Forget the List: Why You Don't Know Who Is Right for You


by Molly Fedick/Medill News Service

A friend who shall remain nameless recently experimented with online dating site's seven-day trial period. During those seven days, you can browse profiles of singles in your area, send messages, and engage in the epitome of online flirtation, the virtual "wink."

Although I am not a (sorry to disappoint, boys - there is no PrincessMEDILL outside of the Twittersphere), I'm guessing the "wink" is akin to seductively gazing across a bar at some handsome stranger without actually having to initiate conversation. Truly, the wink is the ideal communicative gesture for the socially terrified or serial attention-seeker. Consider this: my friend - we'll call her Mary - was managing a bank of around 27 winks, all from handsome chaps in the Boston area! If anything, online dating appears wildly efficient.

The problem, then, is what professors from Northwestern University and Texas AM University describe in their study "When and Why Do Ideal Partner Preferences Affect the Process of Initiating and Maintaining Romantic Relationships?" Appearing in this month's edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study concludes that while most singles have a list of traits they wish to find in a mate, those traits matter little when we actually meet a potential partner in person.

In conducting the study, researchers had participants write written descriptions of traits and ideals they wanted in a partner. What they found was that those ideals - say, courageous or a happy disposition - did not guarantee a love match once actual humans became involved.

In fact, psychologist Paul W. Eastwick, PhD, said that "once [someone] actually meet[s] somebody face to face, those ideal preferences for traits tend to be quite flexible." Eastwick is an assistant professor of psychology at Texas AM University and a researcher involved in this study.

Is this why I overlook the fact that a certain guy would rather drink 63 beers while watching football than accompany me to that new French film with the girl from "Amelie"?

Hmmm. Maybe "appreciation of sophisticated and cultural activities" isn't as important as I thought.

Oh, and by the way, that definitely never happened.

Back to Mary: After searching through several profiles (read: staying up all night essentially stalking the men in her neighborhood), Mary settled upon Matt (again, a pseudonym to protect the innocent and single).

If Matt were a watercraft, he would be a sailboat. If he were a food, he'd be a steak-medium. If he were a school, he would be MIT. If he were a shoe, he'd be a Sperry Top Sider. Wait, did I give too much away? Basically, Matt was Mary's dream man. Or so she thought.

The two met for dinner at Sonsie, a restaurant in Boston known for nourishing the WASPiest of the WASPs. What better place to determine if these two WASPs might someday produce baby WASPs together?

Mary returned from the date and immediately filled me in. Matt was, she said, "A little boring. Maybe a little too nice."

But Mary, I persisted, you can't have it both ways. You see, Mary's dream in life is to marry a financially stable man whose diversity of wardrobe (basically, every color of polo shirt manufactured) matches his desire to excel at a sport other than squash or golf. Essentially, Mr. Preppy.

With these stringent expectations, it is unlikely she will come across a squash-playing, polo-shirt wearing dude who also happens to have more game and sex appeal than Uncle Jesse from Full House - that "bad boy" je ne sais quoi she didn't know she wanted until she met Matt.

Eli J. Finkel, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University, was quick to point out that "people are not simply the average of their traits." This means that while someone may be loyal, outgoing, and quick-witted, he or she may not be the one for you.

The moral of the story is this: while having a set of traits is important in determining one's priorities and preferences when choosing a mate, nothing can replace the spark some call chemistry. I happen to call it Bradley Cooper in "The Hangover," but what do I know?



As someone who has internet dated extensively, I really found this post enlightening. I think that those of us who have been looking for the perfect mate on the net are far too stuck on our "lists". So often someone who is perfect on their profile turns out to be a damp squib when you meet them in real life. In the end its all some undefinable chemistry that makes it work or not. Thanks for this.

Fascinated by your findings on the efficacy of on-line dating matchmaking algorithms. At attractID we hold the same opinion but it's better to have it verified in the academic world!

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