Should Single People Have A ‘List’?


If you’re a woman, there’s a good chance you’ve had a List at some point in your life. Maybe it was in your head, maybe you scribbled it on the back of a receipt and tucked it into your wallet where you then forgot about it, or maybe you meticulously constructed it in the notes of your iPhone, cleverly disguised under a heading like ‘Supermarket’ so that somebody borrowing it would be none the wiser.

Whichever the case, there’s also a good chance you’ve felt some shame around it, or at the very least second-guessed it’s function. A List, by the way, is the handful (or maybe two handfuls…no judgement) of qualities that you consider to be your “non-negotiables” in a romantic partner. Actually that’s not fair, they might be a little negotiable, but basically they’re important to you. It’s the stuff you find attractive – aesthetically, spiritually or emotionally. A good sense of humour. Intelligence. Good family values. Tall. A dimple on their right cheek when they smile. I’M KIDDING. That’s too specific. Or is it? According to a leading relationship expert, the more specific we are about the qualities we deem important, the better chance we have of finding someone who possesses those qualities.

Leading New Zealand marriage and relationship therapist, Steven Dromgool, often advises clients looking for love to write a list of 50 – yes 50! – qualities they want in a partner. He told Jack Tame on NewstalkZB, “Often we’re given the exact opposite advice; that we shouldn’t be so picky, but what happens when we don’t get clear about what we want is that we ultimately settle. Relationships will always have struggles, no matter how much you love the person, but if you’re having those struggles with someone you settled for out of fear you were being too fussy you’ll eventually fall into ambivalence and resentment, and that’s harder to recover from.” It makes sense. And the other upside to having 50 things on your List is that it forces you to expand beyond the five or ten things you’ve had in your head since you hit puberty, and ultimately reveal traits to yourself that you never knew you valued. Dromgool also isn’t saying that a suitor needs to have all 50 qualities, that’s impossible, he’s simply advocating for the practice of encouraging your mind to expand a little.

And if you don’t believe in having a List? Well that doesn’t matter either because, according to new research, even if you don’t have a List you are generally programmed towards a “type”. Social psychologists at the University of Toronto used data from an ongoing multi-year study of 332 couples and found a significant consistency in the personalities of an individuals romantic partners, both past and present. They assessed partners on traits relating to things like agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness and neuroticism and found that, overall, current partners had almost identical qualities to previous partners. The research found that no matter how badly an old relationship had been, no matter how much an exe’s personality or behaviour had led to the demise of that relationship, we continue to gravitate towards and look for people that possess those exact same qualities. Wait, what? Are we stupid? Do we learn nothing?! The trick, apparently, isn’t to look for someone the exact opposite to your ex but instead to apply what you learnt in that failed relationship to your current situation. The lead author of the research, Yoobin Park said, “If your new partner’s personality resembles your ex-partner’s personality, transferring the skills you learned and developing strategies for dealing with those conflicts might be an effective way to start a new relationship on a good footing.”

But back to the List. I’m still not sold on the whole “50 qualities” thing. It feels excessive and a little paradoxical – I couldn’t even identify 50 of my own qualities, let alone 50 from a guy sitting across the table from me. Except for that dimple on their right cheek when they smile, of course.

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