Should I date a “Fixer-Upper”?

Dear Laura,

I’m a single mom and I’m having a tough time finding a relationship. When I first started dating again after my divorce, I assumed that I would meet lots of creeps and have some really terrible dates, but that hasn’t really been the case. Most of the men I’ve dated meet a lot of my criteria, but then there are deal-breakers that I can’t get past after a couple of dates. For example, I met a man for coffee who was very attractive to me, seemed very genuine and kind, but wasn’t on a stable career path with a steady income.

I went on another date with a good looking guy who seemed very interested in me, but was very limited in his grasp of the English language. I speak broken French, but it wasn’t enough to communicate effectively and I felt very frustrated. I also met a really kind, funny, financially successful guy who was really cute, but admitted to me that he struggled with some serious mental health problems that I couldn’t get past.

Last week, I went on a date with a man who was attractive, had a great career, seemed very sweet and polite and even had a kid who was close to my children’s ages, but he had such a severe speech impediment that conversation felt very strained. I wanted to give him another shot, but I kept returning to this idea that I’m hoping that his stutter will improve as I get to know him and I think that it’s wrong to date someone that you think of as a “fixer-upper”.

I’m aware that I have my own faults and shortcoming, but I just don’t want to commit to dating someone that I have really big reservations about. I like to think of myself as a loving and accepting person and now I’m feeling more like a judgmental, superficial jerk.

What should I do?


Done with Dating


Dear Done with Dating,

To borrow a phrase from Emily Dickinson “The heart wants what it wants..” and it is very difficult for most people to commit to a relationship when it is obvious to them that their needs are not going to be met by the other person. In our society, we tell women that they should be grateful for any attention that they receive and I think the mistake that we make as women is to compromise our needs so completely that we start relationships with people who we know are not going to be a good match for us in the long-term.

You mentioned that you are divorced and I wonder if you succumbed to this pressure to compromise and married someone who wasn’t an appropriate match for you. Now you have to experience the challenges of being a single parent along with all the baggage that comes with the emotionally devastating implications of divorce. Because of that simple fact alone, I think it’s in your best interest to avoid repeating the same mistake.

I want to validate your thoughts about dating “fixer-uppers”. Think about the trials and tribulations that are faced by people who buy homes that are “fixer-uppers”, they know that, for the foreseeable future, they will spend their time in the house tripping over those uneven floors in the living room or cramming dishes into cabinets that are too small. If you don’t have the resources to fix everything up front, you could potentially spend the rest of your life struggling with these kinds of barriers every single day.

In the context of a romantic partnership, no one needs that level of frustration because relationships already involve lots of compromise. If you are seeing these whoppers on a first date, that means that you are looking at major compromises upfront to be followed by all the day to day compromises of a normal relationship. You’ll be dealing with the built in relationship irritations like the toilet lid up, the difficult in-laws, or his comic book obsession on top of the fact that you can’t have a coherent conversation or the knowledge that he’ll never have the resources to contribute to your life together.

I know it feels bad to reject people, but you also have to consider how difficult it would be to be dating someone who thought of YOU as a “fixer upper”. What would it feel like to be with someone who was tolerating you, but secretly hoping that you would change dramatically? Do you want to do that to someone else just so that you can feel like you’re a good person?

Wanting to share your life with someone who is your equal is not superficial. You are raising children who are going to model your behavior and if you enter into relationships that have so many barriers to success, you are teaching your children that in order to be loved, they have to compromise all of their needs, too. I would advise you to continue to put yourself out there and wait for someone who meets your basic criteria.

I hope this helps.




About Laura L. Ryan, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, A New Day Counseling Services

Hi! I have been a certified hypnotherapist for over ten years and also a Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. After Graduating from the University of Texas, I got my Master's Degree in Professional Counseling at Texas State University and I am currently a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Austin, Texas. If you have a question about your personal life or relationships that you would like me to answer, please read the Disclaimer and then send an email to:, be sure to include the name that you would like me to use in my public response to your question to preserve your anonymity. I look forward to helping you! Sincerely, Laura
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