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May 1, 2020

How Compatible Are You With Your Partner?

Matchmaker

During and after biblical times, people have sought out help with finding partners they are compatible with to build satisfying relationships. Some of the most common google searches are all centered on relationships and how to become and find a perfect 10. Matchmaking websites promise clients to use science and technology to find them compatible partners. Dating coaches promise clients to combine personal experience and intuition to find them compatible partners and coach them to be successful in their relationships. Despite technological advances, matchmaking is a market showing no signs of slowing down and continues to grow.

Every single day, people pass, babies are born, hearts are broken, and people fall in love. How does this love thing take two people that were completely independent, possibly strangers, and transform them into inseparable love birds who either completely mesh in a relationship and work to spend their lives happily together or break each other’s hearts leaving each other with the task to heal and start their search for a compatible soulmate again? Let’s dive into the process of creating an intimate relationship.

Physical Appearance

We are told not to judge a book by its cover and try to do the same when looking for compatible partners but let’s be honest. The first thing we naturally notice about a person is their physical appearance. It’s not the only thing that sparks romantic interest, but it is a factor that will either make your heart beat faster and result in the dilation of your pupils or turn you off. Take a moment to self-reflect. What makes you leap from liking someone to really liking someone and wanting to be more than friends with them? The experience of desiring someone as an intimate partner, romantic attraction with or without a sexual element, is the universal experience known as the mystery of romantic attraction.

When we first physically walk into a room, or log into a platform, we can’t immediately know someone’s morals, work ethic, intelligence, or sense of humor but we quickly and easily realize whether we are into someone’s physical appearance or not. Interestingly, studies have shown that college freshman will decide whether or not to go on a second date with someone based on solely physical appearance with variables like shared interests, backgrounds, and grades not seeming to matter. When college students and married couples are asked to name the attributes, they find most appealing in a potential partner, men and women rated attributes similarly except for physical attraction. Men reported valuing physical appearance more than women did. This difference was found across cultures, ethnicities, and age groups. However, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that appearance influences men more than women. Just because women don’t report caring about appearances as much as men do doesn’t mean they actually value personality over appearance or earning potential over appearance. Many women think they are more influenced by earning potential or emotional expressiveness but show they prioritize appearance when rating potential partners.  A meta-analysis of about 100 studies confirmed that perceiving a partner as physically attractive equally predicts greater romantic attraction for both the female and male gender. The difference that was confirmed between men and women was that women are more harsh when judging a man’s attractiveness and are more likely to message men that they don’t find highly attractive while men judge more equal numbers of women as highly attractive or not so attractive but are more likely to initiate conversation with the top of the women they find are the best looking. Statistics from OkCupid show the most attractive men are 11 times more likely than the least attractive men to be direct messaged while the most attractive women are 25 times more likely to receive direct messages than the least attractive women on the site.

Relationship Reality Check

If everyone wanted the best-looking people, then how would the rest of us find compatible partners we would like to start relationships with? We don’t always pursue the most physically perfect people we can find. In fact, research confirms a matching phenomenon; a tendency for people who are in a relationship or about to get married to usually be similar to each other in physical appearance. Research also explores a possible explanation for why we may or may not pursue the most visually aesthetic partner we see, how we look ourselves!

Hot, attractive individuals receive more attention from everyone. Attractive people who are used to admiration tend to be more comfortable with approaching other good-looking people and are less likely to ask out people far less attractive than them. Inversely, people who are less hot might understandably fear rejection more and be more apprehensive about approaching potential partners, less likely to ask out someone who’s out of their league therefore going after a compatible person who is also less than gorgeous. The matchmaking phenomenon is supported because in real life, the desire to avoid rejection and make a connection leads people to date others similar in physical attraction. It’s not that some people care less about physical attractiveness but the role that physical attraction plays in someone’s life seeking a relationship is different than the role beauty plays in someone’s life simply seeking a one-night stand.

Why Appearance Makes Such a Difference

The role physical appearance plays in the start of a brewing romance is large, but it’s not the protagonist in a satisfying relationship. Then again, when we don’t know much about a person, we tend to correlate high physical appeal with other positive qualities. This assumption is so relevant is has been found to affect employment, favoring highly attractive individuals when their physical characteristics are on display. For example, two people with the exact same education and experience with a different level of physical attractiveness will not have the same experience during a job interview. Good looking people have a greater chance of being hired after a job interview and usually have a higher salary in their first jobs. They’re also less likely to be convicted of crimes and when they are, their sentences are usually shorter. In a study asking participants to judge strangers based on a photo, the faces that were rated as being more attractive were also assumed to be people who were more interesting, kind, and successful than the people with less attractive faces. Although other than the golden ratio based on a face’s symmetry, physical attractiveness somewhat varies across cultures, there is a universal finding that attractive people enjoy certain advantages.

Concrete advantages that hotter people enjoy include but aren’t limited to social advantages like receiving more smiles and having people report feeling more positive when interacting with them. Particularly, handsome men have more conversations with women than less attractive men. Attractive women get more dates and have more sex than less attractive women. The assumption that attractive people are more sociable leads men to engage in interactions which encourage their partners to fulfill that expectation. When men believe the women they are talking to are more attractive they are more animated and friendly. When women are believed to be very attractive, they are more social and friendly. Physical appearance has a powerful influence on social interactions for both genders.

Negative consequences of being attractive include but are not limited to being unfairly judged as vain and promiscuous. Also, people tend to lie about themselves when talking to better looking people so often times attractive people find it hard to trust positive feedback they receive. Evolution tries to explain the high regard for physical attractiveness with the theory that what is now attractive was once an essential indicator of good health in a compatible mate. Ironically, we now know that physical appearance does not necessarily indicate health. Being handsome or beautiful doesn’t mean someone will be fit and healthy.

Personal Characteristics

While how compatible a partner may be is not prioritized over how hot they are for a sexy fling, long-term relationships prioritize characteristics like personality and intelligence as much as attractiveness. Qualities which people can be hierarchically ranked on are called vertical attributes. For example, physical attractiveness, health, and income level are vertical attributes as having more of them is seen to be better than having less. Vertical attributes are commonly valued, especially in relationships which is why seeking compatible partners based on them will lead to rigorous competition. Contrastingly, a horizontal attribute is a quality people can differ on without being judged as better or worse than others such as food preferences, hobbies, political beliefs and career choices. Imagine being a shrimp fanatic on a date with someone who hates raw fish but loves steak tacos. One preference is not better than the other, but you might feel as compatible as you would if you shared a love for shrimp. When people describe their ideal mate, they usually describe vertical and horizontal attributes “I want someone gorgeous and wealthy who loves dogs and intellectually stimulating movies.”

Personality and Similarity

Personality is a vertical attribute, and research shows everyone wants a compatible partner that has positive traits. Universally an attractive personality is genuine, honest, loyal, intelligent, dependable, open-minded and thoughtful and an unattractive personality isn’t. It was found that being fun is not admired as much as being honest is; we are more attracted to good people than we are to fun people. Although we end up in relationships with people whose personalities resemble ours, similarity in personality plays a small role in relationship satisfaction. It’s easy to understand that happy, well-adjusted people are more attracted to other happy, well-adjusted people but there is no reason to expect depressed, neurotic people are more attracted to other depressed, neurotic people. Relationships where two people are similar in unattractive traits are less successful than relationships with people who aren’t as similar in unattractive traits. It seems complementary personalities, not similar personalities, are more likely to predict romantic attraction. However, the idea that we are attracted to people with qualities we lack, has not been supported. Introverts are not necessarily magnetized to extroverts. In general, people don’t report being more attracted to people who have qualities they don’t. Where did the belief that opposites attract come from?

Perhaps happy relationships lead people to behave in compatible ways to complement each other even if they are already more similar to each other than to other people.

Although complementary traits may affect how compatible people interact in public, the foundation of their attraction is mostly their similar characteristics and tendencies. We seem to value horizontal attributes like background and interests over vertical ones like personality. Consistent evidence shows a strong pattern, partners tend to date, cohabit, and marry people similar in race, education, and religion. Partners also tend to share values, attitudes and interests. Similarity in preferences and attitudes is appealing because it results in validation. When people are into what we’re into, it justifies our interests and makes us feel better about ourselves. It also makes it easier to get along, when two people enjoy the same TV shows and foods, there’s less to argue about. This is why online matchmaking sites like eHarmony, OKCupid, and Match.com emphasize similar horizontal attributes in potentially compatible partners. Interestingly, married couples with similar backgrounds are less likely to divorce but similar attitudes and interests don’t greatly predict relationship satisfaction. The findings that husbands are happier when they share values and opinions about spending free time with their wives aren’t supported enough and thus can’t be seen as a strong basis for romantic attraction. There’s are unlimited ways to find similarities between people and identifying people similar to us doesn’t narrow the amount of fish in the sea. When we’re into someone, we’ll find a bunch of preferences and traits we have in common. When there’s no spark, we won’t and will instead find endless causes of conflict. People who like each other usually perceive they have a lot in common regardless of how alike they actually are. Perception is key and perception of similarity indicates success for a relationship but even more so is a result of feeling good about a relationship.

Reciprocity and Selectivity

We naturally wonder whether someone is attracted to us while deciding whether or not we’re attracted to them. If they have the good taste to appreciate us, they’re probably cool, right? Study after study proves the finding that knowing we are liked by someone has a powerful influence on our attraction to that person even more than knowing about their traits and values. For example, one study put strangers to work in pairs to test this. One member of each pair was actually a member of the research team and was trained to treat all the actual participants the same way. After interacting for a while, each pair individually filled out a questionnaire about their experiences. While the actual participants were alone, waiting to receive their materials they could hear their partner revealing what he or she thought of them. The feedback was manipulated to be either completely positive or critical for the actual participants. The actual behavior of the research partner was always the same but when the actual participant heard their partner being positive with their report about them, they tended to like them much more than when their partner was critical of them.

However, we don’t always like people more based on how much they like us. Another study proved not all liking is equally rewarding and our attraction to someone is influenced by how their opinion of us develops over time. Similar to the first study, participants worked in pairs but this time in a series of seven exercises throughout an experimental session. This time when participants overheard their partner talking about them there were four possible conditions. In the first, there was nothing but positive feedback. The partner seemed to like them from the beginning of the study and continued to until the end. In the second, there was nothing but negative feedback. The partner seemed to dislike the participant at first and continued to until the end. In the third condition, the partner expressed positive feelings in the beginning of the interaction but then expressed far less positive feelings over time until they expressed a negative opinion in the end. The fourth was the opposite, the partner began feeling negative but by the end of the 7 exercises they expressed opinions as positive as the positive feelings in the first condition. This study found the relationship between our attraction and how much someone likes us is stronger when they initially dislike us and grow to like us. If we truly find people more attractive the more they like us then the first condition with a partner that really liked the participant throughout all 7 exercises would have been the most liked, not the second. Dating works the same way, our attraction to someone can depend on how selective they are. Someone who would date anyone is not as attractive as someone who is picky but eager to go out with you again. Approval is most rewarding when we have a reason to take it personally. An eager person on a first date who immediately likes us might not be as attractive as someone who is harder to please. Kind words from someone who is kind to everyone aren’t taken very seriously as they are less likely to be personal. Someone who grows to like us more over time, or only likes is may be harder to please but when they do express liking us, we feel sure their approval is based on our personal qualities, and we love that.

Unrequited Love

Consistent with social exchange theory, we usually pursue relationships that will benefit us more than they will cost us. However, this leaves out the category of unrequited, one-way attraction. We can be extremely attracted to people who are not attracted to us at all. If we were more attracted to people who show high interest in us then theoretically our feelings for someone who clearly is not into us should fade once we’re sure they have no intention of reciprocating our feelings and desires. Unfortunately, unrequited feelings can persist even though they cause anguish and heartache. Sometimes people are even drawn to those who reject, ignore, or even abuse them. In one study on college students more than 80 percent of participants reported experiencing unrequited love. There were three identified rewards for unrequited love. The students believed their crush was exceptionally desirable, they believed their current unrequited feelings would probably become mutual eventually, and simply being in love was found to be rewarding, even if it was one-sided. The students believed if they worked hard and long enough that their faithful investment in love would be returned with interest. Modern rom-coms often portray initially rejected characters as eventually earning their happily ever after by the end of the story. With this in mind, it’s not unreasonable for someone to stay in unrequited love with someone. The appeal for winning someone over in the future regardless of initial rejection may help explain stalking. Stalking is unwanted and possibly disturbing attention from someone who wants to start or continue a romantic relationship. What increases how dangerous stalkers can be is their insistence that they’ll eventually win their targets over despite all clear evidence that there’s no mutual interest. Outside of an experimental interaction it may be difficult to communicate that initial negative feelings about someone will remain negative, no matter what.

When people were interviewed about being loved by someone they did not love, any benefits were mostly outweighed by the cost of having to reject someone. People wanted to clearly communicate feelings weren’t mutual but feared hurting someone’s feelings and then feeling guilty. This led to a bunch of “it’s not you, it’s me” phrases. Unfortunately, unclear messages can result in misinterpretations that a reluctance to break a heart means some sort of reciprocated attraction and interest in a relationship. Playing hard to get is only attractive when combined with a possibility for a love game to be won, successfully resulting in a relationship. People who successfully play hard to get clearly communicate no current interest, but they could be won over with a little effort. Unrequited love offers rewards that are not exempted from the reward theory of attraction, but they are more hypothetical than real.

Knowing What You Want in a Compatible Romantic Partner

There’s a common assumption that people will end up in a relationship with someone who mostly fits the description of what they say they are looking for in a romantic partner. If Connor says he is looking for a redhead who loves to read, we’d expect that Connor’s new girlfriend is compatible with him, is a redhead, and loves to read. However, studies have found no correlation between how people rate the importance of physical appearance, earning potential, and friendliness and someone they want a second date with after speed dating them.

People in happy relationships often describe having a perfect fit, implying having a partner who matches the qualities they desire in a mate. However, although results from personality scales and questionnaires about values and standards for relationships could predict who is most desirable, they didn’t predict whether two people would like each other or not. What people say they want in a partner may predict who they will respond to on a dating profile but does not indicate much about they’ll respond to when meeting someone in person. In person we quickly learn how someone makes us feel, how responsive they are to our jokes, and how our hearts beat when they’re around. Romanic attraction, often referred to as chemistry, one might feel with another person is not like online shopping. Clothes don’t have to choose you back but for a relationship, both people must decide they are compatible and choose each other.

How Context Affects Romantic Attraction

Many people claim to have a “type” when it comes to compatible partners they’re attracted to. Our preferences for partners can change depending on where we are when we meet someone who we’re interested in. The misattribution of arousal occurs when we are aroused by something but mistakenly assume our arousal is caused by a potential mate and not our environment. This helps explain why an amusement park makes for a great date. At the end of an exciting roller coaster ride, the first thing you see is your hot date! Sexual arousal inspired by an environment can be misinterpreted as romantic attraction. Research has even explored beer goggles, the idea that as time goes by and people get more drunk, the options in a bar appear more attractive. It was found that beer goggles make women appear significantly more attractive to men while it only increases women’s attraction to men half as much. There are also other factors that affect how attracted we are to someone. Sexual strategies theory predicts that our willingness to change our standards on how likely we are to hook up with someone are not the same if we are at a bar, library, or gym. A bar promotes hook ups so if that’s your goal, a bar or loud party could lead to relaxed standards and a wide variety of potential hookups. A library might remind you of different standards, even for a hookup. If however, hook ups are a stepping stone to a long term relationship for you then a bar may lead to higher standards and a narrower range of people you’re attracted to. A library could lead to relaxed standards as it may lead to finding partners willing to deepen a hookup into a long-term relationship. This was tested with men and women by asking them to imagine themselves in various places ranging from a bar, a fraternity party, a café, a classroom, a library, and a church while describing their minimum criteria for choosing who to have a one-night stand with. Men reported lower standards for places that promote hookups like bars and parties and higher standards for places that don’t promote them like churches. Opposingly, women reported the opposite, higher standards for parties and lower standards for churches. To ensure the results were consistent, people actually at these locations were asked to describe their standards for a hookup and the same results were found. Although people may think their type is unchanging, it can really vary depending on the scenario.

Making a Connection

Mate selection is the process through which a committed relationship is formed. In Western cultures, it’s expected that the mates we select to start a relationship with are people we are initially attracted to. Most people are attracted to more people than they’ll ever intimately connect with. Attraction sets the stage for a relationship but how does a true connection form and how does it result in mutual mate selection? 50 college students who’d fallen in love in the past 6 months were interviewed and the following was found. The first element was noticing the person and their desirable qualities. Then, the most mentioned part of the process, the other person indicated the attraction could be mutual. Basically, people are just waiting for an attractive person to indicate interest in them, someone has to make the first move. Mate selection beings with three behaviors, alerting one’s presence to a potentially compatible partner, establishing one’s gender, and expressing availability and interest in a relationship. The next type of indicator could be behavioral synchrony where people unconsciously mimic each other’s behaviors. Many observable nonverbal indicators work because if one is rejected, they are subtle enough to save one from complete embarrassment. They can lead to misunderstandings, where two people interpret the same signals differently. Men are more likely to rate expressions as indicators of romantic attraction which women would not. Nonverbals can lead to hurt feelings or worse.

Self-Disclosure in a Relationship

Social penetration theory says the development of a relationship is associated with the variety and deepness of information shared and its personal significance. We tend to like people who share personal details with us and vice versa, which gradually increases intimacy. The rate of self-disclosure changes throughout a relationship. At first there’s reciprocity and when one person shares personal information, the other one immediately does the same. At first. Self-disclosure is a tool for people to learn about each other but later in an established relationship, it’s a way of getting validation and support. Not all self-disclosure is viewed positively like when a person overshares too soon or will talk about themselves to anyone who will listen. The tendency for a relationship to follow the cycle of deciding to match and then broaden self-disclosure is what propels it forward.

Developing Commitment in a Relationship

There isn’t a universal sequence every relationship follows but there are turning points that indicate people are compatible and want to deepen a relationship. The beginning of a relationship’s characteristics are usually indirect while the further development is indicated by direct and explicit characteristics like an open conversation about feelings and intentions possibly with an exchange of an “I love you.” In established relationships, other indicators for increased commitment include decisions to move in together or accepting jobs allowing both partners to be near each other. The way couples react to external factors like when they’ll graduate from school or professional opportunities help explain the difference between relationships that increase commitment and those that don’t.

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Funding for these programs was provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Grant Number 90FM0063

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