Why We Pick Our Partners

Hotties are a dime a dozen. Hotties who are friendly are a dime a dozen. Hotties who are friendly and smart are a dime a dozen. Hell, even hotties who are friendly, smart, and well-adjusted enough to not kill you in your sleep someday are, at the absolute most, 11 cents a dozen. Our most basic criteria for finding sexual and even romantic partners are not difficult to fulfill. But what is the difference-maker? Where is the line crossed, and what separates more disposable romantic relationships from long-term love interests? Below are three big reasons for which we fall particularly hard for one or two needles in the haystack, and how those reasons can either provide us with the right relationship or doom us to failure.

Fulfilling Current Needs

The overarching reason we pick anyone is that they fulfill the needs we have at the moment we find them. That being said, the reasons that follow will live under the umbrella established by this first bullet point. Some of our needs are needs we’re aware of and make a point of deliberately seeking, while others are either ignored or, in most cases, unknown to us on a conscious level. The more of our unique needs that are met by a certain person, the better off we are. The healthier and more everlasting those needs are, the even better off we are. Conversely, the less needs someone meets, the less likely we are to fall for them. The less healthy and more temporary needs that they meet, the less likely we are to last with them.

1. Parental Mimicry

A need that’s been discussed and identified countless times in the world of psychology, yet is infrequently considered amongst the general public, is that we’re subconsciously disposed to seeking out partners that reflect traits of our parent of the same sex.

When discussing childhood trauma in his article, It’s Complicated: Why Dating is So Hard, bestselling author and self-help genius pants Mark Manson notes, “The nature and depth of these traumas imprint themselves onto our unconscious and become the map of how we experience love, intimacy and sex throughout our lives. If mom was over-protective and dad was never around, that will form part of our map for love and intimacy…These imprints will not only affect, but define, all of our future romantic and sexual relationships as adults…In short, our unconscious is wired to seek out romantic interests who it believes will fulfill our unfulfilled emotional needs, to fill in the gaps of the love and nurturing we missed out on as kids. This is why the people we fall in love with almost always resemble our parents on an emotional level.”

You might take a second now to consider the commonalities shared between your parent and some or all of the especially strong love interests throughout your life. Have some of your deepest loves been short, funny, non-romantic men who won’t stand up for you, like your father? Have they been ample-chested, jaded, but loyal women like your mother? 

When it works: Parental Mimicry works when the relationship we have with our parent of the same sex as our partner is a good relationship and there are a lot of traits shared between partner and parent. If that parent has proven to us that they can love, support and care for us in the way that we want our partner to, and they do indeed share a high number of qualities with our partner, the odds are in our favor.

When it fails: Parental Mimicry fails in the opposite fashion of how it succeeds. It fails when the relationship we have with our parent of the same sex as our partner is a bad (or maybe even neutral) relationship and we falsely look to the same type of person to fix the problems that that type of person provided us with in the first place. It can also fail when we have a good relationship with that parent, but our partner only shares one good trait in common with them and we’re blind to the negative traits that our partner has, opposite to our parent. 

2. Hope

A common need we share that is especially pertinent to relationships is the need for companionship. As with any need or value, the more depleted it is, the more powerful it becomes until it is satisfied. What this means for companionship is that when it’s depleted and feels farther and farther away, the more reliant on it we’ll become and the more we’re willing to try on any type of person who offers us any hope of companionship. This might be the person who is willing to listen to your story when no one else is. It might be the person who is willing to look past that baggage of yours that so many others deem as a hindrance. 

Those who provide us with hope when we most need it are those we can easily attach ourselves to. This is because, in addition to all of their wonderful (right?) qualities, they’re now a person who rekindles our belief in something. Whether that belief is a belief in our ability to have a relationship or a belief in humanity as a whole, the people we meet that we perceive as exemplifying the hope for a better future when we’re missing it are not people we’re prepared to lose, and the convenience with which they tend to show up can make us question just how powerful the universe is altogether.

When it works: Hope works when we are, or are willing to provide them with the same sense of hope that they do for us. This requires us to be non-transactional and detached enough to not see this person as a singular source of hope, thereby taking both their needs and faults into consideration.

When it fails: Hope fails when it’s too much about us, and we’re putting sole reliance on that other person without considering their needs and the pressure we might be inflicting. To look at someone as a symbol of hope can cause us to worship them in a sense, taking from them rather than giving, and therefore handing all of our power and self-worth away. Hope can really become problematic should this partner prove themselves to not be such an angel over time, and we’ve put ourselves in a position of mercy to someone so much that they’ll take part in whatever destructive behavior they want without us feeling strong enough to bite back.

3. Simplicity of Commonality

A completely overlooked, and even combatted-against need of ours is the need for simplicity. Hard work is preached because it can yield great results, but rest assured, no one is working any harder than they need to for the results they desire. In all scenarios, for the sake of survival and maintenance, we’re tailored to seek out the simplest courses of action to all of life’s happenings. Romance is no different. Though the rush of wanting what we can’t have is alive and well, generally speaking, if it requires too much effort, we’re usually content to take the easier way out. And things are always easier in romance the more you have in common with someone. 

If you live in Boston and have an equal interest in two suitors, one who lives in Boston and one who lives in Florida, you’re much more apt to date the one who lives near you. It’s easier. If you’re 20 and have an equal interest in two suitors, ages 20 and 50, respectively, you’re much more apt to date the one your age. If you’re 6 feet tall and have an equal interest in two suitors, one 6 feet tall and one 4 feet tall, you’re much more apt to the date the one your height (not to mention the fact that the majority of people who are 4 feet tall are children, you sicko). These examples can easily extend into more intangible connections as well, such as personality traits in common, religious beliefs in common, jobs in common, etc. Perhaps the most vital intangible connection is the mutual expression of love, and two partners that like to give and receive love in the same way, whether it be through receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service or physical touch (see The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman), Big physical touch guy right here.

The Simplicity of Commonality is so strong, as a matter of fact, that it can even apply when you have more interest in the less convenient suitor. The Bostonian might date the Bostonian despite having stronger feelings for the Floridian. The 20-year-old might date the other 20-year-old despite having stronger feelings for the 50-year-old. I’d rather not illustrate the last example again, but you get the picture. 

When it works: Simplicity of Commonality works in two ways. The first, it’s bread and butter and where the majority of successful relationships start, is when there is alignment between exterior and interior commonalities; when attributes like location, age, and height all work out alongside attributes like values, goals, and habits. The second win, which is becoming more and more difficult to attain given how many dating prospects we’re exposed to via sites and apps, is the lack of anxiety that comes with having fewer options to choose from. Finding romance conveniently without much concern as to the other options we could pursue, challenging or not, prevents concerns as to whether or not the right partner was chosen and how much “better” we could do.

When it fails: Simplicity of Commonality also fails in two ways. The initial, less devastating failure, is dating people based on common factors that we don’t like about ourselves. For example, if you hate your lack of ambition, seek a partner who has an equal lack of ambition because you can relate to one another better, it becomes quite easy to project self-hatred onto them and use them as a vehicle to shame yourself, ultimately causing a hell of a lot of resentment on both sides.

The second way that Simplicity of Commonality fails, which makes it perhaps the saddest failure on this list, is that that which we have in common with people is almost always circumstantial and completely devoid of meaning, which is what relationships are built upon. Simplicity of Commonality, when gone wrong, equates to those who are unwilling to take on challenges for what may be a greater love. Many people enter into relationships because it’s just easier and feels more sensible at the time concerning what they feel they want for themselves. This is understandable, especially given the unspoken societal pressure of finding someone to marry by a certain age, but it also severely lowers one’s odds of finding more compatible partners and thus is a strong contributor for an uncomfortably high divorce rate. 

Those who stand the best chance at finding true love are those who are aware of their needs and actively look for them in potential partners. The more confident and communicative we are in this matter, the healthier of a relationship we have with our needs and thus the healthier a relationship we’re capable of having with others. This is because we cannot serve someone else fully if we’ve not first served ourselves, and this mentality is crucial because, regardless of how much someone provides for us via the preceding reasons, no relationship will last if we don’t put equal focus into being the partner we want our partners to be for us.

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