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The Surprising Science of Dating

Why What We Think We Want Isn’t Always What We Choose

We all have a checklist of what we want in an ideal partner. It could be tall, dark, and handsome or perhaps smart, funny, and kind. But what if I told you those checklists often go right out the window when we actually meet someone in real life?

It sounds crazy, but the person who ticks every box on paper isn’t necessarily the one who makes your heart skip a beat when you’re face-to-face. Social psychologist Eli Finkel decided to put this theory to the test in a fascinating experiment.

The Great Speed Dating Experiment

Finkel gathered a bunch of singles and had them list their most desired traits in a partner. Traits such as intelligence, attractiveness, shared interests etc. Basically their perfect match criteria.

Then came the twist – Finkel sent them into a speed dating scenario where they went on a series of mini dates, rating their interest in each person afterwards. You’d think the singles would be most drawn to the dates who matched their checklists, right?

Wrong! Finkel found a huge disconnect between what people said they wanted and who they actually felt chemistry with in the real world. Their checklists went out the window when faced with real, live human beings.

The M&M’s Analogy

Finkel explains this disconnect using a delicious analogy (because everything is better with candy). If you ask people why they like M&M’s, they’ll probably say it’s because of the crispy outer shell. But if you gave them another chocolate with a similar shell, they likely wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

This shows that while people can pinpoint the superficial “what” they like about M&Ms (the shell), the true reasons they’re attracted are more complex – perhaps it’s the perfect blend of chocolate and shell together.

In dating, we tend to focus too much on dating stereotypes and superficial checklists – the “what” like height, job, hobbies. But the deeper psychological “why” reasons we’re drawn to someone are much harder to put into words.

Maybe you think you want someone wealthy, but you’re actually craving the feeling of security. Or you list “shares my interests” when really you’re attracted to partners who make you feel truly understood.

In Real Life

Meet Sarah. She always had a clear picture of her ideal spouse: tall, athletic, with a stable, high-paying job. Her friends would often hear her describe her “perfect guy” in great detail. One evening, she attended a speed-dating event, hoping to finally meet Mr. Right.

As the event progressed, Sarah found herself drawn to one particular person, Avi. He was a lot shorter than she usually preferred, was not what you would call athletic, and worked as a history teacher (definitely not the high-paying job she had in mind.) He had a laid-back personality that was the opposite of her usual “type.” Despite not checking any of her predefined boxes, Sarah felt an undeniable connection. By the end of the night, Sarah realized how different Avi was from her “perfect guy” list, yet she couldn’t deny their chemistry.

Sarah and Avi exchanged phone numbers that night and went on a few more dates. Sarah found herself liking him more and more with each date. Despite him not checking off too many boxes on her long wish list. She realized that what she thought she wanted and what she actually needed were very different.

At the engagement, her friends couldn’t help but tease her about how different her Mr. Right was from the way she always described her dream husband.

After the wedding, Sarah looked back at her detailed checklist and laughed. She had ended up with someone who was perfect for her, even though he was nothing like what she initially imagined.

The Takeaway

The key takeaway? Don’t get too hung up on checklists and Shidduch resume’s when looking for a partner. Having some baseline standards is fine, but stay open-minded.

You might meet someone who doesn’t fit your usual “type” at all, but there’s something about them that just feels perfectly right, even if you can’t articulate why. Trust that chemistry and ditch the rigid criteria.

So next time you’re on a date, instead of mentally ticking boxes, tune into how you actually feel when you’re with that person. You might be surprised by the unexpected connections that feel meant to be. At the end of the day, the magic happens when you understand the deeper “why” behind what you’re looking for, not just a superficial list of traits. Embrace the surprises and you may just find your perfect match where you least expect it.

Clarify Your Vision With a Shidduch Dating Coach

If you’re not sure where to start in the dating process, Miriam Zeitlin can help guide you. A Shidduch dating coach with years of experience, contact Miriam for a smoother dating journey.

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