What Do You Look For In a Partner? Probably Someone Exactly Like You, Statistics Say


It’s time to come to terms with the fact that we’re all massive narcissists: Even though 86 percent of people say that they want a partner who “complements them,” rather than “resembles them,” that’s a lie. Emma Pierson at FiveThirtyEight analyzed a whopping one million matches made by online dating site eHarmony’s algorithm — and she found that all we really want in a partner is someone who is exactly like we are.

eHarmony applies 102 traits to each person on the site, ranging from how ambitious they say they are to how much they say they drink or smoke. According to Pierson’s analysis, women favor men both when it comes to practical things like age, attractiveness, education, and income, as well as less tangible qualities like creativity. They also show a “small but highly statistically significant” preference for men who describe themselves with adjectives similar to those they use themselves. Men, on the other hand, are a little less picky, but did still display a preference for women who were similar in height or attractiveness.

Ultimately, it looks like people tend to follow one of two patterns, depending on the trait in question:

  1. People who display a certain trait prefer others who also display that trait, while people who don’t display it, don’t; or:
  2. Everyone prefers people with a certain trait, but those who actually have the trait also have a stronger preference for others with it as well.

Traits like height can fall into both patterns: Men follow the first pattern (short men prefer short women, tall men prefer tall women), while women follow the second pattern (women generally prefer taller men, but tall women have a stronger preference for them). On the other hand, traits usually considered positive, like attractiveness, by and large follow the second pattern: Everyone likes really, really, ridiculously good-looking people, but hot people have a stronger preference for other hot people. Lastly, traits which are a little less easily determined to be “positive” or “negative” — whether you have kids, what religion (if any) you follow, and so on — usually follow the first pattern: People with kids prefer other people who have kids, and people would generally rather date someone who shares their religion.

It’s worth noting that the data used here is only based on heterosexual couples, as eHarmony doesn’t match same-sex couples (seriously, eHarmony? What gives?). They do, however, have a site specifically geared towards same-sex dating called Compatible Couples, and according to eHarmony scientist Jonny Beber, the same sorts of similarities apply for couples matched there as well. I’d be curious to know whether this is also the case for any of the other wide variety of sexual preferences there are out there; my money is on yes, but until we have the data to back it up, we won’t know for sure.

So there you have it: If we could clone ourselves for dating purposes, we probably would. This may not be great for the gene pool, but at least we know ourselves a little better now, right?

Image: Ashley Batz/Bustle