What do we look for in a potential partner - what is it that we find attractive?
Is our ideal partner, really just someone with whom we share a background and have much in common? It is certainly a widely held view that people are attracted to and initiate romantic relationships with prospective partners who are similar to themselves across a wide array of personal characteristics. But why should this be so? Our perfect match won’t necessarily be a mirror image of ourselves, but someone whose personality complements our own, often in ways that we could never have envisioned.
There are many fundamental factors that influence our perception of someone’s suitability as a possible match. These are predominantly societal as we tend to meet more people from our own economic and educational groups. This has always encouraged compatibility and stability, but a successful relationship will always be based on more than similarity in aspects of culture, background or location. Important though these criteria are, they struggle to capture the sheer diversity of experience that we are likely to encounter in seeking our perfect match.
As the twenty-first century gathers pace, we find ourselves in an increasingly unstable and fragmented society; with continual shifts and endless choice, it’s diverse yet disposable. As a result, many of the constraints that used to determine our choice of partner are disappearing or at least their influence lessening, giving way to more transient matching preferences which are based around images and profiles; locations, likes and swipes.
When considering the mind-boggling number of possible character combinations and potential matches, we tend to cling all the more to the things we have in common. We like people with similar attitudes because these attitudes are rewarding in the sense of confirming our own opinions of the world. In an age of increasing uncertainty, it’s reassuring to find like-minded people who mirror our values though this is not necessarily the best basis for long-lasting attraction.
Additionally, people place greater value on shared experiences as these give a couple the chance to create their own background; their own history, without having to fulfil pre-existing criteria or preferences. A couple dashing for shelter from a sudden shower under the one coat, a fit of giggles that comes out of nowhere, or a piece of chocolate cake simply too big for one person alone. The value of these moments cannot be measured and their importance to immense attraction and strong relationships cannot be underestimated.
Anyone can bring these experiences into their lives; all we have to do is step through the looking-glass into the topsy turvy world of dating, embrace the unknown and challenge our preconceptions of who we are and what we want, allowing our experiences with others to shape us and help us grow. Otherwise we may search in vain for our other half and only find another self. As the unicorn says to Alice, “Well, now that we have seen each other, if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.”
Duck, Steve. (1999). Relating to others 2nd ed. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Cramer, Duncan. (1998). Close Relationships: The Study of Love and Friendship. Arnold.