Not Just For Instagram: How To Use Filters When You’re Dating

An excerpt from ‘The Love Gap’

by Jenna Birch

If you live in even a moderately sized city or metropolitan area, you probably have plenty of “options” when it comes to dating. You need but open Bumble, or hit a bar with your friends. We have never had more choice in today’s society, which only complicates the bottom line: How do you choose?

If you ultimately want to build a fulfilling relationship, you have to filter prospects wisely, choosing exactly where to allocate your limited romantic energy. If you’re a fan of genuine partnership, it’s best to find someone who aligns with your long-term goals and values, observing if a prospect is potential relationship material from the get-go. Instead of chasing the whims of attraction, wondering if it’ll evolve, it's better to filter prospects based on the qualities and behaviors they display from early days. Although sexual chemistry is fab, it’s not the foundation of a lasting relationship—and filters help you stay awake throughout that charged selection process.

Filtering is simple. Set your non-negotiable standards, and see if potential partners meet those benchmarks naturally; let them sort themselves into winners and duds as you flirt, date, hook up, and dabble in all those various romantic waters. The more a person shows up for you, and responds positively to your initiatives (make moves of your own, too!), the more you invest. We often complicate a process that can actually be pretty easy.

In this exclusive excerpt from my book, The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (out January 23), let me suggest some great partnership filters to get you started. But here’s the best part: You decide what you want in a partner, based on what you personally need and value in a relationship, and can set your filters accordingly. Always listen to advice, but never fear adapting it. So, filters. They’re not just for Instagram. Use ‘em to make your romantic choices easier.

And now, an exclusive excerpt adapted from THE LOVE GAP: A Radical Way to Win in Life and Love.

Good Filters Versus Bad Filters

Filtering doesn’t end after the first date—although oftentimes we think it does. He’s cute? She’s funny? He’s got a good job? Set! . . . Eh, no. Until you’re in a relationship, you need to keep assessing the situation to determine if a partner is worthwhile. And after confirming that basic set of attraction and connection filters, you have to ask yourself about the bigger set of compatibility filters. “Good Filters” are smart, legitimate ways to tell if he’s potentially right for you; “Bad Filters” are signs you might mistakenly think prove a prospect is worthwhile, but actually aren’t enough.

Good Filters

Honesty. You want someone honest (with themselves and others). Does she tell you what she wants, clearly and transparently? Does he divulge information when asked, even if it doesn’t make him look the best? Are there inconsistencies that don’t feel right, in your gut? 

Alignment. Do you have enough in common? Ah, the age-old question. Do you have similar moral values, political ideologies, and religious beliefs? Can you have deep, substantial conversations (especially if you’re a person who values “talking”)? Do you like some of the same activities (especially if you’re someone who values “doing”)?

Patience. In a relationship, there are tons of timelines—how fast you get physical, how fast you talk about personal beliefs, how fast you talk about your past, how fast you communicate your desires for a relationship, how fast you lock it down. You both will have personal preferences, and you’ll engage when the slowest person gets to their comfortable place, their place of “go.” A person’s ability to date effectively is one of the best qualities you can filter for—it is the mark of being able to delay gratification, and it goes beyond delays in the moment to what he or she does afterward. Does he punish you? Does she withdraw emotional support or attention when she doesn’t get what she wants?

ReliabilitySo simple, but frequently tossed by the wayside early on. We make excuses for the people we like all the time. How many times has a potential date said he’d call or set up a date with you but didn’t, and you said something like, “Oh, he probably just forgot,” or “He probably just had a busy week”? No more; that’s a sign of unreliability. Does she do what she says she’s going to do? Some people are all talk. Everyone slips up—but not three, four, five times in a row. In dating, words mean nothing, actions mean something, but patterns mean everything. Patterns of reliability are the foundation of trust. It will be a very frustrating relationship if you can’t count on him.

Listening skills. A guy who really cares about you will want you to be happy and comfortable—he’ll want you to feel seen and heard. If you say something bothers you, like that you don’t hear from him between dates, does he try to correct it? If you mention that you can’t get enough coffee in the afternoon, does he pick one up for you on his way to your place? It’s the little things that make a relationship.

Bad Filters

Strength of pursuit. I want you to recognize that coming on strong right out of the starting gate is just a tactic of pursuit. It’s not the only tactic. It’s not even the best tactic. It is one tactic, and should have very little impact on how you assess a potential partner. Here’s why I dislike using this as a filter:

•  It is one-sided.

•  It’s not necessarily authentic. You know you’re great, but how does she know this soon into dating you?

•  This excitement often wanes over time; the strength of interest and frequency of communication should grow in accordance with the intimacy of a relationship. A busy, quality person may not be able to text you all day long. That should be applauded, not make you discount the relationship's viability.

Alpha qualities. If you’ve dated around and decided that you like alpha qualities, great! But unless you’ve put why you like those qualities under a microscope, don’t use them to assess a partner’s value. Today, there are oodles of alpha incarnations—from the nerdy alternative person who is a massive NFL fan to the business guru who spends evenings songwriting. Seriously, pulling out an Amex to pay for your steak isn’t the only measure of a good partner. 

“Nice guy” qualities. We are grown-ups looking for soul mates. If you’ve had your fill of rebels, you may have a tendency to go in the other direction and look for “nice.” Oh, how I hate that word. “Nice” should be a baseline for how you treat people; it is a tenet of basic human decency. If your bar is so low that “nice” is the sole identifying characteristic for which you’ve chosen your mate, there are problems with your filter—or that person is not being fully honest about themselves and their intentions. If you never see a flaw, it’s not real.

SexSexual chemistry is important. I can’t tell you the number of women who discount physical attraction, claiming they’d  feel superficial if they put too much stock into it. (Um, hello... Feeling physical urges around your partner is what elevates your relationship from friendly to romantic!) That aside, great sex is still an incredibly poor filter. Physical chemistry is only one part of the Connection Trifecta. As alluring as it can sometimes be, sex does not a relationship make. In fact, insisting that your hookup buddy is a great relationship partner just because you two have amazing sex is sort of like claiming chocolate ice cream is the same as Neapolitan, simply because its presence is there. Someday, you’re going to need your partner’s advice, crave a deep discussion, or want some emotional support—and if you’ve filtered only for sexual chemistry, that day will be a bummer.