Life Advice



Erika Ettin: Why dating is like 'Property Brothers' (seriously!)

Erika Ettin, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

If you’ve ever watched "Property Brothers" on HGTV, you know they do a similar schtick with each client before choosing a house to renovate. Clients typically have a long list of very specific requirements for their dream house: two-car garage, swimming pool, marble countertops, you name it. Then the clients share their budget. This number always seems a little low for what the client is looking for, and the Property Brothers know that, too. The first house the client visits is always their dream house, with everything they could want and more … until they hear the price. The house is always way over-budget. It’s impossible for the client to get everything they want on their long list of “requirements.”

Then, the brothers show some houses that don’t hit check off everything on the client’s list but have the basics. Maybe it doesn’t have those marble countertops, or it has a one-car garage. But the house is in the client’s budget, and the brothers, Drew and Jonathan Scott, promise that if the client sees it in a new light — and with a little help from their team — the house will be everything they dreamed of and more.

As I watch this, I can’t help but think of some of the lists I get from clients. It’s important to have some idea of what you want in a partner, of course: perhaps someone who is liberal, someone who isn’t religious, someone who doesn’t want children, etc. This is possible to find. But when the list of “deal breakers” hits two digits (including things like graduate degrees and a certain income bracket and living within a 10-minute drive and being 6 feet tall), you’re only working against yourself. Too many deal breakers significantly limits the dating pool. The ideal person isn’t “over-budget,” per se, but they may not even exist at all.

This isn’t to say you should put aside your worth. You are worthy of having a healthy, loving relationship with a person who cares for you and encourages you to be the best version of yourself. But, it’s important to keep in mind that people can accomplish these things without having a graduate degree or without being 6 feet tall. So, please keep the following points in mind as you evaluate your “nonnegotiable” list.

1. Context is everything.

When in doubt, just as the Scott brothers ask of their clients with a space that might not initially seem like a perfect fit, keep an open mind. A person may list “spiritual” on a dating app but prefer to have a conversation about their religious affiliations when meeting someone in person. A person may have a different idea of what a political “moderate” is. Or, people could leave answers on their goals regarding marriage and children blank for many different reasons. Search for the things you do like on a person’s profile instead of making assumptions about what you don’t see or possibly don’t like.


2. There are always bumps along the way.

At some point, the Scott brothers will always come to the client with some tough news. They can’t actually have the staircase of their dreams due to structural issues, or the counters they want won’t be ready in time for the client to move into the house. The client may not be happy to face these bumps in the road at first, but they soldier on.

The same happens in relationships, too. Everyone faces challenges. Yes, a person might be the apolitical, nonreligious, graduate-degree holding, rich person of your dreams, but a year into the relationship, you realize you don’t get along with their family. Or they get laid off from their job. Or they change their mind about having children or following a religion. Some qualities may end a relationship, but often, your deal breakers change as you get to know a person and love them for who they are, not the stats on their dating apps. All couples face disagreements and lifestyle changes over time. What matters is how your partner deals with those changes and disagreements, and how you move through life together.

3. You may be surprised by qualities you didn’t know you loved.

By the end of each "Property Brothers" episode, the clients recount all the things they love about the house, including things they didn’t know they’d love. I find this happens a lot in dating, too. You don’t know how nice it is for a partner to make you coffee in the morning until you meet someone who does it! Or, you may realize that your partner’s hobby provides a great opportunity for you to pursue a hobby of your own and maintain your independence. We don’t always see these opportunities until we have been dating someone for a while. This is why it’s so important to keep an open mind from the start.

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