October 17, 2019

The List


The List has taken over. If you are male, you may not be aware of this, but if you are female, you probably already have one.

You show me a single woman looking for love, and I’ll show you a girl with a detailed and specific written list of qualities she’s looking for in a mate.

Check our journals, check our spiral notebooks, check our online profiles, we have them.

I don’t know exactly when this happened, I can’t pinpoint the genesis of this idea, but within the last five years The List has become a cornerstone of the female dating process. If you didn’t read it in a book, some therapist encouraged you to make one. Or a group of well-meaning friends made you scavenge an old envelope out of your purse and write on the back: educated, tall, good job, likes dogs, on good terms with his mother, nice feet, sense of humor, blah blah blah.

Scattered across every dating and love advice column on the Internet — some written by respected therapists, others by unemployed former folk dancers blogging from their local public library — is some form of the following advice: “Manifest your divinely selected mate by making a list of the qualities you want.”

From JDate to eHarmony, most online matchmaking sites encourage some form of The List, and this may be how the concept took root.

It’s the JDate-ization of courtship. If I can select for “doctors, living in Los Angeles, over 6 feet, no kids,” press “enter” and get 19 matches, is the act of list-making not reinforced? And of course, there are the urban legends, the stories of The List conjuring a soul mate. These stories are whispered over breakfast, shared in great detail in the pages of self-help books. The List is considered a powerful spiritual offering, a rain dance that makes it rain men, hallelujah.

I would be the first to mock The List if not for this: a therapist (one of the team I keep on call) suggested I make one about four years ago. I set about the task that night, listing about 30 qualities ranging from “Ivy League educated” to “nice thumbs.” My assignment was to include everything, major and silly, that I wanted, some things negotiable, others not.

Three days later, I met a successful television writer we’ll call Listy.

The sudden appearance of Listy seemed miraculous, almost creepy. He was every single thing on the list. We dated for 10 months and Listy was great, other than the fact that by the end of the relationship I was trying to figure out what combination of prescription drugs would kill me the fastest. It was only when I stumbled on that list months after we broke up that I realized I had left something off: Kind. Oops.

So I can’t ridicule The List. In fact, I fear its power.

When I told my friend this story she had an eerily similar experience, only she had forgotten to include “heterosexual.” She met and dated the perfect guy, only he was also looking for the perfect guy.

“Working with the list makes you aware and alert,” writes one relationship counselor. This may true, but so does drinking a six-pack of Red Bull.

Again, I’m not against knowing what you want, clarifying priorities; it just seems to have fundamentally altered the human mating dance, putting our brains on “sort” when they could be on “receive.”

I understand “positive visualization,” the notion that putting your desires out into the universe can make them manifest, I just wonder if we’re all qualified to make our own lists. I certainly wasn’t. Whatever you call the power greater than yourself on the days you believe in one — Spirit, God, the Universe, The Force, Good Orderly Direction — perhaps It, He, She knows better than we do.

This may come as a surprise, but I’m no expert in Jewish liturgy. Still, my years in Hebrew school weren’t a total waste. If I recall, “Avinu Malkeinu” means, “Our Father, Our King” not “Our Burger King.”

You can’t just pull up to the divine drive-through and place an order, “Hold the pickles, extra sauce, no ice in the Diet Coke and please make him a blond who reads Robert Frost and can salsa dance.”

It could be that giving orders to the universe is like telling a masterful chef exactly what to put in your soup. Maybe it’s best to just shut up and taste what you get served.

This is all easy for me to say, because my current boyfriend is nothing like my list — and way better.

Teresa Strasser is a TV host and Emmy Award-winning writer. She’s on the Web at teresastrasser.com.