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Your ideal partner doesn't exist, so date this person instead

Posted May 24

Your relationship satisfaction may depend on the dating pool around you.

A new study out of the University of Texas at Austin found that your relationship satisfaction and devotion to a partner depends on how your partner compares to the people in your dating pool.

In dating, people often choose to be with someone who fits their most desired qualities based on “intelligence, health, kindness, attractiveness, dependability and financial prospects,” according to the study. This study found that meeting those standards can be incredibly hard, so daters choose someone who best meets those traits compared to the others in their dating pool.

“Few decisions impact fitness more than mate selection, so natural selection has endowed us with a set of powerfully motivating mate preferences,” UT Austin researcher Daniel Conroy-Beam said in a statement. “We demonstrate that mate preferences continue to shape our feelings and behaviors within relationships in at least two key ways: by interacting with nuanced emotional systems such as how happy we are with our partner and by influencing how much or little effort we devote to keeping them.”

To find this, researchers simulated a dating pool of 119 men and 140 women, all of whom had been in a relationship for seven years on average. Participants rated how important 27 different traits were for their ideal partner, and how those traits described both themselves and their partner. The researchers then calculated how their partner’s value or desirability compared within the dating pool.

The researchers also discovered that daters were happier with their relationship when they dated someone who was more desirable than themselves, even when that partner wasn’t an ideal candidate.

Conversely, those who saw their partner as less desirable were happier with their partner only when their significant other met more ideal preferences, according to the study.

“Satisfaction and happiness are not as clear-cut as we think they are,” Conroy-Beam said. “We do not need ideal partners for relationship bliss. Instead, satisfaction appears to come, in part, from getting the best partner available to us.”

Finding the ideal partner isn’t as easy as finding the best of the dating pool around you. In fact, the perfect partner may not exist.

Researchers from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found in 2014 that how people measure desirability changes over time, according to Time magazine. So someone you may find desirable now won’t be your ideal choice a few years later. Your perfect partner is only perfect for so long.

The research, done once again by the University of Texas at Austin, conducted three studies that asked people to rate the value of others based on attraction, how outgoing they were and whether that person was willing to be a committed partner.

Through this, researchers found that even though people may appear at a certain level of desirability at first glance, over time they become a lot more appealing.

“[As we spend more time with someone] we stop agreeing on how desirable or undesirable they are,” Dr. Paul W. Eastwick, the study’s author, told Time magazine. “We start to have very idiosyncratic opinions of one another.”

And, our idea of an ideal partner may not actually exist. A 2010 study from the journal PLOS ONE found that men and women usually end up dating someone who’s a lot different than what they’d want in an ideal partner. The study found, for example, that men often end up with women who are bigger than they’d actually prefer.

The ideal partner you want won’t necessary be the person you end up with because no one will meet all of your expectations.

The researchers said this is likely because the ideal partner we desire probably doesn’t exist, at least not one who checks all of the boxes off the list, according to US News.

"Whether males or females win the battle of mate choice, it is likely for any trait, what we prefer and what we get, differs quite significantly,” said Dr. Alexandre Courtiol, from the University of Sheffield, about the study. "This is because our ideals are usually rare or unavailable and also because both sexes express preferences while biological optimum can differ between them.”

But, in a way, the person you end up with — regardless if they check off all the boxes — ends up being your perfect partner. Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., wrote for Psychology Today that the perfect partner is someone who we have harmony with — someone we can connect with and love, no matter if they’re ideal.

“The moral of these considerations is that the perfect partner may not be the perfect person about whom you are dreaming,” he wrote. “Rather, it is someone who is comparable to you and is ready to invest in creating functional harmony with you.”

Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

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