What we want from a romantic partner might not actually reflect what matters to us

Marie Claire Dorking
·3-min read
A stranger might know what you want in a partner just as much as you do. (Getty Images)
A stranger might know what you want in a partner just as much as you do. (Getty Images)

If you were asked to describe your dream partner, you’d probably have an idea of the qualities you’d be looking out for.

Maybe you’d be looking for someone who makes you laugh, is super smart and holds open doors. Or maybe being kind to children, animals and the elderly is top of your list.

But when we describe the traits we’re looking for in our perfect other half are these ideal qualities specific to us, or are we merely listing positives that everyone would appreciate in a partner?

Well, new research aiming to shed light on this very subject, has suggested that people’s ideal partner requirements actually don’t reflect any unique personal insight.

In other words, we’re all kinda looking for the same thing.

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The study, by researchers at the University of California and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, analysed the top three romantic partner ideals of 700 participants.

The participants then rated their romantic desire for a collection of people they new personally, some being romantic partners, others blind date partners or friends.

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The traits you look for in a partner might not be unique to you. (Getty Images)
The traits you look for in a partner might not be unique to you. (Getty Images)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the personal acquaintances exhibited participants’ top three must-want qualities, they felt an increase in romantic desire.

But researchers decided to compare how it might work if participants considered their romantic desire towards the same personal acquaintances if they possessed the top three attributes of a random stranger within the study.

So for example, if participant A listed down-to-earth, intelligent and thoughtful as her own top three attributes, participant B also experienced more desire for acquaintances who were down-to-earth, intelligent and thoughtful.

“The people in our study could very easily list their top three attributes in an ideal partner,” noted Jehan Sparks, former UC Davis doctoral student and lead author of the study.

“We wanted to see whether those top three attributes really mattered for the person who listed them. As it turns out, they didn’t.”

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Professor Paul Eastwick, co-author of the study from UC Davis Department of Psychology, used a restaurant analogy to help explain the results.

“Why do we order off the menu for ourselves? Because it seems obvious that I will like what I get to pick,” he tells ScienceDaily.

“Our findings suggest that, in the romantic domain, you might as well let a random stranger order for you - you’re just as likely to end up liking what you get.”

Study authors believe their findings could help to change how people consider potential partners via online dating sites.

They suggest the time people spend scouring dating profiles for those who seem to possess their ideal qualities, could in fact be somewhat wasted.

“It's really easy to spend time hunting around online for someone who seems to match your ideals,” Sparks explains. “But our research suggests an alternative approach: Don’t be too picky ahead of time about whether a partner matches your ideals on paper. Or, even better, let your friends pick your dates for you.”