10/22/2014 02:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Needles in a Haystack


A follower of mine recently sent me this very nice message on Facebook:

You're a guy I really look up to. You stand up for yourself but you're not mean about it, you have a lot of strength to put up with all the hate that surrounds us, and you and Dirk really love each other. It makes people like me want to keep going and never give up on ourselves even if at times it seems impossible to find a perfect match like you did. Thank you for being yourself and being an awesome guy with your head and heart in all the right places.

It's a beautiful compliment, and to know that I give other people hope really buoys me through some difficult times of my own. There's one important observation I'd like to make, though: My husband and I are not a "perfect match."

I don't really believe in the whole "Ms./Mr. Right" thing. While there's a certain romance in the idea that each person has a single ideal soulmate out there just waiting to be found, I don't think that's accurate. A more realistic approach is to understand that there are five, or 50, or 500 really good fits out there -- not perfect, mind you, but really good -- and you only need to find one of them. When you look at it that way, the odds of that happening are actually pretty high, especially in today's globally connected world.

No relationship is perfect. Dirk and I clash sometimes, just like any other couple. We're both extremely stubborn people, and our arguments can be real doozies. We don't typically share with the world the challenges we face, so you'll have to trust me when I say that it's not all porn and roses. But we love each other, and we make each other happy. It was a long and winding journey that took 40 years, but we eventually found each other -- our one in five or 50 or 500 -- and picked up a lot of amazing friends along the way.

So how do you find one of those 500 people, now that you know you're no longer looking for the proverbially perfect needle in a haystack? You work on improving yourself. Dan Savage nailed it in a recent Savage Love column:

The idea that there are millions of single people seeking romantic relationships with train wrecks is a fantasy promoted by Hollywood. People generally look for partners who are in good working order. No one is perfect, of course, and no one who wants to be partnered seeks perfection. But you do need to have your shit together to attract someone who has their shit together. If your shit isn't together, get it together. You don't have to be an Adonis or financially secure or without challenges; you just have to be on top of your problems and working to overcome them. Turn yourself into someone you'd be open to dating -- not a perfect person, but a person in good working order, a person with his shit together -- and then you'll be datable.

Think of it this way: Instead of looking for a needle in a haystack, be more like a magnet. To increase your magnetic attraction, you need to keep polishing yourself.

Part of that effort includes self-care -- grooming, clothing, and fitness have been shown to be important components of attractiveness -- but Savage is right when he says you don't need to be an Adonis. A 2010 study at the University of Manchester suggests that physical attraction is strongly influenced by non-physical factors like openness and honesty. "A positive personality can alter perceptions of an individual's attractiveness for the better," the authors conclude. "In this sense, beauty really is more than skin-deep."

So instead of searching for the fictitious Mr. Right, concentrate on making yourself a better person. You'll be so focused on that that you won't even think about the needle hunt. You won't need to! While you'll never be perfectly shiny, the more you work at it, the more attractive you'll become. And eventually, what you'll find is that the needles start finding you.