So apparently having dating preferences can be helpful when choosing a potential mate… To a point.
Now before many of you shake your head and insist that checklists are important, hold on a second. Although I’m a fan of this too, there’s a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology to thank for this.
Conducted by Daniel Conroy-Beam and David M. Buss from the University of Texas at Austin, this research both highlights the benefits and potential drawbacks to mate preferences. In an article entitled “Do Mate Preferences Influence Actual Mating Decisions? Evidence From Computer Simulations and Three Studies of Mated Couples,” the pair hypothesize that setting preferences isn’t exactly ineffective. However, they may not always translate into the mates we select because of the realities of the marketplace:
…[W]e propose that apparently weak effects of mate preferences on mating outcomes do not indicate that stated preferences are ineffective, but rather emerge due to the complex dynamics of real mating markets. Further, these dynamics render appropriate predictions about the relationship between stated mate preferences and actual mate choices difficult to intuit.
The study then goes on to highlight findings from discussions with both newlyweds and long-term couples about what they look for in a partner. Those responses were then inputted into a computer system to see if they matched up. While the article goes into a lot of detail about the methodology and process, I think it’s the findings that are most compelling.
The good news is, that having preferences does help as people decide on mates they ultimately choose, as the researchers point out in the article.
At the same time, having standards doesn’t account for the real, complex trouble of actually finding a mate… Like dating and how that whole process goes, for example. Check it out:
However, such conclusions fail to account for the complexities of mate choice, including the fact that mate selection is based on multiple dimensions, is constrained by partner availability and the actions of competitors, and requires reciprocal selection for a successful outcome.
Basically, even with criteria being helpful, it doesn’t guarantee that it’ll always be a match made in heaven:
People are motivated by their stated preferences, but these preferences acting in the context of larger mating markets produce several constraints on mate choice. People must select their mates from among restricted pools where ideal partners may not exist. Critically, each potential mate represents a collection of traits, and so fulfilling one preference often requires relaxing another. Mating markets are populated not only with potential mates but also with competitors; the fulfillment of one person’s preferences can mean the obstruction of another’s. Finally, mating markets offer no guarantees of reciprocity: A person’s preferences may drive them toward a potential mate just as much as that potential mate’s preferences drive them away.
The take-away: Preferences can help. But, the complexity of dating today makes it hard to rely solely on that. Besides, isn’t there chemistry, attraction, and all that other stuff to take into account? So use it as a guide, but be very aware of the full picture before writing anyone off.
I won’t lie. Dating in my 20s has led me to nailing down tighter standards which I am much more committed to abiding by these days. That said, it makes it that much harder when you consider the reality of the “hit or miss” nature of dating.
Will this stop me from abandoning my entire list of criteria? Well, no. But maybe I’ll need to be a touch more flexible.
But just a touch.