What Are You Looking For In A Life Partner — And Why?

Marriage Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

People are complex beings, and that complexity is abundantly apparent in the ways we are attracted to a romantic partner. The fact is that we are biological creatures, and basic biological instincts have a profound effect on our behavior. Young people in particular are driven by deep instincts. At the same time, young people may not have the experience or simply the knowledge to recognize that their choices are being driven by chemical reactions in the body as much as they are by conscious will.

To complicate the matter even further, biological differences between men and women also play a role. Writing for Psychology Today, Noam Shpancer, Ph.D., says “the evolutionary approach predicts that the biological and anatomical differences between men and women will result in different preferences for partner selection. For example, human biology dictates that women need help and protection during pregnancy, and that their fertility is time-limited. Therefore, it makes sense that men who can provide protection will be deemed attractive to women, and that young—and hence fertile—women will be attractive to men. Indeed, studies show that when it comes to long-term relationships, women overall emphasize the importance of status parameters while men find female youth highly attractive.”

Of course, you could revisit the whole “nature vs. nurture” argument, which academics from all fields have been debating for decades. Specifically, changes in American society over the last 50 years are in direct reaction to economic changes. It’s hard for middle class couples to live on one salary, so many sociologists are seeing evidence that economic status is becoming more important to everyone seeking a life partner.

 Given this background, the question still remains: What are you looking for in a life partner — and what is motivating you? Shpancer points to research over nearly a century that identifies motivations that have held up over time, including these top five.

Exposure and Familiarity. It’s only common sense that we often develop relationships with people we spend a lot of time with. It gives us the chance to get to know them better. Just as important, it gives us the chance to discover if there are any qualities that are simply deal-breakers – irritants that you just couldn’t live with.

Physical Attraction. There is a lot of truth in the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To a degree, you may find someone gorgeous while not everyone agrees. That said, physical beauty is partially affected by cultural influences but also a matter of loosely defined objective criteria — for example, the case of someone with “movie star good looks.” You might not be able to define each part of what makes someone physically beautiful, but when nearly everyone in a society agrees that a certain person is “beautiful,” that’s about as close as you can get to an objective evaluation. Bottom line — you’re more likely to be attracted to someone you find beautiful/handsome than others you find less so.

Personality and Character. Anyone who has experience dating knows that there is an intangible that many people refer to as chemistry. Shpancer writes, “Research on the personality factors that attract us to others (and others to us) has identified two personality factors that are considered across the board desirable: competence and warmth. Competent people, that is to say intelligent and socially skilled, are considered more attractive. Kind people with a warm personality are also more attractive. Warm and wise is a winning pair in the mate selection tournament.” Warm and wise – chemistry indeed.

Proximity. There was a time when people referred to someone they were dating who lived a town or two over as “geographically undesirable.” It doesn’t matter how much you’re attracted to someone, — if simply spending time together requires inordinate effort, the grind eventually takes its toll.

Similarity. It is not only biological forces influence our selection of a partner; cultural influences are also incredibly strong. “We are drawn to people who are like us,” Shpancer says. “Christians will appeal to other Christians, educated people are drawn to other educated people, leftists love leftists, extroverts love extroverts, etc. On almost every parameter of background, personality, values, and experience, we prefer someone who has a lot in common with us over someone who is totally different from us, and also over someone who ‘completes’ or complements us.”

Read Shpancer’s full article here.