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The Failure of Lists

December 7, 2008

A few years back, I made this list.

I make a lot of lists in my life — if nothing else, I am a die-hard list-maker, finding extraordinary joy in writing something down and then crossing it out with many satisfied scratches of my pen. It’s satisfaction like few other things in this world — it’s part of the reason why I really hate having a Blackberry for work (it takes all the fun out of crossing things out manually).

However, this was not one of my normal lists. Not a “to do,” a grocery list, a Christmas list, or any other kind of task or item-oriented list. It was a list, detailing what I was looking for in a potential husband.

Okay, before you go and peg me as OCD and crazy (and let’s face it, I know I’m a little of both), I am not the only person (male or female) who has done this. I had several people recommend it to me, since especially at the time, I had just gotten my heart stomped on by someone who wasn’t who I thought he was. So I decided to give it a try.

However, since I tend to be too soft on men as far as standards go, I decided if I was going to do this, it was go big or go home. For the first draft, it was truly a flood, a bars-free, no-hold hurricane of items. I believe the first list was comprised of over 75 things, most of them being insanely specific or just really strange. Things like “someone who will do laundry with me,” “he plays the guitar,” “short to medium brown hair” and “enjoys going to museums.”

Looking back, I have to laugh at myself. Would I really not have dated someone because they had short blond hair and were not fond of museums or laundry? I had fooled myself into thinking that a matching of mutual interests could guarantee compatibility and that somehow, it would keep me from getting all broken apart again. Now before you go thinking I’m shallow, there were things on there that were keepers, like “he has to love God before he loves me,” “would be a good dad,” and “strong values.” But most of the items were pure bollocks, total crap that had no real purpose or meaning.

I held onto The List for several years, cross-checking men against it and insisting to the nay-sayers that it was a foolproof way of finding the right guy. If he fits The List, then he’s the right guy. I was convinced that I had finally found a way to control that which is, by nature, entirely uncontrollable — the heart.

Over time, The List got whittled down (less of the strange, more of the necessary) to about 15 or so items, and despite evidence to the contrary of its usefulness and power, I held on as if magnetized. The List would bring me to the right man, I just knew it.

At the end of my senior year of college, a week before I graduated, I met a guy who truly blew me away like nothing had before and I felt like my entire world had been shaken up like a snow globe and it never seemed to settle. We began dating, even once I had moved back home, and one evening, I decided to be brave and measure him against The List. I was shocked to find that he fit every single item. This had never happened before.

About a month in, we spent Memorial Day weekend down with some of his friends at a lake house. I remember his female friends cornered me when he was off fishing, and were dishing about all the things I didn’t know about him, and what was going on with us and all of those things that girls talk about (you know, while we braid each others’ hair and have pillow fights). When they asked where I saw things going, I brought up The List. “I have this list, you see, of everything I want in a man. And he’s the only guy I’ve ever met that fits every item. So I really think this is going somewhere.” This seemed to seal the deal, as if there were no questions. He fit The List, therefore bing-bang-boom, he’s it. It worked just like I had planned, I thought with a self-satisfied smirk.

Well, not really. (Surprise, surprise.)

I found myself in total List-recoil, as we broke up a month later, because, as I soon realized, lists can only take you so far, but you can’t control whether or not you have a heart for a person. And neither of us did. It was awful and despite the fact that I knew I wasn’t in love with him or ever would be, I was still devastated — The List had failed me. It pounded through my brain like some kind of taunting pulse, continually reminding me that I had messed it all up.

I was talking to one of my good friends on the phone some time later, explaining to him how badly The List had failed me and how I had screwed It up, when he gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. “Delete The List,” he told me. “There is nothing wrong with standards, but I promise you, God looks at your List and laughs. The person you end up with will be nothing like The List — they will be much, much better. Not someone perfect, but someone perfect for you. I don’t think we know what the person is like until we actually meet them. So go delete it. Now.”

So I did.
I killed The List.

I deleted it and took great satisfaction in emptying out the little recycle bin on my screen, knowing that it was gone forever. And I felt like my entire mind, body and soul heaved a collective sigh of relief. No more control, no more measuring. The unknowable, all-knowing force of God was in control now and all I could do was ask that He guide me as He saw fit, and to ask continually for my sometimes destructive desire for control and order to be taken from me when it proved to box me in.

And I haven’t missed The List for a second.

As the saying goes from one truly good (and I feel, underrated) movie:
“Plan to be surprised.”

8 Comments leave one →
  1. this0side0of0the0truth permalink
    December 8, 2008 12:41 am

    I remember someone told me to make one of those lists once. I think I tried and all it ended up being was Taylor Hanson.
    1. Totally dreamy
    2. Plays music
    3. Has cute brothers
    4. Loves Jesus

    We all see how that has turned out anyways. Alas, he married another and the list was as obsolete as it was the day I created it only I didn’t realize it then, except that I did.
    Thats why I made the list out to be Taylor Hanson.

    No one fits in a list, just like you would never fit in a list.

    We are people not tasks to accomplish or things to cross off.

    Although I have been known to make a fairly complex pro/con list. Which are even worse.
    Once I broke up with Matt because of my pro/con list.
    And now we live together in SF.
    Therefore lists have no weight in any decisions you make. They shouldn’t anyways.

    Lists are for groceries. Unless your future husband is a recipe of some kind forget it.

    Which you already know, because you wrote this blog.
    So essentially I am completely agreeing with you.

    Love you.

  2. Caroline permalink*
    December 8, 2008 12:59 am

    Yeah, Taylor Hanson has pretty much ruined us both for all other men. We know it’s true…so does Sandra.

  3. Glo permalink
    December 8, 2008 1:28 am

    Ha ha, I made that list too not too long ago (and have made several in my lifetime.) I should also note that I made this list exactly two weeks before I met Mark. Its funny, because I believed that Mark fit the list and for the most part he did, but it was not to be. I, too, have ditched list making.

    Hey look! I came here without a prompt in LJ!


  4. Caroline permalink*
    December 8, 2008 12:16 pm

    Lists are just…deceiving. They make us think that we can wield some kind of power, when really, the list just messes with your head and makes you all crazy. Better to live life without one…at least in the case of men. I still need my grocery lists.

  5. December 8, 2008 9:46 pm

    Okay, a male has to weigh in on this and maybe play devil’s advocate a little bit. I think a SHORT list isn’t a bad idea; you know, like the top 5 things–just to keep you from straying too far from your values and standards.

    I’ve also heard of people making two short lists: a MUST list (must love the Lord more than me, must be single, etc.), and a LIKE list (would like him to play an instrument, would like him to enjoy museums, would like him to be taller than me, etc.). That way, if someone fails your Must list, you know you should rule him out–no matter how attractive he may be in other ways. And if he clears your Must list and has 2 or 3 things on your Like list, it’s frosting!

    What do you think?

  6. Caroline permalink*
    December 9, 2008 1:12 pm

    I think that’s actually a good idea. Trust me, my short list (the “must” list as you call it) is still in my head and is pretty much still a “must.” I think it was more of having it written down, having it available to check off and arrange just so, was just too tempting for my control-freak tendencies, hence why it had to die.

    Wise advice, Mr. Write. I appreciate it! 🙂

  7. James permalink
    December 9, 2008 7:18 pm

    I don’t know about you, but to me your original list looks like it could have been titled “Qualities of James Dake.”


  8. Caroline permalink*
    December 9, 2008 10:18 pm

    Hahahahahahahaha. Well, when I made the list, I didn’t know you yet…now that I know, sheesh…the search is over.

    You can go off and climb mountains and I will bake you cookies.
    Oh what a life we’ll have! 😉

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