Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I find it hard to differentiate between being picky and looking for the best that you can get. There are a lot of people with whom I could make a marriage work, but considering the fact that the person I choose determines so much of the life that follows, shouldn't I be aiming for the greatest I can get?

Also, if someone seems to make sense rationally, but there is little chemistry and I don't have such a good time with him, what am I supposed to do? It's dangerous to keep going out because so many emotions are involved, especially if both people are on different pages. But maybe after a while, things will click?

Can you help sort out how I'm supposed to know who is the best person for me?

Lilly

Dear Lilly,

We are glad you wrote because you raise concerns that many people share. Let's take each question separately.

You asked, should you look for "the best you can get?" Our answer is an unqualified, "No." You should look for the person who is right for you. It takes time to see if the person you are dating is right for you. If you date someone and think, "This guy's nice, but maybe the next one will be Mr. Perfect," you are setting yourself up for failure.

To begin with, nobody is perfect. More important, though, is the fact that you have to make an emotional investment in building a relationship, and you cannot do that if a part of you keeps thinking that someone better may be around the corner. Instead, we recommend that if you've gone out a few times with someone who seems promising (with goals, values, and personality that are compatible with yours), you devote your energies into seeing if the two of you can develop an emotional connection.

We understand the doubts that exist when two people first begin to date -- they really don't know each other and have no idea if something will evolve, even though the other person seems pleasant enough. In addition, your date may not have all the qualities on your list and may not look or act like the "ideal" dating partner you've imagined. When you hear about someone whose "on paper" description sounds more like what you're looking for, you may be inclined to pursue the new person at the expense of the existing courtship. Unfortunately, what generally happens is that the next person is no more perfect and no less flawed than they one you gave up.

So you are no closer to finding Mr. Right, and even worse, you are on the road to discouragement and possible despair.

We're not saying that every mediocre date can lead to marriage, and we're not suggesting that a person continue to date someone who is obviously unsuitable in the hope that things will turn around. However, experience has shown that courtships that lead to good marriages usually develop at a gradual pace, starting off just as a potential, rather than with fireworks or a revelation that "this is the one."

To realize the potential, both partners must invest time and emotional energy into seeing if a connection develops. Unfortunately, very often they may give up too soon, ending what could have been right for them, if they only would have given it a chance to blossom.

This leads to your second question: When should you end a courtship that isn't developing the way it should? You wrote about a very common experience -- a dating partner who sounds like he's got everything you're looking for, but there is little or no chemistry between you. We recommend that after two people have gone out 4 or 5 times, have tried to add some depth to their discussions, and do not feel that they are making an emotional connection, they should stop dating.

How can you tell if you are beginning to form an emotional connection? You begin to look forward to seeing each other again; when you experience certain events during the week you look forward to talking them about with your date; you believe that you have some common goals and values; you have come to enjoy speaking to each other on the telephone; and you are interested in seeing how your courtship will progress. In our experience, if these positive feelings have not begun to emerge after 4 or 5 dates, they usually do not materialize. A couple can keep going out, but it probably won't happen.

There's another situation where waiting it out is not helpful. Imagine that you're dating a guy who is likeable, kind, and seems to be in sync with your goals and values -- but there is one thing about him that really bothers you. It isn't something that you'll be able to get used to over time -- e.g. a character trait, value, or goal that you wish would change or go away. It won't change, and it isn't a good idea to continue to date hoping that something that really bothers you will work itself through. Certainly, there will be bumps in the road in almost every courtship, but those bumps should be minor ones, not large and impassible craters.

We hope that you've found our answers to be helpful. And best of luck navigating the dating maze.

Rosie & Sherry