Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Use others' opinions as FYI, not as source of validation
Virginia: Do you think people should not care about the impressions their significant others make in public? I catch myself wondering what friends and co-workers will think about my significant other, if they think we're a good match, etc., and I feel like this shouldn't matter to me at all.
Carolyn: Public opinion isn't everything, and you certainly shouldn't live or die by it, but it also has to matter a little. Not as a vehicle for popularity — that's something people "should not care about," though they do — but instead as an invaluable source of information and perspective.
For example, what if nobody likes this person? I don't mean your basic "my friends don't like her" (which is valuable in itself), but instead, say your friends recoil from this person, and she has no friends of her own. That doesn't mean you dump her on the spot, but it does mean you need to think carefully about whether you're seeing something in her that only you appreciate, or whether you're missing something very bad about her that's very obvious to everyone but you.
For some reason, the idea of sonar just popped into my head. In addition to gathering information with your own eyes and ears, it can't hurt to bounce some waves off the people around you, and see what comes back. Not to replace your own judgment, but to alert you to any gaps between what you and others might see.
Anonymous: For Virginia: I do think there's a difference between "sonar" and undue emphasis on status. I've known too many people who were more concerned with how their partners made them look to others (e.g., by being gorgeous, rich, popular, a "catch") than in their actual compatibility.
Carolyn: That's why I advised using others' opinions only as an FYI. Using others as a source of validation is always shaky. First and last, your choices need to please you, since the majority of your relationship will occur between the two of you alone (at least until you have five kids, accumulate a barge of baggage and simmering resentments, take up separate interests and actively court estrangement). That said, you do want someone who carries him- or herself in public in a way that doesn't make you cringe. Gotta be at ease, both at home and away games.
Virginia: It's me, "Virginia," again. People judge people all the time, and it really bothers me that people could judge my S.O. or my relationship. There are no warning signs, my S.O. is great, but I catch myself caring too much what people think. How can I stop?
Carolyn: You are seeing people's comments as a reflection on you. Instead, please also weigh their comments as reflections on them. Are they people you respect? Do they have actual knowledge of the situation, or are a few facts just meeting up with a few prejudices?
The question to ask yourself is not "What do they think of my choices?" — since this isn't just about mates — but "How valuable is their opinion?" Know your critics, weigh their proximity to the truth, and heed them accordingly. You'll miss some things, as will they; your job is to reconcile your way to the truth.