. People will say just about anything. Perhaps the things they say are completely true, or outright lies, but mostly it’s a combination mixed with fantasies and desires of who we WANT to be. For example, I know someone who constantly says “I would NEVER snoop in someone’s business, I RESPECT privacy!” This person has been caught going through drawers and opening other peoples’ mail. So, yyyyyyeah.

      1. If someone spends that much time saying “I would never do X” they’re probably either fighting a real temptation, maybe something they used to do, or denying something that actually goes on. “Probably” because this doesn’t apply if the conversation keeps being “I’m so hurt that you did thus-and-such!” “But I didn’t, I would never do that!” But if someone keeps bringing up that they would never snoop in a drawer, or shoplift candy, or make a pass at someone who is monogamously married, it’s worth asking (or asking yourself) why it keeps coming up.

        Again, maybe those are old tapes, and zie is saying “I would never do that” because someone specific kept accusing zir of that particular transgression. But there’s almost always something behind those repeated, unprompted declarations of virtue.

  3. Oh, I love this. How perfect!

    One thing I will say about asking your friends for advice — they only know how they love and what they want. There’s no code everyone follows — there are only guidelines. I recommend doing what you do and trying your best, and when something in your gut says “yes” or “no,” ask a friend for advice: “I feel weird about him, but he’s so nice!” “Well do you really want to hang around with someone who makes you feel weird?”

    In terms of lists, I like the Cap’n’s idea: “Are they as cool as your friends?” My lists for friends are usually similar to my lists for S.O.’s, in that they don’t have to like certain things or look a certain way (though if you’re like me, you know exactly who you’re attracted to), but our relationship has to make me happy, of course. If I’m not getting something good out of the relationship (and vice versa!), then why hang out with that person?

  4. Okay, so I am totally pro-list, LW, and I admit my bias. I think there’s a difference between lists of good-partner criteria, lists of deal-breaking requirements, and the minimum of decent behavior.

    I’m not sure what your friends mean when they say your list is “too vague,” but it could be that they — or you — are conflating “things I want in a partner” and “things a decent human being would do.” For instance, “I want to be with someone who’s nice to me” is a good thing to want, but it doesn’t really need to go on a list. Because if someone isn’t nice to you, why are you dating them, right? Something along the lines of “I want to date someone who will give me plenty of space when I’m frustrated” lets you drill down into something that’s important to how you deal with things.

    If you want to put together a list of your own, you might be starting from a place of “I definitely don’t want the shit I’ve gotten from people in the past” (Jedi hugs, because it sounds like you’ve been through some shitty situations). It’s important to think through that, but those aren’t necessarily things you want so much as things you definitely don’t want to deal with. “Not my shitty exes” is a good place to start, but a good list isn’t just the absence of shittiness. It’s the presence of goodness, if that makes sense.

    For example, when I was working ridiculous hours and getting really burned out, I didn’t want to go to bars or shows or even movies. All I wanted to do after work was order Thai food and watch West Wing on DVD. At that point, an item on my list would have been “more of a homebody than a party animal.” If you don’t have a car, geography can be important — a friend of mine in DC has a rule on his list he calls “WMATA or nada,” because it’s difficult for him to date people far away from public transit.

    Also: this post is a thing of beauty. Hooray, Sea Captain!

  5. Ah, I love Quint! This post was a lot of fun and gave some very good advice, it is ideal for a Friday.

  6. LW, here was the (non-comprehensive) “dating list” I put in the “What I’m looking for” section of my online dating profile when I had an online dating profile:

    “You are gregarious, outgoing, and have closely knit community of friends and/or family around you. That doesn’t mean “No introverts,” just that I want someone who draws people to him and welcomes them in.

    You are physically and verbally demonstrative. The “strong, silent type” is definitely not for me.

    You think a good evening would be scouting out a grocery store and making an ambitious recipe together.

    You are passionate…about something. There is some subject that you love enough that it lights you up to talk about it and sometimes your friends have to stop you and say “Ok, enough about _____.”

    When I say “I’m a feminist!” you say “Neat, me too!” This whole thing where women are socialized to be love objects who look pretty and wait to be chosen and men are socialized to be agents is a crock. Let’s fuck in a way that also fucks the patriarchy.

    You live somewhere accessible by public transit.

    You’re comfortable taking the lead sometimes in making the plans. It’s not your fault (we all have baggage from old relationships, right?) but right now the least sexy words in the English language are “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” and “I don’t care. Whatever.” One of my superpowers is finding neat, inexpensive stuff to do in the city – I promise I’ll pull my weight.

    This isn’t personal: I get really bored with weeks of messaging back and forth, IMs, etc. Let’s meet up! How bad could it be?

    This IS personal: Married guys, step off. I’m sure you have a very unique and complicated story. Tell it to me when you’re not sharing a bed and a bank account with someone else. Furthermore, I am categorically uninterested in any kind of “poly” setup.

    Finally, I don’t read too much into OK Cupid match percentages, but based on 11 years of anecdotal evidence from dating in Chicago, if you have Guns, Germs, and Steel, Moneyball, American Gods, Devil in the White City, and a bunch of Neal Stephenson on your bookshelf, the chances are very high that we will make out at some point in our lives. I’m not even saying that those are my favorite books, or your favorite books – I’m just saying: It is our destiny.”

    If I ever need an online dating profile again (which, I really hope not) I will reconstitute this list as if Captain Quint had written it.

    Now the above list was just a way to attract the kind of person I might want, so when we actually hung out I had other things I was looking for.

    Easy to make plans with – check.
    Conversation flowed and wasn’t stilted. No one person dominated things, there was a give and take, he was interesting and fun to talk to, asked good questions, told good stories – check.
    Nice to waiters, it was easy to figure out the bill – check.
    Evening was relaxing and a good time, as good as if I’d spent the time with a close friend like Commander Logic – check.
    He showed active interest in doing something again soon, but wasn’t overbearing about it and totally would have taken no for an answer – check.
    Fleeting first kiss of “That was a good date, right? Right” – INTRIGUING.
    I felt comfortable and like I could be myself around him – check.
    He was funny and I was funny and we were funny together – check.

    The more I got to know him and about him, the more I liked him – friends and family were nice, welcoming, spoke well of him – check.
    He was who he claimed and appeared to be, initial impressions were supported by behaviors – check.

    1. that is a damn good list, I better bookmark this for when I actually feel like I can date again. Maybe I should write in to the new pirate about how to get to that place

  7. In a similar vein, when I was job-hunting last year, people really wanted to help and kept asking me what kind of job I was looking for. Because I have a very wide range of experiences and job skills from wildland firefighter to medical filing clerk, it was very hard to answer in the concrete way that I think most people expected. My criteria were closer to values than job titles: sufficient wage/salary to pay my bills without agonizing the last 10 days of the month; a healthy, supportive work environment, or at least not a toxic, dysfunctional one like the place that laid me off; close to bike route and bus line; benefits since I had a preexisting condition and couldn’t afford to do without health insurance; preferably only some supervisory duties at most. An opportunity to use my rusting bilingual skills, contributing to a meaningful organization/mission, and some flexibility in scheduling would be great options, but I wasn’t expecting to get all of those too. None of that addresses specific industries, tasks, titles, vacancy listings, etc, so it didn’t really give people much opportunity to help me. And I suspect that your “list” for potential romantic leads has some similarities and thus stymies helpful friends.

    I know two people in my social circle who have very specific lists that are very much about the physical characteristics of the person and nothing much about the values. Unsurprisingly to me, neither has had much success in the past, dating some real skeevy dogs despite warnings based on direct experience or blowing up into drama. On the other hand, another friend who I think is much more focused on personality, communication, and boundaries has also had a spectacularly endless series of failures and is postponing cutting the latest one loose because zie’s perfect except for the whole not making my friend a priority, not communicating, apparently having to be talked into a romantic relationship etc. But pretty and shared interests and values and a great person otherwise! Definitely the wrong pants, no matter how good they look on the model.

    1. How did you solve the job thing? I ask because I run into similar issues all the time with career stuff.

      1. Well, my circumstances were pretty unique, so I am not sure it will be at all helpful for others. I was working for the state university, and thanks to the way I was terminated, I was eligible for special assistance from human resources. That meant that I got access to on-campus vacancy listings 24 hours before they were released publicly. If I was interested, I could send a paragraph (as a mini-cover letter) and a resume on file with HR; if these interested them, they could interview and hire me without posting the vacancy. This is what happened with the job I currently have. As it turned out, the job I lost was similar enough to the new position, that it took very little to get me up to speed. And the internal hire meant that instead of a 3 month process minimum, while the work was increasingly backlogged, it was only 2-3 weeks.

        The alternative was that they could choose to publish the listing and interview me as part of the general candidate pool. Additionally, I took the standard state exams for office/clerical skills. These together resulted in about 6-8 interviews, and in at least 1 case, I came in #2, but they took the person with more direct experience. That’s the problem with being a generalist–I will never have the specialized training and work history within a particular discipline, and I risk losing out to the specialist every time.

        I also networked like hell (for me), particularly with other job hunters. People emailed me vacancy listings based on our shared background, and I forwarded them as much as possible. I also set up a job support group, that helped each of us polish our application materials, and more importantly, what our job hunting goals and priorities were and general encouragement.

        However, I didn’t follow the rules according to some people. Some insist that it’s a numbers game (much like dating), and you just need to put sufficient applications out there to get positive returns. The more applications, the greater likelihood of positive returns. And there were people who felt that I should apply to anything and everything and a job’s a job, so why not apply for whatever local retail position just to get money coming in. I know myself well enough to know that sales and retail is the worst thing I could do. But 1 or 2 people got angry at me for not doing anything and everything, not doing *enough*.

        Also, it had been less than a year since my *3 years* of cancer treatments had ended. I tired out so easily (still do, even though it’s much better and that antidepressant I started a couple months ago helps too). And each resume and cover letter took me hours to put together, even though they involved fine tuning pre-existing templates. I was lucky if I got 2 applications out in one week, and during the entire 3 month period, I think I sent out a maximum of 25, maybe 30. However, my return rate was better than 50%, so I think being extremely selective was helpful.

        1. I’m glad you were able to make something work for you. Job-hunting (and job hunting in academia, which is its own special hell) is hard enough without being physically exhausted on top of it.

          1. I hear you about the special hell. I have a friend who calls her situation post-academic stress disorder and is still trying to craft a livelihood after securing a PhD in an academic field that has been shrinking for more than a decade. Her partner was able to persist in academia for a longer period, making my friend too often an academic adjunct (the evils of lectureships), but the downsizing and postdoc-circling-the-drain has now taken its toll on him, and they are both seeking nonacademic options.

            I’m not an academic. I realized in Peace Corps that I had no interest in becoming faculty. I’m currently an editor. I very much enjoy my work. And my health no longer allows me to work in the field, so it’s just as well. I recognize that I am extremely fortunate compared to pretty much everyone I know and the larger society in these perilous times.

            Good luck with your own job hunts and pursuing a career in the film industry.

  8. Pingback: On Miscellany |
  9. Note: I am frequently a bad data point (aka ‘outlier’).

    While I was recovering from breaking up with someone I loved (incompatible goals) and realizing that I kept having these crappy relationships, I finally sat down and made a list of what I wanted in a Someone For Me.

    I’d never really done that, I suppose … just relied on that spark of interest. It’s funny how asking for what you really want can help make it happen. I found it helpful to think about it in broad outcome-like terms, rather than really detailed specifications. I wanted someone who was “financially responsible”, rather than “never late with a single bill” … someone who “laughs at/tells my kinds of nerdy witty jokes”, rather than just “funny”.

    At the same time, an acquaintance of mine warned me that the problem with lists is that you’ll get what you asked for. I think this was pretty wise – I’ve read The Monkey’s Paw and enough fairy tales to know that you have got to be damn careful with what you ask for, or zombies trying to give you hugs may be the best you can hope for.

    So, my list started with ‘partner’. All that other stuff was on there, but right at the top was this Big Idea that bundled up all the things I couldn’t articulate well (and some I could) and all the things I didn’t know I’d want in the future. It was the hedge on my bets, to keep the zombies away. So far, it’s working out for me.

    1. I’ve been a lurker for a while now and this is my first comment — but mintylime, I love your comment so much.

      I’m in the midst of breaking up with someone I love (incompatible goals), and this is perfect. I had a list before, and got just what I asked for — which was, unfortunately, missing a couple of important pieces. “Partner” (even better for me, “Fully Invested Partner”) covers the stuff I didn’t know to list.

      Zombies begone!

    1. Ha! Or Jayne: “Can you fuck it? Can you eat it? Can you shoot it? No? Then why are you asking me?”

          1. Ten percent of nuthin’ is…let me do the math here…nuthin’ into nuthin’…carry the nuthin’…

    2. I love Captain Tightpants as much as anybody, and a column by him sounds good in theory… until somebody asks a question about sex work or polyamory or fidelity or something and he turns into a Frank Miller Character. (i.e. Won’t shut up about “whores.”)

      1. So, we’d need a column co-written by Mal and Kaylee, who could handle all the sex questions Mal ran screaming from. And who would totally have DIY vibrator advice!

        … In fact, as much as I love Cap’n Tightpants, I have just argued myself into Advice Columnist Kaylee.

        1. That would be fantastic! I could see Kaylee being rather like Boggle the Owl in persistent encouragement and optimism. I’d love to hear from Inara and Zoe too, they’re so sensible and take-no-bullshit.

          *sigh* What is it that makes Joss Whedon such a fantastic writer? Can we get that distilled in a bottle?

  10. Cap’n A, this was a great guest post.

    (Also, I come here from Ravelry, and I am really really RILLY missing the “agree” and “disagree” buttons. Also the “interesting”, “educational”, “funny” and “love” buttons. They are so very helpful to me.)

    1. Hi Thneedle! I edited your comment slightly. The people who don’t like or get the post don’t need it explained, but I’m glad you liked it.

      I have never been to Ravelry and do not know these buttons of which you speak, so we’ll have to keep going with “use your words.”

      FYI for everyone I’m deleting all critiques (positive or negative) of people’s writing styles going forward. You don’t have to get it, you don’t have to like it, explaining it will not improve it for them that don’t. The writers are guests here and I feel protective of them.

      All comments about scars, sharks, and dating lists totally welcome.

      1. I am so good at using my words, at least on the InterTubes. (In person, I practice and improve.) In the event that you care, the buttons whereof I spake are similar to the “Like” thing on FB, or the “thumbs up” things I see around the web. They are in no way a necessity.

        Me, I have some scars, but have never been eaten by a shark. Pretty sure about that.

  11. Listen to Dan Savage’s price of admission. When people start to tick off unrealistic lists, I’m like ‘Yup. I don’t have that problem.’

  12. I have a deep and abiding love of Capt. Quint, so every time I look at this post I bust into gales of giggles. Kudos to you, Sea Captain Awkward.

    I’d also like to second the part of advice that you don’t have to take the list as hard and fast rules, so much as flexible guidelines. If you find someone who breaks your rules and meshes all the better for it? Awesome! But a lot of times having a list of ‘do not wants’ on your list can be great for putting words to any red flags or misgivings you may have at the beginning of a budding relationship.

    1. A thresher is a type of shark, them’s what bit ye and give ye the twinge, now, y’see.

      I’m from Texas and had zero reading comprehension issues with Sea Captain’s style or content. : )

  13. LW, I do not also have a list, because if I did, it would look like this:

    1. Am romantically/sexually attracted to this person.
    2. Person treats me with respect.
    3. ???
    4. ????!?!?!
    5. ????!?!??!?!?!?!?!lkjdfksdjf???!
    6. I want to keep dating them.

    (at the point at which #6 is no longer true, I would break up, obviously)

    I have no idea what attracts me to a person, and while I have “dealbreakers” (as Dan Savage was talking about in the clip above), experience has told me they are not actually dealbreakers if I like the person. Things that are always dealbreakers though:

    1. nonattraction
    2. actively misogynistic/racist/homophobic/etc.
    3. disrespect (especially disrespect of boundaries
    4. Eh, I’m not feeling it.

    That is definitely for sure not a list you can tell your friends and have them help set you up on dates, so people have told me it doesn’t count. I think that’s silly, because whether someone likes Doctor Who or not doesn’t tell me if they will treat me as their equal and respect my opinions. Their eye color does not tell me if I will actually be attracted to them. Some of us just aren’t meant to have lists.

    Boundaries will help you in ALL your relationships, and may help avoid getting into another abusive relationship (boundaries are like vitamins – they help you be healthy but cannot fix everything). They’ll sure as hell do a lot more than a fucking list of criteria. Listen to your gut! Are you into them? If yes, do they seem into you? Do they respect you?

  14. LW, if you’re having trouble coming up with a list that isn’t just values, it may be helpful to think about what someone with the values you want would do in a situation. As a hypothetical, you’re in a restaurant, and the bill comes, and for whatever reason, there’s an extra appetizer on the bill. What would you want an ideal partner to do? Call the waitperson over and demand they fix it? Just pay the bill because fuck it whatever? When the waitstaff comes back, ask them to please fix it? Whatever other option here?

    For me, I’d want them to politely ask that the waitperson fix it and not make a big fuss, but that’s me. I’d also want someone who, if say, I fell on my ass in a ridiculous manner (happens!) would be able to laugh with me and pick me up at the same time. I’d want someone who when faced with the current political reality in this country, can not only crack an intelligent, witty joke about it, but would love to discuss ways to change it with me.

    But that’s me. What you’d want someone to do in those situations is probably not exactly that.
    Which is 100% fine.

    I think values are important, and that behavior and decisions come down to them. The problem is that two people can say that they value, say, independence, and how they put it in to play differs WILDLY.

  15. I didn’t have a “list of things I want” but I did have a “list of things I tend to fall in love with” so I could predict a crush ahead of time and get some good words in before getting too scared to talk. That worked well for me 🙂

    The other thing I had that is sort of like a list is I had a sense of self. I knew how I felt about sex and what I wanted from it. I knew where I had been in relationships and, while I didn’t know for sure where I was going, I knew the vague direction I was headed.

    So a list of things you want in a partner isn’t the only way to do this — but yeah, if you’re looking to improve your sexual/romantic relationships, a good knowledge of who you are and what you like in others, and what you need from others, is really valuable.

  16. I’d emphasize that the list is a flexible guidelines. Years ago, while in therapy, I’d come up with a sort-of list, which was mostly values that I wanted to share with a future partner. However, also on this list was something worded like, “Not terrible with money.” I think I had a less-judgy spin on it back then, but that’s the gist. It came out of my experiences dating people who I was constantly loaning money to, who couldn’t get their finances together, and had tendencies to make expensive, frivolous purchases before things like rent were due, and then needing me to bail them out. (please know that this is not judgement on anyone who is struggling to pay their bills or something like that. I was at the time, and didn’t appreciate also being a Personal Loan Officer to someone).

    Anyway, a bit later I met Partner. Who admitted early in our relationship that he had declared bankruptcy earlier that year – though in zie’s case, it was due to healthcare problems/medical bills, and it had been zie’s only option. But I had gotten to know shim enough to see that zie was responsible and could take care of ziimself – and medical bills aren’t frivolous in any form – and so it didn’t set off any red flags to me.

    And we’ve been together for a decade now.

  17. LW, you probably already HAVE a list, whether you realize it or not. Based on how you’ve been hurt in the past, I’m guessing it starts with big-ticket items like:

    1. Respect and kindness towards me
    2. Faithfulness (whatever that means to you)
    3. Respect for my relationship with my son
    4. Respect for my friendships

    But that’s just how your past relationships ended. Probably you can break those painful relationships down into the parts you don’t want to repeat again or that could serve as hints of bigger problems in the future:

    4. Doesn’t physically hurt me, verbally abuse me, berate me, or manipulate me
    5. Actively wants to be with me, and communicates this clearly and openly
    6. Supports my parenting choices
    7. Able and willing to resolve conflicts in a straightforward, respectful, and compassionate way; or, Does not resort to petty retaliation when hurt

    And I’m sure there’s other stuff that’s unrelated to pain in your past relationships. You might find that when you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t do X or have quality Y, you find yourself wishing they did and trying to change them so they do. Since you can’t actually make people conform to what you want, doing X or being Y should go on your list so that in the future, you look for people who already do/have those things instead of trying to change people once you’re already dating them.

    Some of your list items might seem superficial, but be true for you anyway — maybe you just like to be the taller one in a relationship. Maybe you want to move around a lot, so you won’t start a serious relationship with someone who is a homeowner. Some things might seem superficial but are actually really deep or really practical. For both deep AND practical reasons, anyone I date had better be a feminist: anyone who isn’t a feminist either is either too immature for me (maybe they’re a feminist and don’t realize it, but that’s not my problem!) or won’t be able to respect me the way I want. But on a more practical level, I just can’t be bothered trying to build a relationship with someone who doesn’t have the basic vocabulary to discuss things that are important to me.

    Other commenters have given some suggestions of things that might go on lists, but I just wanted to point out that your “list” doesn’t have to be a big, new project. You’re probably already well on your way to making one in your head, just based on the big and little things you’ve learned you either can’t deal with, or must have.

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