If you ask someone what they’re looking for in a romantic partner, you’ll receive dramatically different answers. One person will have a vague notion of “I’ll know it when I see it.” Another will have a typed list of strict criteria they consult in the bathroom during dates. Yet another will try to find a potential sweetie who shares their favorite activities or interests.
Recently, eHarmony’s CEO Grant Langston offered another way to think about what matters in determining our best matches in his piece “Compatibility: It’s Not What You Think It Is.” He explained the deeper dimensions the eHarmony algorithm considers that predict a successful relationship. For example, how social or autonomous are you? It’s also important to consider personality traits, such as your level of curiosity or sense of humor.
Yet even if we find someone who matches up on all those qualities, we often sabotage our chances at love by refusing to date others who don’t conform to our long-held fixed beliefs about our ideal partners. That’s the argument of relationship advice expert Andrea Syrtash, author of He’s Just Not Your Type (and That’s a Good Thing).
I sat down with Syrtash on a recent trip to New York City to learn more about how to expand our perspectives and dating pool.
What motivated you to write this book?
Every day I would meet people who told me: “I never expected to love this man. He’s not who I was looking for.” Even my sister and parents had the same story. It boiled down to “He wasn’t my type.” To be successful in dating, we have to break our patterns. Otherwise, we’re always going to have the same result. For example, are you always in the friend zone? Do you always date men who disrespect you?
What do you mean by “type”?
I had so many clients who were limiting their opportunities to find really good partners because they wouldn’t change their dating patterns or alter their image of who they think they should be with. In my book, I’ve identified three different “non-types.”
Superficial (someone who has different physical features, income or educational background): “He’s short, losing his hair, and doesn’t make that much money.”
Circumstantial (someone who might be a great match but his circumstances concern you): “He’s divorced with kids” or “He lives across the country” or “He’s of a different faith.”
Departure (someone who’s different from the kind of person you usually are drawn to): “He’s introverted, which is different from the extroverts I usually date.”
So what’s more important to consider?
To find authenticity in love and life, we should replace the word “should” with the word “want.” For example, you say: “I didn’t think I should be with him, but I wanted to.” You have to like the person and like yourself with that person. You have to feel like the best version of yourself. You could be with most amazing person on paper, but if you’re feeling jealous, insecure and needy, then it’s not your match. If you’re feeling seen, heard, and valued, then that’s your match.
But how do you know your deal breakers?
I have my own “must have”/ “can’t stand” exercise. You can’t have more than five items on each side. Otherwise, you’re restricting yourself. (There’s a lot of homework in my book.) I want you to be super clear on your core values. You might want someone who shares your desire for kids or marriage. Maybe it’s someone who makes health a priority or doesn’t have any addictions. But instead of thinking “He must have a good job,” you should think about what’s really important. Maybe it’s “I want someone who’s driven.” What does success look like to you? Is it a paycheck? Is it someone who’s emotionally present or who gives back to the community?
Your litmus test should be “I want to make out with him,” rather than specify how he should look or act. This gives people permission to be open to their non-types. Or maybe you were drawn to the profile of someone who seems charming and intelligent, but he dropped out of school. Don’t make assumptions. There are many accomplished people who didn’t finish college. You might want to give him a chance. It’s not about settling. I think you’re settling when you’re dating superficially.
But how do you know if you should give someone a chance?
All you have to do is ask yourself: Am I having fun right now on this date? Am I curious to learn more? That’s really it.
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.