Once upon a time we were full of hope. The future was bright before us and everything was possible.

We went on a date super-charged with optimism. We were invincible. Then, as the reality of the person sitting in front of us clashed so severely with our expectations, aspirations and dreams, disillusionment set in. But not for long. Soon we were off on our next exploits, our dreams rekindled, our hopes renewed. But yet again, our aspirations were dashed. And then again, and again.

After a few years, our get-up-and-go definitely got up and went.

So it went. By the time we'd been through a few years of this, we were thoroughly drained and exhausted. Our get-up-and-go definitely got up and went. Where it once took a small flame to ignite a great fire within us, now it takes a great fire to ignite even a small flicker. We're bruised, we're despondent. We are utterly emotionally fried.

Reluctantly we step up to the plate once again. We arrive dressed for the part, a faint glimmer of hope in our eyes, but we can't feign that spark, that hope, that idealism. We watch across the table just waiting for the other person to disappoint us. Often, it doesn't take very long. Without our rose-colored glasses, the world looks awfully stark.

It's not like we don't have a life. Life is coming at us in a big way from every direction. With work, our social life, our families, our text messaging frenzy. In fact, it often takes a lot of energy just to clear away all of the distractions and remember that we're not doing much toward our goal of getting married. It falls to the bottom of our to do list, not just because it's hard to figure out what to do next, but even more importantly, because it's so painful to even go there. Who needs it right in our face when we've got a perfectly wonderful life, sort of?

So how can we scrape off all the barnacles from years of searching? How do we get back that enthusiasm, that bounce in our step, after all we've been through?

Check Your Emotions at the Door

There is one booming message we must learn from the school of hard knocks: check your emotions at the door.

During the folly of youth we run after our emotions like a dog chasing its tail: clockwise, counter-clockwise, round and round, with no doubt that at any moment we'll catch it. We end up crashed on the floor, panting wildly for every breath, too beat to even walk over to the water bowl.

As we become more mature, we begin to use our intellect to make decisions. We still enjoy a heaping bowl of ice-cream, but we refrain from adding a half dozen cookies and a milkshake to the meal. We have learned that all actions have consequences and we begin to live our life with goals and purpose. This allows us to produce fabulous results in our life, and we have much to be proud of.

But when it comes to finding a spouse, we may pay lip service to using strict criteria. Secretly, we fantasize that we will be swept off our feet and will live happily ever after like a Hollywood fairytale. Do we notice that they always show the couple walking off into the sunset, but they never show the next day when the guy leaves his smelly socks on the couch pillow? Reality is never a part of the equation.

So date using your head, not your heart.

Our heart can trick us into writing off a potentially great guy or marrying someone who will make us miserable. It can lull us into complacency so that we fail to see someone's integrity and well developed character; or conversely, it can make us overlook some serious red flags. It can make us see someone in such a positive, brilliant light, that we won't notice the daggers heading our way from this horribly angry person; with whom Mr. or Mrs. Right couldn't possibly compete. Our heart may swoon at the beginning, but the tears aren't long in coming.

Use Your Head

So how do we avoid the frightening prospect of missing out on the real Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful and falling in love with someone that is totally wrong for us?

By making a Top Ten list of exactly what we need in a spouse. That's our reality check. That's using our head not our heart. Being conscious of who we are looking for is the only way to protect ourselves from waking up one day wondering how we ended up with the wrong person. We need to know what character traits we need in a spouse. If they have at least half of these traits, they deserve our positive attitude and another date to explore the relationship's potential. Having met our basic criteria, then, and only then, should we allow ourselves to ‘fall in love' with them.

The List

To make the list, include only needs, not wants. Take off any media influenced criteria or items that contradict each other. Include character traits, not personality traits. For example, if our spouse has the character traits of generous, compassionate, trustworthy, or forgiving, our life will be improved beyond measure. If we waste our time looking for the personality traits of neatness, humorous, or timely, which are external and dependent on circumstance, we will certainly lose focus on what is truly most important.

You'd be surprised at the extraordinary amount of love and chemistry that grows when someone is meeting your true needs.

Work hard on honing your list, limit it to ten items, and then prioritize it. As you date people, stick to your list no matter what. If your heart tells you one thing and your list tells you another, listen to your list. That is your litmus test to determine if you are on the right track or not.

After a date, sit down with your list to see if your date has at least half of the items on your list. If they don't, they are not for you. If they do, go out again. Simple as that. You'd be surprised at the extraordinary amount of love, devotion, and chemistry that grows when someone is meeting your true, deep needs -- even if in the beginning there is minimal attraction.

We may be emotionally fried, but it shouldn't make any difference. Our emotions just get in the way of making a smart decision anyway. Once we're happily married our emotions can soar, but while we're looking, they just hinder our ability to discern if someone is right for us or not.

Making a list gives us the best possible chance of having a healthy, happy, stable relationship because it helps us to focus on what's real and not a rose-colored fantasy. A renewed bounce in our step must come from clarity of vision, not our heart pulling us in a dozen different directions. With that clarity, our future is bright before us and everything is possible.