“What you invest your time in defines who you are.”—Todd Duncan

Like many of you, I regularly engage in social media conversations. I happen to be a part of a number of groups on Facebook that deal with love and relationships, and I look forward to other people’s thoughts and opinions on the subject. Nevertheless, some men and women’s viewpoints on relationships, what they expect in a mate and who and what they will entertain often baffle me.

Earlier last week, a man posted in one of the groups that he will not date a woman unless she is A) all about him, B) will do his laundry, cook for him and clean for him daily, C) put his needs before her own, and D) fill the shoes of his mother in every way. When asked what he was willing to bring to the table, he simply stated, “Myself.” Get out.

We all know at least one person who demands much more than what they’re willing to give. S/he goes from relationship to relationship, requesting ridiculously high demands from their mate with little to no return on investment. They have expectations instead of standards, and are ruthless when dictating rules and guidelines for their mate to follow. These individuals often have inflated egos and an unrealistic, almost fantasy-like idea of how relationships are.

Everyone should accept no less than what they deserve in a partner. We should all shoot for someone who has most of the qualities we would like to see our significant other possess. But how many of us actually take a hard look at what we’re bringing to the table? Hell, how many of us even care about bringing anything to the table? From the looks of the above example, not many people.

Choosing the right partner is more than selecting someone who you feel compatible with. In fact, that’s the last step. Before you can even begin the process of choosing a mate, you must accept yourself flaws and all, as well as the fact that you don’t have it together as much as you may think. You have to be bold enough to fiercely commit to changing the things about yourself you do not find to be desirable, and make the choice to be alone until you feel you’re fit for a mate.

Choosing the right partner doesn’t start with selecting the right mate; it starts with being the right mate.

It takes a lot of courage to actually put yourself up under a microscope like you do other people. But without doing so, you cannot have a fruitful relationship. You’ll have a relationship, but it won’t yield positive progression for either of you. Courage is a necessary element in any successful unit, and the stronger its presence, the stronger your bond.

Making the decision to commit to improving yourself isn’t easy, especially if you’re stubborn, feel like you’re just about perfect, and/or stuck in your ways.

When seeking to identify your flaws, you’ll be confronted with a series of unflattering traits that can make you question if you’re as good of a person as you think. While self-reflection can be scary, it’s one of the most liberating experiences you’ll ever have, and it’s absolutely necessary.

Once you’ve made the decision to improve yourself, do whatever it takes to become that person you desire. Self-awareness will serve you well. While I do believe there’s someone for everyone, there’s no guarantee we will ever meet our life partner. So it’s best to be that for ourselves.

When you have invested in yourself, you know exactly what you have to offer. No one will be able to convince you that you deserve less than what you desire, and you won’t need outside validation. Your level of patience when waiting for the right partner will increase, and you’ll also begin to attract more high quality partners.

Being someone worth investing in can increase one’s chances of entering a long-term, healthy relationship. Say you buy a car with a note each month. You pay a nice down payment too. You’re going to make sure that vehicle has regular maintenance because you want it to last. That’s how you should approach your relationships, especially the one with yourself.

So invest in yourself. Fix what is broken. Admit you’re not perfect. Seek outside help. Be vulnerable with yourself. Work on yourself and commit to self-improvement for the rest of your life. Eventually you will attract someone who is doing the same thing. And while your union won’t necessarily be a fairytale romance, it’ll have a greater chance of success than living a life of unrealistic, “perfect” expectations.

Shantell E. Jamison is an editor for EBONY.com and JETmag.com. Not confined to chasing headlines, this Chicago-based writer, radio personality and cultural critic is also the author of Drive Yourself in the Right Direction: Simple Quotes on How to Achieve Your Best Self.