Blame it on my idealistic INFP personality or the steady diet of Disney I grew up on, but I have high standards for the people I date, and sometimes it seems like a very fine line between what is okay to expect from a relationship and what is falls into the category of excessive pickiness. This is always a struggle for me, especially since romantic comedies have skewed my perception of reality (I’m that girl who unloads her mini van full of groceries, daydreaming, “When is the mysterious, attractive stranger going to appear and help me carry all these inside?”).
However, it goes deeper than this. Part of what has shaped my expectations has been the fantastic examples my dad and my brothers have set for the way a man should carry himself and how he should treat others. Over the past few months, I had been struggling with the fear that I had been setting my expectations too high, so I sat down and had a talk with my brother, Tommy.
Tommy is 19, a freshman at Northwestern University, and he’s always been one of my closest friends. My sister, Julie, and I can always count on him to offer his honest advice, so naturally he’s one of the first people I go to when I have a question or predicament regarding the male population.
After one particularly stressful day of trying (key word= trying) to navigate the dating scene, I plopped myself down at a table with Tommy. As we decorated Christmas cookies, I told him, “I just don’t know what to think anymore. I feel like the whole idea of dating has just disappeared in today’s hookup culture, and it’s hard to find guys who I would consider dating. I don’t feel like I need a boyfriend, but I’m just frustrated that none of them seem to fit the standards I would like them to match. Do you think my expectations are too high?” Tommy looked up from the snowman he was frosting and asked, “What requirements do you have for these guys to meet?”
“Someone I can respect. Someone who makes me laugh, but would also be able to push me to be a better person. Someone who is driven and works hard but doesn’t take their work home with them. Someone who is honest and sticks to his word. Someone who takes good care of himself since I try to take care of myself. Someone who treats everyone with the same amount of kindness, whether it’s the President or the Janitor. Someone with values that align with mine. Bonus points if he writes me notes, because I love to write cute things to affirm others, and I would love it if someone did that for me too.”
Tommy was quiet for a few seconds. I bit into one of my Christmas cookies, “Do you think that’s too much? Is that being too picky or unattainable?”
Tommy’s blue eyes widened and he shook his head firmly, “Wow, no, of course not. Kelly, you deserve all of those things. You’re worth it, and I wouldn’t want you to be with someone who didn’t have those qualities.”
You are worth it.
This spiraled into a conversation with my little sister, and we got to talking about some of the attributes our brother has modeled for us when it comes to making dating decisions. After putting our heads together, Julie and I came up with a list of the main love lessons Tommy has taught us. The funny part is that until he reads this (which he will, because he’s always supporting us in our hobbies and endeavors, even ranty blogposts), he will have no idea he has made these impacts on us.
1. Guard your heart:
Tommy has been able to use his experience as an athlete to teach Julie and me how to keep an eye out for who we should and should not trust. On the field, Tommy’s job is to protect the quarterback, but off the field, he protects his sisters. I can’t tell you how many times in high school Julie or I would gush about a particular football player, only to have Tommy shake his head and say, “I know he’s nice to you at school, but I hear how he talks about girls in the locker room, and I don’t think you would feel the same way about him if you could hear some of the things he says.”
Tommy leads by example; he shows respect to everyone, but he doesn’t get close to those who do not show respect to others. Through watching this and becoming open to his inside-scoop (even though we didn’t always want to hear it), Julie and I formed an awareness and discernment about who we could trust and who we would be best keeping at arms length (no matter how cute or athletic they may be).
2. Your worth is not reflected in the mirror:
Tommy is very supportive of everything Julie and I do. Even though he’s incredibly talented in the classroom and on the football field, he takes the time to affirm our accomplishments. The boy is a D1 athlete serving in multiple student orgs with piles of homework, but somehow he finds the time to read every blog/vignette/poem/short story I write, and offers sincere compliments, encouraging me to keep writing.
While he is always encouraging us in our actions and dreams, he puts far less impact on the way we look; Tommy is very generous in his compliments toward our actions or our personal strengths, but it is rare to hear him extend a comment on our appearance. It is not uncommon for him to poke his head in the bathroom while Julie is applying her makeup, saying, “Stop painting your face! You’re beautiful and you don’t need that!” Tommy reminds us daily that our value is found in who we are, not what we look like, and anyone who does not see this is not a person worth dating.
3. You deserve to be treated the way you want to be treated:
Sometimes when someone doesn’t treat you the way you want to be treated, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of thinking that perhaps it’s because you don’t deserve to be treated as well as you’d like to be. However, Tommy has set fire to this doubt. I’m not saying that you should only date someone who feeds you grapes while you sprawl across an expensive, pristine couch, but you shouldn’t accept a person who doesn’t show you a healthy amount of kindness, respect, and effort. Everyone deserves to feel like they are worthwhile; to have someone who treats them like they are special.
Tommy does this in a variety of ways; even when he’s really busy, he will set his homework aside to facetime Julie and help her with her homework. Whether it’s at the movies, the gym, or our church, when it’s cold or raining outside, Tommy will run out to the parking lot and get the car so he can pick us up from the front door. If you’re walking on squishy earth while wearing heels, he’s more than willing to put you on his back. He is (as the kids are saying these days) the real MVP.
I hope that these three lessons can offer you some encouragement today, encouragement to keep your standards high, encouragement to refuse settling for someone who doesn’t meet your expectations, and encouragement that there are good guys out there. I promise they exist! After all, I have been fortunate enough to call one of those boys my brother.