The guy you're dating tends to be a little less than punctual. The woman you're seeing isn't the neatest when it comes to her pocketbook, or her apartment. And it bothers you. A lot. So what do you do about it? You do what you've done before - you end the relationship. But if you find that you're rejecting too many dating partners because of some "little things" you don't like about them, then I suggest you reconsider. Because what bothers you about them, might really be about you instead.

Sure, you say you have to be with someone who values punctuality as much as you because you've worked so hard on it. And all of those little piles in your apartment? Well, you've developed an intricate system that keeps them from growing any bigger. So how could you be with someone who doesn't have these same priorities?

The truth is, everyone has limitations that have to be dealt with. We manage our "inner slob" by working hard to keep clutter at bay and maintaining our organization strategies. We control our "inner grouch" by not showing our irritation when confronted with inattentive waiters or careless drivers. So why does it make someone else "rejectable" if they aren't as on top of their own inner slob or inner grouch as you?

I believe that the problem is actually about the acceptance and tolerance of one's own imperfections and limitations. That's right. I say "one's own" because that's what this is really about -- not accepting your own inner slob or grouch to the extent that it's actually okay for someone else to be messy or grouchy. Rejecting someone on the basis of these little things is especially harmful when the man or woman you're dating otherwise happens to be a kind, considerate, generous, honest, and trustworthy person. And you're rejecting him because he gets impatient with a slow cashier? Or ending the relationship because she's always losing her keys?

Angie had been dating Darren for about 4 months when he showed up for a date wearing extremely frayed pants. Her tolerance had reached a breaking point -- his apartment was constantly a mess, and his rumpled look was no longer seen as merely a "quirk" in his personality. Angie herself was meticulously groomed and prided herself on being neat and organized. Darren happened to be a very generous, kind, loyal and hardworking man who treated Angie like a queen - he just didn't always look like a prince - and Angie freaked out. Angie complained to me, "My boyfriend is a slob! I don't think that appearances are my priority but I always took it for granted that I would live in a nice-looking home (according to my means) with a neat-looking husband . . . . I'm at my wit's end!"

I reminded Angie of Darren's many enduring qualities, and she admitted that Darren was more than what he appeared to be on the outside. She realized that her own interest in dressing was cultivated over the course of many years. So rather than call it quits, Angie went into action -- she bought Darren some new clothes, a few items at a time, and then gently suggested that he give/throw away some of the old and tattered stuff. Even though this was difficult, he did get rid of some things, and his wardrobe gradually improved. She sometimes inadvertently left the receipts in the bags, which when Darren found he would leave a check to reimburse her.

Jack saw early on that Emily was unfocused and scattered. She was a creative and successful artist, but very disorganized, both at work and in her personal life. Emily would get dates mixed up on her calendar, be frequently overdrawn at the bank, and let her car run on "Empty" long before filling up. Jack, on the other hand, was addicted to his Blackberry, which he dedicated to organizing and running his life.

One evening, Emily was to meet Jack at a restaurant to entertain a client. After waiting for 45 minutes, he called to find out why she was delayed. She stuttered that she had run into traffic, but would be there within 15 minutes. Another 45 minutes passed and Emily finally showed up. Jack was upset, angry and embarrassed, believing that she had in fact forgotten about the appointment until he phoned her. He secretly planned to tell her that the relationship was over after dinner, until she presented Jack's client with two hand-crafted picture frames, decorated with cut pieces of tile and ornate beads. Jack saw the wet glue on the gifts and concluded that Emily had become so engrossed in the creative process that she had lost track of time. While he could appreciate the generous nature of the gifts, he still didn't trust if Emily could follow through on her commitments to their relationship.

I reminded Jack that pre-Blackberry, his life was a lot less manageable. We acknowledged that he had to learn how to pace himself when engrossed in a task, as he used to pull frequent all-nighters to complete a project, and end up paying heavy personal consequences. So while he could empathize with Emily's deep concentration, he was still frustrated by her scattered-ness and disorganization, especially since he worked so hard on overcoming these tendencies in himself.

Jack decided to see if Emily would accept his help before breaking up with her. He told her how beautiful, creative and talented he thought she was, but that some of her disorganized behaviors affected him, and consequently their relationship, in negative ways. Emily admitted that she too was bothered by the constant tumult in her life, but didn't want to become a slave to a Blackberry (like him). Determining Emily's primary need was to stay on top of her projects and appointments, they searched Craigslist together to find a part-time personal assistant. Emily could then focus on what she excelled at -- being imaginative and creative, and building a relationship with Jack based on trust and reliability.

Angie and Jack were so bothered by their dating partners' limitations because they were limitations that they struggled with themselves. Perhaps if they had truly conquered their needs to be neat and groomed (Angie) or organized (Jack), they could have transcended and tolerated the same limitations in their partners. Instead, they focused on only one small aspect of the other, so that the true and essential merits of who they were dating were ultimately demoted.

Warning! Don't let this happen to you! If something bothers you about your dating partner, before pointing the finger and blaming the other, look at yourself first. Because it might really be about you instead.

© Copyright 2006-2008 Janice D. Bennett, Ph.D.

Author's Bio: 

Practicing as a psychologist for over 22 years, Dr. Janice has treated many singles looking to get married, but who had become depressed and demoralized by the dating process. Living in New York City with her husband and three children, Dr. Janice now uses her skills and experience to help healthy singles overcome the obstacles preventing them from attaining the relationships and lives they really want. Janice has been quoted in Us Weekly and Cosmopolitan Magazines, writes the "Love Coach" advice column on, has a free e-newsletter and gives teleclasses, lectures and workshops. Check out her "Get Your Love Right!" blog, read other dating-related Q's&A's and articles, and sign up for a complimentary 40 minute telephone coaching session by visiting her website at