Who Is Attractive and Compatible as a Romantic Partner?

Key points

  • Successful long-term relationships are driven by both passion and compatibility.
  • Feelings of passion for a romantic partner tend to be based on unconscious desires, while compatibility is usually based on conscious ones.
  • People initially tend to choose lovers based on their unconscious, emotional reactions.

Most everyone has their “wish list” of traits that they hope to find in their ideal boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, spouse, or lover. In fact, when such a list of needs and wants is reasonable, it helps in finding a satisfying relationship (see here and here). Nevertheless, having such a list does not completely guarantee that a person will use it to select a compatible partner.

It appears that these logical ideals often get forgotten when someone comes face-to-face with a real-life potential lover. Perhaps you yourself have had this happen. Have you thought about some features you want to find in Mr. or Ms. Right, only to get attracted and choose someone who had none of those features? If so, you are certainly not alone.

Unfortunately, if that attraction leads someone away from their desired list of compatible traits, there are often long-term consequences. Certainly, passionate flings are fun. If you want to build a longer-term relationship, however, then that list of must-have compatibility traits becomes very important too.

As a result, many single people face a dilemma. Some get swept away by passion, only to have relationships not work out due to a lack of compatibility. Others choose to stay mindful of their list of must-have traits, yet never seem to feel that “spark” of attraction with anyone who has those traits.

How Compatibility Ideals Work Out in Real Life

Fortunately for us, Eastwick, Luchies, Finkel, and Hunt (2013) addressed this very issue of “The Predictive Validity of Ideal Partner Preferences” in a massive review and meta-analysis of research. In other words, they evaluated how these ideal trait preferences predict actual success and satisfaction in relationships. The authors made several interesting conclusions within their long review. For our purposes, I will highlight the relevant ones to our current question below:

  1. Individuals do have ideal partner preferences. Multiple studies show that people do have an abstract idea of the features they would like to find in a future lover, partner, or spouse. These ideals differ from person to person, as well as between men and women too. Nevertheless, these ideals often fall within predictable patterns of importance in three different categories; a) warmth/trustworthiness, b) attractiveness/vitality, and c) status/resources. Thus, although individuals may differ on the priority of each of these features in a future partner, the essence of these ideal abstractions is an attempt to find a mate who will cooperate, reproduce well and aid in survival.
  2. Ideal preferences don’t predict initial attraction. Eastwick and associates (2013) noted that the research outcomes changed when they looked at tinder sign in studies involving “actual” date choices as opposed to ideal preferences. There appeared to be far less variation in “actual selections” than in “ideal preferences” among individuals. Furthermore, those ideal preferences that people said they desired, did not actually predict who they chose as a date or mate. Additional research showed that the initial selection of actual dates and mates was actually driven by unconscious, implicit, emotional judgments, rather than conscious, logical, ideal choices. Put simply, people chose initial lovers based on their unconscious, emotional reactions to them-not their conscious list of ideal criteria.
  3. Ideal preferences do predict later relationship compatibility. The picture again changed when the authors reviewed studies evaluating actual long-term relationships. Within that context, an individual’s ideal preferences for the pattern of traits in a partner were quite predictive and informative. Essentially, when partners were compatible, fitting each other’s ideal pattern of traits, they were more likely to stay together. Their relationships were more satisfying too. Thus, when both partners “fit” the explicit ideals of the other, long-term relationships tend to work out more often.

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